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Unwinnable by Design

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"The programmers of this game want you to fail, and when you do, they write 'Ha ha!' on the wall and they laugh about it!"
Noah Antwiler on Dirty Harry: The NES game

There are plenty of difficult games out there, but at least most of them have the decency to kill you off the moment your quest becomes impossible to complete — otherwise you'd end up wandering around looking for a way to progress when none exist. Now, in the case of games that are Unwinnable by Mistake it's kind of understandable — either a bug or an oversight has rendered the game broken so there's no way for it to tell the player how screwed they are.


But Unwinnable by Design is a whole other kettle of fish: This time around, the designers have set down giant digital man-traps that exist purely to ensnare the unwary. The worst are those that cripple the game from the start, but let the player continue for hours before the fatal error becomes apparent.

Adventure Games, and Interactive Fiction in particular, originally were rife with intentionally unwinnable situations. A hallmark of the genre once, the tradition has waned in the 1990s because most players can't stand them.

Zarf's Cruelty Scale of Interactive Fiction, as lifted (and revised) from here, here and here, divides video game types as follows:

  • Merciful: You only ever need one save file, and use that only if you want to turn the computer off and go to sleep. You never need to restore to an earlier game, because there's no way it ever becomes unwinnable.
    • Say that there is a large button on the wall, with a sign above it that says 'Inorganic Vaporizer Ray'. When you try to push it, the game won't let you. Instead it says something like 'You'd better not. You'd lose that nifty pocket screwdriver'.
      • As an alternative, there's either an explicit "undo" feature (type "UNDO"), or an implicit one (all your stuff is cloned when you vaporize it).
  • Polite: You only need one save game, because if you do something fatally wrong you won't be given a chance to overwrite it.
  • Tough: There are things you can do which you'll have to save before doing. But you'll think, "Ah, I'd better save before I do this."
    • There is a large button on the wall, with a sign above it that says 'Inorganic Vaporizer Ray'. When you push it, all your stuff gets vaporized, and you can't finish the game.
  • Nasty: There are things you can do which you'll have to save before doing. After you do one, you'll think, "Oh, bugger, I should have saved before I did that."
    • There is a large button on the wall, but no sign telling you what it does. Upon pressing it, you discover that it was an Inorganic Vaporizer Ray, and are informed that your inventory is now gone.
  • Cruel: There is no immediate indication that your game has become unwinnable. You think, "I should have kept the save I overwrote three hours ago. Now I'll have to start over."
    • There are three large buttons on the wall. Two of them do plot-important things, but you press the third and it causes a simple humming noise. Then, a while later, you need to solve a puzzle and check your inventory... "Hey, where's all my stuff?"

(It should be emphasized that this applies to the whole game, and not just a narrow aspect of it. E.g. if part is Cruel but it's Merciful otherwise, the game is Cruel.)

Note that dipping below "polite" is considered a design flaw by most design philosophies today. Old-fashioned adventure games, notably most Sierra games released before 1992, seldom rise above "nasty".

Note that this trope is just for games where the designers constructed an unwinnable situation on purpose, and was not intended as a joke. It is therefore not to be confused with the following:

  • If the unwinnable situation arises as the result of a programming flaw, like a bug, or a design error such as making it possible to advance to the next stage without collecting a vital item, this is actually Unwinnable by Mistake.
  • If the unwinnable situation arises after the player had done one or several mistakes to a point they were continually warned against what they're doing or feel as if the player must actively seek a way to make the game unwinnable, it is Unwinnable by Insanity.

The spiritual opposite of a Hopeless Boss Fight, where you are supposed to fail to make the game continue. Also (in some cases) the worst-case scenario of Permanently Missable Content; early adventure games would often have vital objects or events be easily and permanently missable — in the worst cases, with no indication of what you've missed beyond a sudden game over much later in the game. Contrast Endless Game, for games not supposed to be "won" at all: games that have a High Scores screen instead of a victory condition. Also see Unwinnable Joke Game for games that were made to be impossible despite having a clear goal as a prank.

For cases in which you get a game over from creating an unwinnable situation, see Non-Standard Game Over. Games that wish to rub things in a bit may include a period of Controllable Helplessness. For a milder version where you are at least well aware that you're screwed, see Cycle of Hurting. For situations where the game intentionally makes you think you've lost, see Fission Mailed.


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    Video Games 
  • Ōkamiden for DS had the player stuck in the middle of the tutorial if using a pirate copy.
  • Lost in Blue and its spiritual predecessor Survival Kids can often create situations where you're doomed. Did the RNG decide to give you three straight days of typhoons, preventing you from going out to gather food and wood? Unless you have enough stockpiled you won't have anything to eat or light a fire with so you can rest. Saved the game when low on health, poisoned and with a stomach ache (you don't feel the effect of poisoned or spoiled food until after a while you ate it)? Won't be able to rest. Finished building the raft in the Game Boy game, and then dawdled around too much? A volcano will erupt, and unless you have a specific set of items (which you may not have enough time left to gather) fleeing on the raft will net you a Non-Standard Game Over where you starve to death in the middle of the ocean.
  • In Bucky'O Hare, the Blue Planet is not possible to complete without completing the Green Planet and rescuing Blinky to break the ice blocks. Either use a password to revert back or get a game over to reselect planet.
  • Starflight: If you are in the red when you visit the starport, you are stuck there until you pay it off. If you don't have enough assets to sell off to pay it off, then you're stuck there forever.
  • In SCP – Containment Breach if you make the fatal error of looking at SCP-096's face (which is entirely avoidable as he is docile and curled up in a ball until provoked) he will go into a fit for 30 seconds and then pursue and kill you. Regardless of how many doors you put between him and you, nothing can impede his progress and, as he moves incredibly quickly, this is essentially a game over.
    • A later update changed things so SCP-096 walks around in front of a room containing a pivotal switch, making avoiding him significantly more difficult.
  • In Echo Night, at one point, you have to enter a sort of flashback and collect a fallen toy before escaping. Escape without the toy and you can't enter the flashback again, leaving you unable to proceed.
  • Subverted in the final map of the first episode of Doom. The hero is teleported into an inescapable pitch black room surrounded by demons where he is torn to shreds. Many players repeatedly attempted to fight their way through the demons or find their way out of the darkness, wondering if there was a different ending. This is a subversion because the hero is supposed to die, and in fact that's the only way to complete the episode.
  • Echo Night 2: Master of Dreams, the Japanese-exclusive sequel to the first game, is infuriatingly full of these (perhaps not quite, as you can still beat the game in most cases, but 100% completion, and the good ending, are permanently locked away without warning).
    • Very early in the game, a ghost is looking for a pepper grinder. There is one behind the ghost in the bar, but he asks for a partiture in exchange. Took the partiture from the music room and gave it to him? Oops, there goes 2 of the astral pieces, locking you out of the best ending. Instead of taking the partiture, you have to listen to the second song in the bar jukebox and replicate the first 8 notes in the music room's piano. The piano ghost will play the song and attract the bar ghost, making both disappear to the forever after, giving you two astral pieces and opening the path to get the pepper grinder yourself. The only vague hint you get of all this is that the piano ghost will complain rather desperately once you take the partiture, and the bar ghost will comment on the jukebox song once you listen to it.
    • A bit later, in the archaeological lab, you eventually come across a pen that clearly belongs to the manager. Give it to her and she runs off, never to be seen again, locking you out of her's AND two other ghost's Astral Pieces. You're supposed to talk to her while wearing three different jackets in a specific order (very barely alluded to, and which resets if you leave the room) and give her a microscopic lens that's hidden in one of the drawers. You'll be whisked away to a flashback, and THERE you're supposed to give her the pen to make her leave the room and allow you to get the jacket from the bed, said jacket being the only way to free two of the ghosts.
  • If you don't throw the seed out the window in day 1 of Oedipus in my Inventory, it becomes impossible to complete day 3, leaving death your only option.
  • KGB, aka Conspiracy, was a hugely involved espionage adventure game in which it was recommended and nearly required to take notes in order to make any progress. It was VERY easy to make the game unwinnable:
    • At one point, the main character investigates a butcher shop. Under the desk is a small button. Push it, and nothing seems to happen. Push it again, or don't push it at all, and you die to a trap 10 minutes later. The game never informs you of this button, and it can't be found without pixel hunting.
    • When checking into a hotel room, you get a mysterious phone call saying only "check the lights." Then you needed to switch the lights on 3 times. Switch them on only once? You die. Twice? You die. Turn them off totally? Dead. And you have to break a cypher, or remember the character who can break it for you, to know what to do if you want to live.
    • The ENTIRE GAME is timed. It's easy to render it unwinnable by dawdling too long.
    • At one point, you have to confront the butcher about what you found in his shop. But if you talked to him even once before, he will never open his door to you again. Especially annoying since just a little while before, it looks like you are supposed to interview everyone in the building for clues.
    • Yet another example: a mad scientist you are questioning can escape, and he has a nervous breakdown before you can ask every possible question. You did not ask the only important one? You cannot leave the location.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Daggerfall, almost every quest is timed and gives you the option to reject it, including much of the main questline. Break the main quest chain in this fashion at any point - which is possible as soon as the very first step after leaving the intro dungeon - and it becomes permanently unwinnable. The first step in the main quest will give you a second chance if you miss it, adding another month to the time limit, but only once.
    • In Morrowind, as all NPCs are mortal, it is entirely possible to kill someone critical to the main plot and thereby prevent you from completing it. The game is decent enough to tell you when you do this (see the message below) so that you can reload a saved game. There is also a "back door" method of defeating the Big Bad that requires only one living NPC, but it skips the entire story and is pretty well hidden. However, this NPC can die as well. This is also true for other major plotlines, such as those for the Guilds and Factions you can join. (However, you will get no such message there.)
    "With this character's death, the thread of prophecy is severed. Restore a saved game to restore the weave of fate, or persist in the doomed world you have created."
    • The seven-minute Speed Run of Morrowind — watch it here, or watch an even shorter run here — demonstrates that Munchkin tricks can be used to bypass the plot routes altogether. This changes the problem: the only way to render Morrowind Unwinnable when those tricks are taken into consideration is to collect and then misplace either of the two essential Plot Coupons. And even then, since nothing (outside of town guards and creatures) respawn, one could theoretically comb through the entire game world trying to find where they left the item.
      • However, placing either of those Plot Coupons on a corpse, and then either disposing of it or waiting the three in-game days for them to disappear will render the game well and truly Unwinnable. Though doing such a thing makes it Unwinnable by Insanity.
  • In Hugo's House of Horrors 2, if you bump into the side of the bridge (a ludicrously easy thing to do), then you'll drop your matches. You need these matches to progress. There is no way to dry the matches, nor is there any other way to set fire to the things you need to burn.
  • In The Legend of Kyrandia, you can find two apples. Click one and Brandon will take a bite of it. Click the second, and you have nothing to trade the faun to get the royal chalice back and you might as well restart.
  • One level in Commander Keen IV featured monsters who didn't harm you, but appeared in puffs of smoke to steal items before you could collect them. This included a key necessary to get to the end of the level. In fairness, however, if you were unable to kill all of these monsters before they got to the key, then you deserve to lose. Granted, you can reload a saved game or commit suicide in a tar pit to try again.
  • Dracula Unleashed was a Full Motion Video video game that was also part adventure. There are numerous times where you can make the game unwinnable. A few of them are Guide Dang It! moments. One requires you to go to a bookstore late at night so you know there is a secret passage there. If you didn't go there, then you don't know that there is a clue you can look for. And if you go into the Asylum unprepared, then Hellsing is strangled in front of you and you can do nothing more but wait for a Game Over.
    • The entire game more-or-less takes place in real time; every single event and travel to a destination uses up time and you're told at the start of the game that you have four in-game days to finish. Not going to a certain event at a certain time of a certain day or simply wasting too much time going to wrong locations is all it takes to make the game unwinnable. Beating the game requires extensive trial and error to find the correct order of events and then performing all of these events as quickly as possible in one near-flawless run.
      • What pushes this deeper into the cruelty scale is that there's a set of leads and plot thread about the "Bloofer Lady" which is a red herring; pursuing these leads does nothing except waste your time, since the Bloofer Lady plot ends in a dead end and gets you no closer to Dracula.
  • Defied by much every LucasArts adventure game after Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders; these games always allow the player to go back and collect items that they need or refuse to let them continue without the required item. This was often viewed as "dumbing down adventure games for the masses" by hardcore Sierra enthusiasts. LucasArts believed that players should not be punished for experimenting in their games, and criticised Sierra's combination of this trope and Trial-and-Error Gameplay as "sadistic". All their adventure game manuals explicitly stated their design philosophy as being "We believe that you buy games to be entertained, not to be whacked over the head every time you make a mistake. [...] We think you'd prefer to solve the game's mysteries by exploring and discovering, not by dying a thousand deaths." (Interestingly, one of the factors that helped create this design philosophy was Ron Gilbert and David Fox's exasperation with Sierra's blatantly ridiculous game design while working on Maniac Mansion. Fox cited a moment in a Sierra game where he attempted to pick up a broken mirror but had his player character die as a result, saying "I know that in the real world I can successfully pick up a broken piece of mirror without dying.")
    • In The Secret of Monkey Island, if you stay underwater for more than ten minutes after the sheriff throws you off the pier, then the game not only kills you but also continues, giving you the commands float, bloat, bob, and order hint book. The last option gives you the LucasArts helpline phone number.
    • Of course, the manual for Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders might be the least appropriate place to state the LucasArts Design Philosophy since it was like a Sierra game. Missed something in Maniac Mansion? No problem... you can beat the game with your other partner. But in "Zak McKracken," there was only one way to beat the game. Washed the bread crumbs down the drain? Spent your money and got stuck at a place where you can't win the lottery to gain more money? Accidentally killed someone by removing their helmet on Mars? Got Zak and Annie stuck in jail? Then you can't beat the game. And despite that, Zak McKracken is still more merciful than Sierra by virtue of not murdering you every five minutes.
    • Maniac Mansion can still throw a few. Have a party with Jeff and Dave (no special skills), and get the third kid (the only one with the special game-winning skill) killed. Expose the film if you're playing Michael. Tear the envelope with Wendy, Syd, and Razor (so you can't send anything to Three Guys). Forget to intercept the package to Ed so you get stamps. Forget to open the lab door and radio the Meteor Police three times. Granted, some ways of making your game a walking dead state took more effort than others.
  • Dark Seed, which featured art by H. R. Giger, thrives on this. The game has a rather specific solution, complete with many chances to screw up before the end. For example, you only have enough money to buy two items at the store, there are many items available, and you need to buy the right two to win... and you can't buy them at the same time. For another example, you need to set up an alternate way to enter your house before you ever learn that the main way will be blocked. Also, you're playing in "real time", and you need to be in the right place at the right time for certain events. Essentially, the game expects you to keep starting over from the beginning until you get it right.
    • You need to get put in jail at ONE point in this game with three specific items that you need to put in your cell for later to finish the game. The game hints at one of them if you listen to your car radio, but not the other two.
    • The sequel has an even more sadistic feature: the first time you die, you're told that because of your importance, someone else will be sacrificed to save you. If you die again, you actually do die. At first glance, this looks like a nice mechanic to avoid dying without having a save. However, it's there because in order to finish the game you need to die once in a particular, specific way and then come back to life. Died by a different method and taken advantage of the resurrection? Unwinnable. Keep restoring the game whenever you lost the first life, because you died? Unwinnable.
  • The horror Role-Playing Game/adventure game Elvira 2 - Jaws of Cerberus can be easily made unwinnable - especially by destroying a vital item (step on a fireball trap? Good-bye spell book!), such as by using it up for a spell, or for the wrong spell (or by using up a spell at the wrong place and time). In addition, entering the wrong room without appropriate protection will result in your death (and you have no idea about the danger until after you die).
    • Elvira 2 is pretty much Made Of Unwin. One of the worst instances: at one point, you need to animate a Frankenstein's Monster so that it moves away from a door that it obstructs. However, if you click on the monster's head beforehand, then you'll automatically cut off the wires connected to its head, making it impossible to animate. The worst thing is, the game never tells you that you have cut the wires; there are no hints that clicking on the head would have any ill effect.
    • The game even makes jokes with its own unwin-ability. It is possible to get your hands amputated by springing a trap (or have the piranhas in the aquarium eat both your arms). The game allows you to keep playing... but you can't use any items since your hands are gone.
    • Some other situations seem unwinnable but have alternate solutions (though you can block them, too). For example, if you fail to get poison from the mad scientist (you only get one try, after which he'll throw you out of his lab and lock the door), you can instead get the key from the piranha aquarium using a telekinesis spell. But if your Intellect and Level are low enough, you will only get one use out of the spell, and spending it there you will have made the game unwinnable once again since you won't be able to retrieve certain keys from a trapped alcove later.
  • In Jigsaw (here), you must collect all sixteen jigsaw pieces to restore history in each time period. While there's a device that tells you if there are jigsaw pieces in your current time period that you haven't found yet, it's sometimes easy to make collecting them impossible, especially when you don't realize that a piece is in an area that later becomes inaccessible. For instance, there are the jigsaw pieces you're supposed to pick up during the mission in "Siberia": fail to press the right button in the missile before it flies out or fail to retrieve the cable you used to get down to the missile so you can use it again on the goose's nest, and at least one of these pieces will be lost for good. But the most egregious Unwinnable situation involves the drawing competition at the end of the game. If you haven't drawn at least four animals in the sketchbook over the course of the game, then you can't get the competition prize you need to complete the game. Oh, you didn't get the sketchbook from inside the stool or the pencil under the stool before all the historical intrigue began? Then you had better restart.
  • Kemco's NES version of Déjà Vu had one frustrating unwinnable scenario — if you've used up your last 3 coins going somewhere other than Peoria and have already taken a free cab ride.
    • At the beginning of the game, you find pills in a bathroom that can be filled with various medicines, some necessary to complete the game. In the same room is an unlabelled medicine which turns out to be deadly poison. Presumably the designers meant for you to put the poison in the pills swallow them, die, and load your last save. However, if you put the poison in the pills and continue through the game, it becomes unwinnable because there is no way to put a different medicine in the pills without swallowing them first (or feeding them to an NPC, which will kill that person and also make the game unwinnable). It can take several hours to discover this.
  • The games of Magnetic Scrolls tended to be hideously prone to Unwinnable situations, requiring precise courses of action to win, and they invoked a lot of tropes: Trial-and-Error Gameplay, Timed Missions, Guide Dang It!, Permanently Missable Content, Point of No Return, Moon Logic Puzzle, and then some. Examples:
    • Fish required that you follow one path through the game almost exactly, and that required more guesswork than skill. Even if you worked it out, it's possible to lose because of a time limit that no one told you existed!
    • In Corruption, you must be in several right places at several right times, a series of events must be completed in a specific order, and you must avoid a set of pitfalls that you don't know exist even after you lose. Failure to work things out properly can result in anything from long-term imprisonment to your sudden inexplicable death. And then there's The Hospital, where over fifty moves must be done in perfect and precise order without a single indication of what they are.
    • Guild Of Thieves had puzzles so mind-breaking and deliriously insane that even walkthroughs won't always help. It is possible to destroy your ability to complete the game with one wrong command, and there are hundreds of wrong commands. Famously, opening a bag you've just found instantly destroys the ancient sheet music that you didn't know was in there.
  • The Tower of Druaga features a hero going through a 60 level tower. Each level has a hidden treasure. Some treasures are bad and make the game unwinnable. This fact might not be discovered until many levels later; nor can the item's properties be discerned until it is obtained. A rare case of Guide Dang It! in an arcade game.
  • In Grand Theft Auto III, conflicting missions can make 100% completion impossible if taken out of order. For instance, one mission will have you betray a crime boss's trust and kill him — a bad idea if you haven't finished his missions for you yet. Some players were surprised.
    • Also, certain missions in the Portland area, such as the ambulance missions, can become unwinnable after you kill the Mafia boss because the Mafia will be all over you like flies on a carcass.
  • In Monty on the Run, you had to choose five items at the beginning of the game for Monty's freedom kit, and the game would be unwinnable unless you chose the right ones. This is often claimed to be Copy Protection, but the manual actually didn't tell the player which items to use; it was just Trial-and-Error Gameplay.
  • Video Game/Shanghai became a popular implementation of Mahjong Solitaire, and cloned frequently. While the more common versions guarantee that the game is solvable, there's other variations that simply have tiles randomly placed (similar to as if the player layed out the tiles without a computer) with no consideration on whether or not the result is winnable.
  • Wing Commander:
    • If you fail too many campaigns, you will be sent to the "Hell's Kitchen" campaign where victory is impossible. Even if you successfully complete every mission in Hell's Kitchen, the Confederation will still lose. On the other hand, winning enough campaigns will send you to the final "Venice" campaign, in which the Confederation will win even if you fail every mission.
    • If both your ejector seat and communications systems are inoperable, there's no way to complete a mission because you can neither hail the Tiger Claw to request landing clearance, nor eject to get picked up. You have to start the whole mission over.
    • In both Wing Commander: Privateer games, failing a mission in the main questline will result in the player being unable to progress the story any further and will not reach the ending.
    • Wing Commander III: Heart Of The Tiger has a campaign path depending on your performance on previous missions where you fight against an endless wave of Kilrathi until you either quit the game or die. It is possible to outlast the "endless" wave of Kilrathi and destroy all the guns on the mothership, at which point you can shoot the mother ship forever with no results. At that point, quitting is the only option.
    • Wing Commander IV has a point where the plot wants you to defect to the Union of Border Worlds. If you decline the second of two chances and choose to stay with Confed, then infinite waves of Border World bombers spawn until your carrier is destroyed, ending the game. If you cheat and remove all the enemy craft from the mission, then your carrier explodes on its own. What made this infuriating is that Wing Commander IV billed itself as giving the player the choice of defecting or staying loyal to Confed. Technically, it did; but it punished that second choice hard!
  • In Omikron: The Nomad Soul, a robotic character will make an offhand mention of his aching joints amid a wall of dialogue. If you don't then go out and find some oil for said robot, then the door locks, the game becomes unwinnable, and you won't find out until much later.
  • Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat had a stage with so many Orcs it was deemed "impossible" by the makers themselves, and for good reason: there was no stage beyond it. One wily player managed to get through only to have the game lock up as it tried to load a stage that didn't exist.
  • In the SNES version of Shadowrun, if you don't select the "Talk" option during one of your first conversations of the game, you'll miss a vital "Ask About..." topic that would make it impossible to continue. You won't discover this until about two-thirds of the game laternote .
  • Alone in the Dark:
    • In the original game, you need two small mirrors to defeat the Nightgaunts at the top of the stairs and proceed further into the game. If a monster attacks you just once while you are carrying the mirrors, they will shatter and are lost forever. There are only two mirrors in the entire game. Without both of them intact, the game is unwinnable. Other possible unwinnable situations are entering the caves beneath Derceto (it is a Point of No Return) without every required plot itemnote , neglecting to unlock the passage back into the basement so you can get back after the bridge collapses (depending on what version you're playing), and running out of fuel for the oil lamp, which you need to reach and defeat the Final Boss.
    • Downplayed in second game. There is a bullet-proof vest which reduces damage and keeps Carnby from getting stun-locked. It has limited durability, and if you break it before an area where you must fight off multiple gun-wielding enemies at once, unless the player moves very quickly, all you'll be able to do is watch Carnby in a Santa suit repeatedly flinch and then fall down dead.
    • In the third game, advancing in the plot requires to shoot a villain with a golden bullet (one hit is enough to kill him). There are exactly 11 golden bullets in the game (a single Winchester round and a bag of gold coins kept by the enemy himself, that can be stolen from his hands with the whip). Naturally, using up those bullets will make the game unwinnable.
  • The Dirty Harry game for the NES has a completely normal-looking room which you cannot exit after you enter it, forcing you to reset the system. It's not a bug — the door is replaced with graffiti saying, "ha ha ha."
  • The Freescape game Dark Side included sensors which zapped you into a prison cell called Io Confinement (often misnamed "I/O Confinement" in maps and walkthroughs) containing an item needed to finish the game, which could only be exited by firing at energy-draining doodads by the door, causing the door to open once you'd sacrificed enough energy. Heaven help you if you ended up there with insufficient energy to do that, or to survive for long once out — or if you destroyed the sensors before they could imprison you.
    • The first game, Driller, had an even worse feature. Both Driller and Dark Side have a game map in the shape of a rhombicuboctahedron (18 squares and 8 triangles, of which 3 squares and a triangle meet at every corner), the back-story in both cases being that this is an artificial world built around a natural moon by the erection of the square platforms over the moon's surface. In Dark Side, the triangular facets are simply inaccessible (blocked off by forcefields), but in Driller it's possible to drive off the edge of a platform and fall through the triangular hole onto the surface of the original moon... from which there is no way back, so it's quit-and-restart time.
    • Driller also had an All There in the Manual moment which probably served as Copy Protection. The game involved erecting drilling rigs on each of the world's 18 square platforms, in order to tap gas pockets and blow off their contents into space, thereby rendering them harmless so the moon doesn't explode and destroy its world when struck by a meteor in a few hours' time. The gas pockets varied in size, the smaller ones being harder to locate, and one of them was so tiny as to be impossible to locate without being told exactly where it was — which one of the illustrations in the manual did, so those who got a pirate copy without also getting a copy of the manual (or who didn't bother to read the manual) stood no chance of winning.
  • The Impossible Quiz. As you progress through the game, you're given skips, which you can use to skip most questions. But the last question is introduced as either the easiest question or the hardest. It turns out that you have to use all your skips to pass it. If you used even one before this, then the game is impossible to win and you have to start over from the beginning.
    • Not only that, but Question 84 has two hidden skips that you must grab before collecting the star that advances you to the next question. Failure to get both will leave you unable to beat the final question.
  • Phantasy Star I has two bosses, Medusa and Lassic, who have attacks that can one-shot your party unless you have a specific item (the Mirror Shield and the Crystal, respectively). Without them, you have no chance of prevailing against them. note 
  • Phantasy Star III can become unwinnable if you engage in a little Script Breaking in the beginning by using an Escapipe (which lets you escape dungeons instantly) after being arrested. Apparently, you don't just break the script, you break the whole game. It's a logical place to use an Escapipe if you don't know you shouldn't have it yet, so the game designers provide messages telling you that you made the game unwinnable after the fact. This also counts as By Insanity, since the only way to afford an Escapipe at this point is by selling all of your character's starting equipment.
  • In Nitemare 3D, there are a handful of block- or tombstone-pushing puzzles. Because of the simplicity of the game engine, there is no way to "pull" these items back toward you. Yes, there are places where you can push some of them that permanently block critical paths. It's usually clear immediately when you've messed up.
  • The ZX Spectrum port of Great Gurianos used up so much memory that there was no room to include the ending. Dave Perry was forced to make the final boss undefeatable.
  • While still polite compared to others (you just have to die, rather than restart the game), Yoshi's Island DS makes nearly every secret level potentially Unwinnable By Design. The last secret level, for example — Yoshi's Island Easter Eggs — has a room in which there's a platform powered by shooting eggs at it. You can and often will run out long before reaching the end, there's no backtracking, and your only hope is the instakill spikes surrounding you. On occasion, your platform just goes straight past a spike covered obstacle that needs to be raised and gets stuck on the other side.
  • Ravenskull features such jollities as floor squares that make gates trap you in or objects disappear from your inventory when stood on. Many of these contain treasures and thus have to be stood on; the puzzle is working out the correct order to perform certain tasks so as to prevent an Unwinnable outcome occurring.
  • Tower Of The Sorcerer includes an altar where you can give money to raise your stats. The price goes up on a quadratic scale with each use. The catch? Later levels have additional altars that give you a greater stat increase; but each time you use one, the price goes up for all of them. Using the first one too much can make it impossible to progress.
  • A game simply known as Bow And Arrow had a level in which a white dove passes by the main character, followed by swarms of black birds. If the player failed to exterminate even one of the black birds, then a later level is impossible. The game's story between levels does say that the dove is carrying a message from you to a helpful wizard, and the later level does say, "I hope the message got to XYZ". The game did not explicitly say, however, that all the black birds had to be eliminated.
  • Alex Kidd in Miracle World had a situation that counted as Unwinnable when the game was released. If you didn't pick up the letter your brother talked about, then you did not receive the stone slab with the combination on it to unlock the last part of the game. The stone slab is not required, however, if you know the combination of by heart. But if you don't know the code at all, then this renders the game Unwinnable. Guide Dang It! now, but the guides probably wouldn't give you the code without the slab then.
  • Final Fantasy IV had the Dark Elf, who lived in a cave where it was highly magnetic and would disable you if you wore anything metal in it. To get past him you needed to have talked with Edward and received a key item. However, if you did not do this, there is nothing stopping you from initiating the battle. While in theory you could defeat him without getting the harp and could still de-equip the armor (or wear silver armor and weapons instead, because silver is a non-ferrous metal, thus unaffected by magnetism) mid-battle, you could only do so with cheats since the Dark Elf would one-shot any character without armor. If you did not save before-hand, you would have wasted a ton of time.
  • The NES port of ICOM's Uninvited has a Ruby in one of the bedrooms in the game. You are warned not to take it the first time you try. If you choose again to take it, then the game will let you continue and even save until you die after a certain number of moves. There's one location where you can put the ruby down and live. Fortunately enough, upon entering a message explicitly says you can use it to throw away items you don't need anymore.
  • The Gateway series of adventure games by Legend could be made unwinnable, but it was usually obvious when you did. For instance, breaking the PV commset in the beginning of Gateway 1 makes it impossible to receive a crucial message later on, but that's obvious because the screen cracks. Wearing the ring while in the mirror room in Hell in Gateway 1 also eventually makes the portals close, so you'll be stuck. But if that happens, then you can simply type "die" and restart.
    • You can also miss a particular meeting, where certain items are handed out, and be stuck.
  • In The Prince of Tennis dating sim Dokidoki Survival, your success getting a character to be your boyfriend usually depends on the number of "heart points" you have earned for interacting with him throughout the game. For Ooishi, however, whether he accepts your feelings also hinges on answering a single question correctly. If you answer wrong, then no matter how full your heart meter is, he won't accept your feelings. What's more, you earn heart points for giving the wrong answer. In fact, you earn the exact same amount as for giving the right answer, and so it's nearly impossible to figure out where you've gone wrong.
  • Colossal Cave Adventure
    • The original Colossal Cave Adventure has a nasty one near the end — after you deposit the last treasure, you have a small number of moves to get back into the cave system before you're locked out of it (literally). If you're anywhere in the caves when the timer expires, then you're whisked to the last two locations; if you aren't, then you can't get back in — and thus can't end the game.
    • Several in the bridge:
      • If you give the troll a non-recoverable treasure to pass (as in, not the magic egg), then you'd have lost it forever and won't get it back.
      • If you return via the bridge with the bear still following you, the bridge breaks under the bear's weight, causing you to fall and die. You can then respawn back at the starting location, but once you make it back to the bridge room, the bridge will still be gone, and if you left something you need on the other side, you're doomed.
  • In Shift, on one level, if you press a particular button, you are trapped in an inescapable little area with spikes above you, and it reveals a message 'suicide time!' that describes the only way to get out of there. Death Is a Slap on the Wrist, though - it simply restarts the level.
    • On one screen of Shift 4, if you take a certain key before you use a certain arrow, that arrow will get covered, and you will be trapped in a black rectangular area with no way out and no spikes to impale yourself on. Time for the R key!
  • Everquest had the Sleeper. This fight was intended to be hopeless, but the designers didn't tell that to the players, so they would try anyway. They were careful to not make the boss actually invincible, so others would try it on other servers too. And there can be only one attempt on the entire server, ever. The quest to wake the sleeper can only be completed once and cannot be finished by any other players after completion. Once the raid inevitably wipes, this boss runs rampant through the entire continent of Velious and kills a major NPC. It was killed on ONE server many years later with Zerg Rush tactics in a raid force consisting of over 300 players.
  • From Eye of the Beholder 2:
    • Temple Level 2 had two rooms with doors that permanently closed after you entered them, trapping your party. You had to reload a saved game to continue.
    • Silver Tower Level 2 had a room with a pile of magic items and a dying Darkmoon priest. You have to kill the priest to get the treasure — but if you do, then the pressure plate he's lying on releases and the door closes, trapping you forever.
  • Clock Tower: The First Fear has two such possible states that get you stuck in a permanent loop of Game Overs, ironically triggered by the game's otherwise very merciful "continue in the room you died in" mechanic. Thankfully they both rely on fairly unlikely circumstances:
    • Meeting Ms. Mary in the telephone room without learning her true identity or picking up the ham will get you tossed in the cage with the starving-to-the-point-of-cannibalism Simon Barrows, trapping you in a permanent loop of waking up in the cage, getting killed and eaten, game over, continuing from the moment you woke up in the cage...
    • Fleeing from Scissorman by jumping the gap in the second story hallway, and then entering the storeroom and happening to be ambushed by Scissorman without first picking up the rope and using it to make an escape to the first floor, makes you unable to get away. You'll be unable to interact with the rope to create the escape when being pursued, be cornered and killed by Scissorman, and continue in the room where he immediately ambushes you again...
  • Clock Tower plays with this. It's possible on more than a few occasions to create unwinnable scenarios, depending on if you missed an item or failed to do something, and you won't know about it until much later when there's nothing you can do about it. However rather than just giving you the generic Game Over screen you instead get alternate (and worse) ending sequences, all of which you need for 100% Completion. There are also obtainable extras that give you warnings on how to avoid these fates (or trigger them if you're a completionist), such as advising you to find the flashlight or remember who you gave the Demon Idle to.
  • Clock Tower 2 (Ghost Head in Japan) features several unwinnable scenarios, most of which involve talking to a particular character in the wrong form. Two particularly cruel instances involve situations that the game doesn't properly warn you about:
    • Shortly after the protagonist survives an attack from the first enemy of the game, she leaves the room the enemy is lying in and stands in the hallway. You're supposed to turn around and lock the door with the key you used to open the room, but this is never made clear anywhere. If you don't lock the door and you leave the hallway, then the game becomes unwinnable and one of the worst endings will play shortly after reaching another section of the house.
    • The worst case is the samurai armor the player has to inspect. It can only be examined in the first section of the game. Failure to do so will result in the armor dropping out of a window during an unavoidable cutscene several hours later, killing the player character and securing a bad ending long after anything could be done to avoid it.
  • Pathologic is cruel — you don't realise how deeply you've failed until up to 12 hours later. Some players have had breakdowns when they realised that they're going to have to start over because they didn't pick up something from an unmarked house.
    • Turgor, Ice-pick's better translated game is worse. Much of the game centers around the allocation of a resource that slowly kills the entire game world every time you use it, meaning you have to think wisely about what you're doing. You would think that the cleaner translation would mean that the game would actually instruct you on how to not lock yourself into an unwinnable state, but no such luck.
  • Tex Murphy:
    • The second game, Martian Memorandum. Aside from all the unfair scenarios, such as preparing to survive for several days in a fridge, you can get screwed bad at the casino on Mars: if, while in the mob boss's office, you fail to do and get everything necessary before you leave, then you're boned. Trying to go back there ever again gets you murdered instantly. But you do have to go there the first time to move the plot.
    • The fourth game, Pandora Directive is very fair but it does have a single very cruel example. If you enter Dag Horton's office on your first visit to Autotech you'll be free to ransack the place and pick up several useful items. Except you should wonder why the "Travel" button just become unavailable. As soon as you exit the office you're caught and killed. If you saved inside the office you've no choice but to reload an earlier save or restart the game.
      • On the other hand, trying to get the Good Ending of said game is firmly on the Cruel end of the scale all the way through. Unless you use the "jky" cheat code to see your exact karma points and event flags, you have no way of knowing where, how or if you went wrong.
  • A big one in Out of This World, among other examples: If the player floods the cave with water but fail to shoot out the wall of the pit so the player can get back into the flooded caverns as well as cross the pit, then the player will be unable to progress. The player also get stuck if Buddy gets killed. Fortunately the game's checkpoint system is based on tasks, not on locations. The player can always die after screwing up and even if that's not possible, a password can still be used that takes the player to the last checkpoint. There are no passwords that takes the player to an unbeatable situation.
  • In The Theater, an RPG Maker VX game, the final boss battle can be made unwinnable. An imp just before the battle offers you passage to a final save point after a difficult puzzle; in return, you need to give him one of your items. All but one of your items are needed to defeat the boss. Oh, well, that's not so bad; you can just load your sa- OH, WAIT, YOU JUST SAVED! There is no hint beforehand that this will make it impossible to win. The creator, when questioned, claimed that he added this feature because no other game had done it.
  • The NES billiards game Lunar Ball allows the friction of the pool table to be altered. It goes as far down as 0 — no friction. At 0, balls will move at a constant speed, making it possible for the balls to be caught in an infinite loop if none of them are pocketed.
  • In Devil Survivor, there is one particular boss (Beldr) that only you, the main character, can damage (and thus kill). If you die, and no live character or demon has (Sama)Recarm on hand, then the battle keeps going... without a chance of winning. Also, while the plot makes this complication clear the first time you encounter him, he comes back during the Boss Rush that precedes the Final Boss, by which point you might have forgotten...
  • The 1980s platform adventure game Dizzy had a nasty situation two screens from the starting position. A bridge over a deep crevasse needs to be crossed many times during the course of the game. Many, many times. If just once you tread in the middle of it rather than jump, then the bridge vanishes. It doesn't respawn.
    • In Seymour Goes To Hollywood, if you try using the teleporter in the Flash Gordon parody, you will be teleported above a spike pit, and you automatically respawn above the spike pit each time you die. You need to teleport the towel item first.
  • In Blaster Master's sixth stage, there's one point where you can shoot upwards through a set of blocks and enter a door, but when you return, the blocks will have respawned, and you can't shoot downwards, so you're stuck for good unless you commit suicide. In some other places like this, you can't do that either, so the only option is to reset.
    • There's a small gap to the right of the gate that leads to Area 2. Falling into it causes you to get trapped because there's not enough room to perform a precise jump through its small entrance and get out.
  • Rainbird's text adventure Legend Of The Sword took this to the limit and beyond. Your character's Hyperactive Metabolism meant you burned through your life force at a tremendous rate, so you had to do things in a very specific order for you to avoid dying of lost energy. On top of this, there were numerous ways to leave something behind when irreversibly entering a new area. The combination of these two factors meant that the situation at any given time would almost always be unwinnable.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords gives you an option to destroy a Door Control Panel on Telos. If you actually destroy it, you will be unable to enter the room later and thus you won't be able to progress.
  • Resident Evil – Code: Veronica not only has the most limited ammo supply in the series, but in many areas, zombies respawn. Don't blow away your ammo so that you can't get past an unavoidable ambush later in the game. Also, don't take any of the big guns as Claire near the end, especially the Grenade Launcher, or they will be lost and you will find yourself up the creek without a paddle in the Final Boss fight.
  • In Shining Force The Sword Of Hajya, Prince Nick, whose right arm is turned to stone and rendered unusable for the majority of the game, shows up in the confrontation with the Final Boss, Iom. The only thing that can break the invincibility seal on the boss is the Sword of Hajya, and he is the only one who can use it. And if Iom happens to kill Nick before he gets a chance to use his sword, which in this battle can easily happen because of how absurdly over-powered the boss is, you'll have to start all over again because it becomes unwinnable.
  • Dead Rising and its sequel use this design trope well. The plot to find the root of the conspiracy has several key points where Frank/Chuck have to be at an appointed place at or before a certain time to get info/save someone/defeat someone. (Special emphasis is given to Chuck's daughter, who has to be given medication between 7 and 8 AM every day to prevent zombification.) If they don't perform these actions, a warning will come up on screen saying that "The Truth has disappeared into the darkness" - followed by an option to start over while keeping their previous experience - or letting them still keep playing and trying to just get out alive. And since many of the plot threads and additional survivor scoops overlap, in addition to some of the main characters succumbing to Plotline Death later in the story, letting the plot expire is actually the easiest way to get achievements for saving 50+ survivors. This is eased by the fact that the game is designed around multiple runs, all of the levels you have gained carry over between runs, so it isn't like you are starting from zero every single run.
  • The Interactive Fiction game Savoir-Faire gives you several opportunities to screw yourself out of victory. One occurs when you have to retrieve a bauble from a high shelf; you not only have to make sure it doesn't shatter, you also need to throw one of your inventory items up there for it to fall down - and the inventory item you use for that purpose can't be retrieved, so you'd better hope that said item isn't one you'll need later on.
  • The two playable characters in Head Over Heels have seperate life counters, so it's possible to kill one of them off completely. The game is impossible to beat with only one character though.
  • In The Longest Journey, there is a risk you'll end up stuck if you don't pick up a certain item inside an archive. There is no early indication you need this item - it's pretty much impossible to know you need it until the very moment you're supposed to use it. What is this item? A can of soda. Which you buy from a inconspicuous vending machine standing inside a building you can't get back into once you've left. Chances are you never even saw the machine.
  • Jumpman: One of the levels can be made completely unwinnable, to the point where you must lose all of your lives and start over if you pick up certain bombs near that starting place too early, which then traps you on the starting platform, unable to jump to anywhere else. There is no way to find this out in advance.
  • Originally, the Level Editor in Glider PRO allowed a switch to be linked to a star. When triggered, the switch would destroy the star permanently without excluding it from the number required to win (or turning off its animation). Later versions ostensibly disabled this, but it could still be done with a bit of trickery. (Not that one really needed it to make houses unwinnable...)
  • In one of the story modes in the WWE Smackdown vs. Raw games, If you advance the story by NEVER LOSING A MATCH, and retaining your championship title for many seasons, eventually you will be proposed a special referee match, with Vince McMahon as the referee. The game sets the match rules so that you can't defeat your enemy by doing enough damage to a certain body part, knocking them out with a wrestler's signature move, 10 count ring-out, or anything else other than a 3 count pin. The match is intentionally designed that the referee will NOT count to 3 unless your character is being pinned. The reason being that McMahon had enough of you being the champion for years on end, and decided to take it away whether you liked it or not.
  • In The Journeyman Project, you are a time traveller. At one point, you have to get a computer chip from a robot you disable in one era so that you can fool a retinal scanner in another. The problem is that there are a handful of chips you can take from the robot after you disable it, you can take them in any order, and taking a certain chip (which isn't the one you need to get past the scanner) will cause the robot to explode. There's no indication which chip does what, the game doesn't give any hints about how to solve the scanner puzzle, and there's no way to access the robot again after it's been destroyed. Good luck figuring out where you went wrong and pulling the chips out in the correct order after you restart!
    • in the sequel, Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time, you can go back to any of your time zones and re-obtain any item you missed, or even obtained and later lost again (the Grappling Hook, notoriously, had to be used, lost, and retrieved multiple times) at any time, except once you reach the Krynn embassy in the present day. Even then, the two items required in this area are impossible to progress through the game without obtainingnote  However, there's one problem: the explosive charge is used to open a pod to find certain items. You get one charge, which can open one pod. There are seven pods, four of which contain items you neednote . One of those items can be used to open the other pods. Use the charge on the wrong pod, and you're done.
  • Companions Of Xanth: In the real world, before using the Xanth CD to begin the game proper, you must take the mustard from the refrigerator. You need it to defeat a hot dog half-way through the game.
    • If you drink from the lake filled with "hate water", there are no apparent ill effects at first, but then your character begins hating everything around himself until he can no longer continue with his quest. Almost mockingly, there's an option to "undo" your last move once the game over happens, but obviously it won't work since you've drank the water many turns ago. Especially annoying as drinking from the lake seems to be just harmless game flavor.
  • A few times near the end of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which is especially unpredictable since in most of the game it's impossible to make a mistake during the riddles. But it isn't as frustrating as it seems, because at these moments it is impossible to reach a savepoint.
    • On the ship, starting the engine requires the player to find a blowtorch, turn a specific wheel, fix a pipe with the blowtorch, turn another specific wheel. Not turning the right wheel will cause the engine to explode and kill the player.
    • On the Devil's Reef, a door near the exit of the level must be reached within a timer. To trigger it, you have to put a jewel in a mechanism, run to the other door and put a red crystal in the opened claw in front of the door; when the timer expires, the claws close; if the red crystal is put in the claws the door opens, if not nothing happens. The first problem is that the timer can only be triggered once. The second is that near the triggering mechanism there are claws like the ones you have to reach; the ones near the triggering mechanism hold a green crystal and also open when you put the jewel in the timer's mechanism. The green crystal can be picked up by the player, but if it isn't in its claws when the timer expires the door won't open.
  • In the Baldur's Gate series, you cannot talk with anyone who's hostile to you. To prevent the game from becoming Unwinnable by making a plot-critical (i.e. you need to talk to them to advance the plot) NPC hostile, the game will immediately kill you if you make them hostile. The methods differ from fire from the sky (Tethoril) to death by a game-breaking amount of magic missiles (Gorion) to spawning assassins that instantly kill you (Aran/Bodhi in their respective paths, Elthan). Most of these NPCs are almost impossible to kill on top of it.
  • The Fire Emblem series has this built right into the main gameplay, for most of the series. The general formula for a campaign is that you fight one battle, then the next, and you are expected to level up your army and manage your equipment as you go. Your weapons break over time, and units who die in battle are lost permanently. If you lose too many units, or run out of weapons, or rely too much on your Crutch Character and fail to level up your army properly, you may find yourself in an impossible situation.
    • The final boss of most of the games is only vulnerable to certain characters with certain equipment. Many of these characters can sometimes be missed, killed, or underleveled, and many of these items can be missed, lost, or broken. As an example, in the first game, you will have serious difficulty beating the final boss, Medeus, if you don't have Marth with his Falchion or Tiki with her Divine Dragonstone. Marth is the main character, so he cannot be missed and you get a game over if he dies, but it is quite possible to miss Tiki or lose her in battle. Getting the Falchion is also a fairly involved process.
    • In Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, there is a later mission where you are supposed to meet with an NPC to receive an item that allows its holder to negate the Plot Armor of the second story's penultimate boss and ultimately kill him, however, it is possible to complete that chapter without ever talking to this NPC, and the game will continue as if you had done so regardless. This will later bite you HARD when you finally get to the game's penultimate boss and you quickly realize that without that item in a unit's inventory, it is impossible to even attack the boss, let alone kill, and there's no way to replay a completed mission outside starting the entire campaign over.
      • That same chapter also has another item that is required to obtain in order to and get the final two missions and the good ending, that involves collecting all of the twelve Star Orb Fragments. Missing even one of the fragments denies you the chance to finish the whole story. And about half of them can easily be missed if you do not know exactly what to do beforehand.
    • In Fire Emblem: Thracia 776, there are several chapters that require you to use a key (or a lockpick owned by a thief) to progress in the mission. Should the thieves be too tired to participate in the mission (or too DEAD for that matter) and/or you do not have any keys/lockpicks, you will not be able to finish that chapter (and by consequence, the rest of the game). In fact, you can encounter this situation as early as the third chapter if you did not do the Chapter 2 Gaiden mission (to recruit a thief that comes with a Lockpick) and unwittingly kill the only enemy that has a Door Key in Chapter 3.
      • Additionally, from chapter 8 onward in that same game, you are always required to select a minimum number of units in order to begin the chapter; should enough of your units either be exhausted, captured, and of course dead at that time, it is possible to actually lack the required numbers to even start the chapter - nevermind try to complete it.
    • In Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, you need to acquire and keep eight special, powerful weapons intact and keep a certain character alive in order to proceed to the final three missions and the good ending. Six of these eight weapons are acquired in extra chapters, but accessing them can be impossible unless you know what exactly needs to be done to get to them (for example, to access one of the extra chapters, you have to keep a fairly powerful enemy unit alive; he won't join you even if you talk to him, but he will deal considerable damage if he gets close.). And, like all the other games, you cannot replay a completed chapter.
  • In the Facebook app Little Cave Hero there are various levels with underground springs which endlessly produces water. If tiles of water block a path and you can't destroy the source, or if for some reason you can't get the water to hit important water-switches, the level becomes unwinnable. What's worse is that you either have to pay real money or get a item from a Level 20 Facebook friend to be able to restart levels. Also troublesome is that (this being a Facebook game and all) you need to invite friends to get the tools necessary to clear many levels.
  • In Submachine Extended, the second version of the original Submachine game, a puzzle was added where one of the four pieces you needed appeared in a teleporter once you pulled certain switches and the power was on. However, it also retained the puzzle where you had to burn out the power in order to get another piece. Blow the fuses before you've found the former piece and it disappears again, so you're screwed. Mateusz Skutnik later decided this was a mistake, and in the current version the teleporter does not require power.
  • In Brain Dead 13, if you run away from any of the "big three," then it's impossible to beat the game without restarting. You'll find out you've screwed up after you've crawled the castle a few times and start to suspect that it has no ending.
  • That arcade game Crossbow featured unarmed adventurers walking from left to right across a screen, whilst bats, birds, scorpions, monsters, stalactites and arrows moved in on them and had to be shot by the player to ensure safe passage. The arcade cabinet featured a light gun shaped as an actual crossbow, meaning you could aim as quickly as you could move the weapon. The home versions used a crosshair moved by the keyboard or joystick - and in the Commodore version it moved at the same speed as all of the enemies. Accidentally move your crosshair past any enemy, and you can watch it crawl back with no chance to stop a crow or rat chewing through five humans in one go.
  • Planescape: Torment:
    • If you anger the Lady of Pain twice, the game becomes unwinnable; in this situation, she will always show up and kill you as soon as you leave whatever area you're in. However, the programmers were kind; the game will not let you save if you have done this, and will give you an error message stating that you have incurred the Lady's wrath and saving now would imperil your quest.
    • You can skip a part at the very beginning of the game that gives you the ability to resurrect your companions. If you remove a dead companion from your party, they're lost for good, and so is any (even essential) game content you need them to get to. Also, the Modron Maze is a procedurally generated dungeon, and all items (and companions) inside will be gone forever if you let it reset.
      • As a fun bit of Developers' Foresight, you can leave the companion that, depending on your alignment, will betray and attack you at the end of the game to die in the maze. If you do that, you will encounter them anyway and they will call you out on that. Their return is even justified by one of them being literally Hell-bent on killing you and the other being linked to the virtually limitless energy of another plane.
  • A mini-game form of this happens in The ClueFinders. There's one mini-game in Search and Solve where you guess a few times, and then figure out which coordinates the spaces you have to hit are. The problem is, sometimes you can get unlucky and you either a) have all the spaces clustered into one spot (and your initial guesses are on the other parts of the map), or b) they're all spread out; and by the time you know which symbol and colour represents which row and column, you won't be able to win. It's going to take a lot more than just four.
  • The US Army's version of Full Spectrum Warrior (used for NCO tactical training) includes a mission that is unwinnable, teaching noncoms that yes, you will lose battles and people will die. Defied in the commercial release.
  • In the digitized-graphics game Titanic, you have three options to escape from the ship after it hits the iceberg: Find Henry and Ribeena Gorse-Jones and get on a lifeboat with them (you have to do this early), win the boat pass from Buick Riviera and use it before the two crewmen run out of lifeboats, or rescue Shailagh Hacker, then wait until almost the time the last lifeboat leaves and talk to Morrow. If you miss all three, the game continues for a few minutes (where you can get some unique lines of dialogue with the other doomed passengers) before the ship sinks and you die. This tosses you to the options screen, the same as dying at any previous point, meaning that if you save after the last lifeboat is gone, you're sunk. Polite level, because who'd do such a thing (unless it's an extra save to get all the dialogues).
  • Kronolog The Nazi Paradox (Localized and released as Red Hell in Europe for obvious reasons) is just RIFE with these, mostly from failing to realize you need to acquire and keep certain items to solve later puzzles. Most notable is the zeppelin condom, hinted at in the elevator immediately after the second room in the game (which has the coin required to get the condom) and used to solve the second-to-last puzzle in the entire game. The 12-item limit in your inventory only makes this worse, as some items are not automatically discarded after their usefulness is gone, and unless you write down and remember EVERYTHING, you'll probably discard the condom to make space for other things, rendering the game completely unwinnable from that point on.
  • Strife: Quest for the Sigil has many Cruel dead ends. One quest giver, Harris, gives you a quest to steal a chalice from the villainous Order's interrogation complex. If you do so the game becomes unwinnable, as he sends you to report to Governor Mourel (who normally is an NPC who gives out an essential quest a bit later). Mourel tells you you are under arrest and waves of Acolytes spawn in all over the city to kill you. There is no way of knowing this will happen and no turning back once you have the chalice. And that's just one dead end. Killing any NPC could potentially make the game unwinnable as that character would not be able to give out important quests or items.
    • Strife: Veteran Edition fixes the dead end involving Harris. If you complete that quest, Governor Mourel will still put you under arrest, but this time, he'll have you knocked out and dragged back to the interrogation room from the start of the game with new personnel. Escape it again and you can proceed through the game normally. There will still be extra guards in town, but they won't bother you unless you fire a shot. For good measure, you can go back to Harris and kill him for his treachery, unlocking access to his secret stash.
  • In Below the Root, your character is able to pick up a "wand of Befal" (a machete). Use it on an animal or human being, and your spirit strength goes poof, rendering the game unwinnable. Mind you, this is "tough" level at worst, and "Polite" if you actually read the books and knew that you were dealing with a society of pacifists and a book series where the major theme is the futility of violence.
  • In the indie game Seven Minutes, the entire game is a trap. The only way to win is to do nothing for seven minutes. Leaving the first room makes the game unwinnable and leads to a Nightmare Fuel ending: "You were too eager to know what was out there; but sometimes, there is nothing out there. There is nothing. NOTHING."
  • Radiant Historia uses a Nasty level of this In-Universe. Stocke, either under the guidance of the player or not, will frequently find his decisions or actions (many of which seem sensible at the time) send events spiraling out of control and ultimately doom the entire world. The White Chronicle allows him to combat this with an also In-Universe version of Save Scumming, traveling back in time to various key events and experimenting with different permutations to try and get things back on track.
  • In the Accolade adventure game Search For The King, there are two places (Las Vegas and Graceland) that, once you go there, you can't go back. The game will let you go to those areas before you have everything you need, making the game unwinnable. Fortunately, the game informs you that you don't have everything you need as soon as you get there, so you can go back to a previous save and hunt around some more.
  • Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee has the Hub Level Scrabanian Temple, where, in several areas, you need to light a lamp, then leave. It's possible in at least one area to take the lift up to the exit without lighting the lamp (which is on the bottom level). If you do so, the game is unwinnable, as the next time you enter this area to fix your mistake, you cannot access the lift anymore — it's still up there and you cannot call it down, and thus the exit is unreachable. Time to reload!
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog 4, the Steelions in White Park Act 3 start creating large chunks of ice the moment they spot Sonic. Towards the end of the Act, they're deliberately placed to completely obstruct Sonic's path, making it impossible to proceed further (even with the powerful Rolling Combo or using Super Sonic) and your only option to let Sonic drown and try again. Since these Steelions are located in a narrow (relative to Sonic) corridor and are already facing the direction where Sonic would emerge, the only way to get through this area is to run past the Steelions' range of ice before they finish (or defeat them before the ice starts forming, which is much harder), easier said than done as there are so many of them. And it's underwater.
  • The online video game September 12th, by Gonzalo Frasca, was written as a social commentary on The War on Terror. The player has to shoot terrorists with missiles who are openly marching around a city full of civilians, but if the missiles kill any of the civilians, other civilians may come around, see the bodies, and suddenly decide to become terrorists themselves. This will happen without fail, and is (hopefully unintentionally) pretty damning, since it suggests that the only way to end terrorism is to Kill 'Em All.
  • Solar Winds can be unwinnable by poor design if you step off the intended story track, either by killing someone you shouldn't have or by picking a wrong dialog option. Once you go Off the Rails, the storyline comes apart at the seams: people tell you to do things you've already done, or you can't find anything to do, or you're stuck taking the two-hour route from Point A to Point B, or...
  • In the Ultima VII: The Black Gate expansion Forge of Virtue, you can forge a weapon known as the Obsidian Sword, which is capable of drinking the souls of your enemies, killing them instantly. In a combination of Unwinnable By Design and Unwinnable by Insanity, you can use this to instantly kill Lord British, the Big Good of the Ultima games, rendering Ultima 7 essentially unwinnable. Spoony lampshades how ridiculous this is, because while you can do this and make the game unwinnable, you cannot use the touch of death on the final bosses of the game or the villain who you see earlier in the game for some reason.
    "So I can kill Lord British and make the game unwinnable, but not to take out the villains, which would be logical."
    • You can also kill Lord British by having a loose brick fall and hit him in the head as he's passing under it. Same result.
      • Lord British was killable through player ingenuity and/or persistence in the earlier games. Instead of trying to counter the Lord British Postulate, devs started including ways to kill him as Easter Eggs, naturally rendering the game unwinnable.
    • Use of the Armageddon in any game that it's included as a spell (not the ritual version in IX) will wipe out everyone in Britannia except the Avatar and Lord British, who informs the Avatar of this trope.
  • Technician Ted had a very tight time limit — one has to complete the game in 8½ hours of game time (just over 40 minutes of real time). It's just barely possible, but only by not hanging around. Take too long over any task, and it's no longer possible to win. This game also exploits the Endless Death problem of its spiritual predecessor, Jet Set Willy, by deliberately designing some jumps so that if missed, all your remaining lives are burned up; the game even detects this, and after the second fall-to-death cycle, cuts the cycle down to just the death part.
  • Cannon Fodder: most phases can become unwinnable if you use up all your grenades and missiles with targets still left to destroy. (A couple of phases deliberately give you less explosives than you need to destroy all the targets: the winning tactic in these is to lure enemies to fire on the targets.)
  • In Soul Sacrifice, if you sacrifice Magusar at any point during the "Seven Years Later" chapters, you won't be able to continue the game since he's the Big Bad of the single-player campaign, and he needs to be kept alive so that you can fight him later. However, it is possible to spend Lacrima to undo the sacrifice and continue the game normally.
  • The freeware Windows version of the old Macintosh game Bolo comes with a number of maps prepackaged. One of these, called Better Best Map Ever, has all arrival points in the center of the board, which is deep sea and where all the pillboxes are. And even if you sacrifice a lot of tanks to get the pillboxes to hit each other, there will still be a few pillboxes left standing.
  • Isle Of The Dead, an FPS/Adventure Game mix, faceplants squarely into the Cruel type. If you decide to use the flare gun at the beginning of the game (sensible given you're on a desert island), you won't find out until the end of the game that you need it. Whoops! Time to start over!
  • Trauma Center's Final Bosses are often prone to this, requiring that you postpone using the Healing Touch (which can only be manually invoked once per operation) until the very last moment. Prematurely deploying the Healing Touch may as well result in instant failure. To elaborate:
    • Under the Knife / Second Opinion: Right before you can deal the finishing dose of serum to Savato, Derek automatically activates a Healing Touch. Even with slowed time, Savato still moves too fast for him to inject the serum. You use your manual Healing Touch to to freeze time so you can finish off Savato; if you've already used it, the Medical Board will be notified.
    • New Blood: Cardia drops a ring of tumors, which it will when detonate with a ripple attack for hundreds of vitals of damage. You must use Markus's Healing Touch (to slow time down so you can pick up the tumors before they explode) or Valerie's (so that the patient doesn't lose vitals from the explosions) at this point or a mere few seconds before; if you have used the Healing Touch previously in this operation, you're screwed.
  • Pokémon Stadium 2 has the nefarious Challenge Cup, where you must win a tournament using a team of Pokémon that the game selects at random. The problem is that—and the game's strategy guide admits this—the game will often give you a team that makes completion of the tournament impossible, either because you don't have a good mixture of types, your Pokémon's stats are too low, or some members of your party know useless attacks (all of these problems being depressingly common among Pokémon Stadium 2's rental Pokémon). What's worse is that you need to complete the Challenge Cup on four difficulty levels... then on four more in R2 mode.
    • Similarly, in some online Pokémon battle simulators like Showdown! you can select a Random Battle, which, as above, gives you a random team and sends you up against a player with their own random team. It's slightly better than the Stadium version in that you can be at least certain that every Pokémon will be EV-trained and have competitively viable movesets. The levels are also tweaked to try and make it more fair—most Legendaries will be around level 70, while under-evolved Pokémon are generally in the 80s or 90s. This is very little comfort when the Random Number God hands you a team filled with useless Pokémon like Caterpie, or ones that have strategies that rely on other Pokémon you don't have (i.e a sun sweeper like Venusaur always relies on someone else to set up the sun) or a team that shares a weakness. Meanwhile, your opponent may have three Uber-Legendaries that'll destroy you faster than you can forfeit. For extra punishment, you can choose to be ranked for this.
      • As of Generation VI, the random battle system has improved. You will never receive a not-fully-evolved Pokémon, with the exception of Chansey, Scyther, Magneton or Porygon2, all of which see usage in Smogon's official tiers due to increased bulk from holding an Eviolite. Still, the game can hand you an Unown, which will always have STAB HP Psychic and is generally the worst thing you can get. Even freaking Delibird can have a viable set or two!
    • Both Pokémon Stadium games make use of the Transfer Pak, which allows you to use Pokémon from the Red/Blue/Yellow/Gold/Silver/Crystal versions in a variety of tournaments. If you don't have the Game Boy games or Transfer Pak you can play using rental Pokémon... in theory. Pokémon Stadium 2's rentals are all so weak that it's pretty much impossible to beat anything without homegrown Pokémon. The rentals' stats are about 15% lower than they should be and many have pitiful movesets that have no tactical uses or decent power. (Good luck finding any evolved Rental with any attack that has over 65 power) Meanwhile the enemies have hacked movesets and stats to make them significantly stronger than they should be. Plus many of the rentals have a ton of status ailment attacks and the game's random number generator is programmed to have your ailment attacks wear off faster than the enemies' and is programmed to give your Pokémon worse accuracy. Put simply: Pokémon Stadium 2 is unplayable without the Transfer Pak and several specially trained teams in the Game Boy games. It is feasible (though extremely difficult once you get to the final tournaments) to beat Pokémon Stadium 1 with nothing but rentals, but once you beat the game and unlock R2 mode, you'll promptly get butchered without homegrown Pokémon.
      • That said, it's entirely possible to consistently beat the games with nothing but rentals - even R2 can be taken down with the proper stratgies...unless it's the level 20 Alakazam in the Pika Cup in the first game. It has Thunder Wave and Psychic, which are the two best moves in the gamenote  on one of the best non-Mewtwo Pokemon in the game, in a cup where most of the top tier options aren't allowed. If you're using rentals, your options are as follows: pray for a freeze, use Starmie (the only Pokemon who even has a chance of beating it one on one), or pray you fight Dragonair instead.
  • The coin-op game Shanghai 3 (an arcade version of Shanghai by Sunsoft, licensed from Activision) uses fair shuffles, so every deal can be beaten — but not if you don't pay close attention to how the tiles lie, as deals usually include at least one situation (such as a tile being laid on top of another of the same type) which is unwinnable if you remove the wrong pair of that tile — indeed, often four or more of that type of situation.
  • In the Amstrad CPC game Heroes Of Karn, if you wander too far south, a guard comes by and puts you in prison. The way out requires bribing the guard with money taken from a barrow-wight beforehand. If you don't have the money, you have to restart the game.
  • Getting the good ending in Batman: Dark Tomorrow requires disarming a signal device before going to the final Boss Rush. Save at any point during the boss rush without having disarmed the device and... better hope you have more than one save file or else you'll have to start over to get the good ending.
  • The final game in the Mental Series, Murder Most Foul has a chemistry lab that a character can go into after triggering a door, but there's only one trigger, and it's outside the door. Another character will need to come and get them out. It's possible to trap all three characters in the lab, making it impossible to progress, with the game have to be started over. Though you need to be actively trying to do this, thankfully.
  • Star Control 2 is a very sneaky one. It looks like an open-world sandbox, and your first quest giver actually encourages you to take your time to explore, gather resources and spend time leveling up. Unbeknown to a first-time player, and unlike all other similar games, the main plot unfolds itself even without any input from the player. Even when you learn that there is a world-ending menace looming over the galaxy, it's not obvious that the game has a time limit and it already started counting at the very beginning! Sandbox Role Playing Games almost always feature stopping a world-threatening evil as the main plot, but even if in-story you are urged to hurry, the evil advances only at instances when you accept and complete quests, so no matter if you were as fast as possible or spent an eternity dawdling around, the last scene always features you stopping the menace at the last moment. Not in Star Control 2! Here if you spend your time building up, being proud of your uber-advanced starship, you arrive to a plot-critical location, discover that it was already destroyed by the Big Bad, and after playing countless hours you are greeted with a "Game Over", and only then do you realize that you lost. However, as plot progresses, and Kohr-Ah exterminate various races one-by-one, you can easily pick up various plot-crucial artifacts from their planets, bypassing their quests entirely. As villains proceed with their evil plan, they make your work easier.
  • According to the devs from XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the game in "Ironman Impossible was only theoretically winnable". Players still found a way to succeed.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's's creator stated that he was pretty sure that 4/20 Mode (playing the custom night with all four AIs set to the max difficulty of 20) was impossible to beat... and then gamers began beating it. So many people beat it that he added a Cosmetic Award for beating the mode.note 
  • In King's Knight, you can access the final level as long as at least one character survives their specific level. However, unless all four characters survive and collect specific magic spell glyphs, completing that final level is impossible. The game is merciful enough to allow you to return to the training stages and try to improve your characters' stats and find any items you missed... if you enter a cheat code, anyway. What makes this stand out is that the game simply proceeds to the next level if you lose a character.
  • In The Hobbit. it was essential to read the accompanying book first to pick up a few hints. In particular, if you reached the Black River without having read the corresponding part of the book, you wouldn't know that attempting to swim across is a dumb idea, hence might try this... only to fall asleep and drown.
  • Takeshi's Challenge, having been designed by someone who wanted players to break their controllers, sits squarely on the Cruel end of the spectrum and refuses to budge an inch.
    • Money is a very finite resource; if you lose too much of it, you won't be able to buy everything you need. The things that you need to buy to win (or are very useful to have) are mixed with items made purely to waste your time. Even if you know what you have to buy, there's another pitfall; when you divorce your wife, you have to pay her alimony, which means you give her a good amount of what you have. If you have too much on hand, even if you've bought everything in the first area, you probably won't have enough to buy what you need after flying off to the South Pacific. For the record, if you don't divorce your wife, your plane explodes, for no discernible reason, on the way to the South Pacific.
    • Talking to your boss gives you plenty of options. If you select any option other than quitting your job, your boss will get angry, and will refuse to pay you when you do quit (which, if done too early, is wasted on alimony). Similarly, on the island with the treasure, you can enter a house and be put into a cooking pot without any warning. There's two options that get you out of that situation; "Play Shamisen" (you need a shamisen and lessons for it) and "Lunge" (no requirements). Choosing to lunge gets you out of the pot, but the chief who put you there will never talk to you again. If you didn't give him a specific gift before this happens, you can't get into the caves.
    • Since you can't get back once you leave an area, you need to have all required items beforehand; the game won't stop you from leaving the first area without hang-gliding lessons, and the second will allow you to leave without a gun and canteen.
    • The cruelest of them all; in the first area, you must go through a process to get a map from an old man. After you decode the map, he'll stay on the screen for a while. If you don't punch him dead before leaving the screen, no worries; you'll be allowed to progress. But at the very end, with the treasure in you grasp, the old man will appear, thank you for leading him to the treasure, and kill you. Either have fun starting all over, or assume it was just trying to protect you from seeing the "ending" and move on.
  • In Monster Hunter, slaying a monster is simple: Just beat the crap out of it until it dies. Capturing a monster, on the other hand, requires traps and Tranquilizer Bombs and/or Tranq Shots. If you use them all up without capturing the monster, or have them stolen (especialy by a Gypceros), you may as well abort or fail the quest. It's possible to make more Tranq Bombs and Shots by combining gathered materialsnote , but traps require Trap Tools, which can only be bought at stores in towns and cannot be made with any item combination, let alone combos that use only gatherables.
  • Whether or not El Ajedrecista (Spanish for The Chess Player) counts as a video game is questionable as the game interface/controller was an actual chessboardHowever... , but it does provide the Ur-Example of this: it played a king vs. king+rook endgame (the human got the king, El Ajedrecista got the king+rook) and won every time. It's an unusual example that the player knew the game was unwinnable from the very beginning. Since El Ajedrecista was built in 1912, it makes this trope Older Than Television.
  • In Super Hydlide, you have to manage the weight of your inventory, which will see you often throwing out items to make room for food and healing potions. The game does not prevent you from accidentally throwing away quest items.
    • The sequel Virtual Hydlide is far more forgiving, with one notable exception: if you make it to the end of the game and the fight with Varalys without getting the Sword of Light, he's invincible. The game never bothers to tell you this, never tells you where the sword is, or that it even exists. On top of that, because of the multiple dungeon layouts the location of the sword varies, it's in an otherwise insignificant chest, and if you miss it before beating the boss of the Lost Castle you can't go back to grab it because the dungeon collapses.note 
  • Etrian Odyssey:
    • Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight has a floor in its second dungeon - Ginunngagap - that tells you beforehand that you can't leave, and any attempts to do so will do nothing. What it doesn't tell you, however, is that the area is also full of moving walls that are actually overpowered F.O.E.s. Considering that they're able to trap you between walls where your only way out is through them, and that F.O.E.s are already extremely overpowered to begin with, your only choice is death if you take a wrong turn. However, the game does place three treasure chests in the first room of this floor, each with an item that allows the player to escape from almost any battle - including F.O.E.s - to the entry point of the floor. There are also one-way shortcuts that can aid a player in escaping a situation before it becomes hopeless, and the F.O.E.s will walk back to their neutral positions when the player leaves the room, allowing the player to make a different attempt at passing through the rooms.
    • Etrian Odyssey Nexus features a Trick Boss segment: One boss is defeated (The Berserker King) only for another to show up with no chance for you to jump back to town and rest (Cernunnos). Between these fights, you're given a full-party heal (HP, TP, Force gauges) and a chance to save — one of the very few times in the series where you can save away from a town or geomagnetic pole, no less. If you choose to save, the game warns you to please save your game in a new slot, because if you can't defeat the second boss with everything you've got and you've got no other save to fall back on, it's time to start the entire game over!
  • After being the main game and Title Defense of the Wii Punch-Out!! game, you can partake in Mac's Last Stand, an Endless Game where you will face the boxers and Donkey Kong until you eventually lose three times and retire. Permanently. This is justified, as Little Mac wants to cement his place in boxing history with one last show.
  • Zork: Grand Inquisitor requires the player to retrieve a magical coconut from the lair of a dragon. Although it's stated numerous times to be important to your quest, you can instead choose to give it to a man who wants to make a piña colada. There's no way of getting it back, and the player character will comment that he doesn't think that was the best use for it.
  • Super Mario RPG is Cruel to completionists. One of the 60 or so collectible item blocks is floating in Princess Peach’s castle, barely out of reach. The only time you can ever reach is it during a cutscene that plays an hour into the game. To reach it, you must jump onto an NPC’s head before they start running down the hallway, then jump off their head as the NPC runs under the block. No indication is ever given after this cutscene that getting that item block has become impossible. There's an equipable item that pings whenever you're in a room with a hidden chest; it will ping whenever you enter this hallway but no matter where you jump you'll never reach it.
  • The programmers for the Amiga 500 port of Dennis the Menace ran out of time and didn't put in the final boss or the ending, so they just put an impossible jump in the final stage. All the other Amiga ports are finished.
  • RoboCop on Commodore 64 has a Game-Breaking Bug that turns level 4 into a big glitchy mess, so the programmers put a time limit on level 3 that's too narrow to beat legitimately so no-one could get that far. Though it is possible to complete level 3 within the time limit by glitching through a wall.
  • Crypt Of The Necrodancer
    • There is a trap that consists of four arrow pads pointing towards an item. If you grab the item without either destroying one of the pads or having boots that allow you to move over them, you get stuck with no way out. Normally, you could just wait for the stage's song to end, which would make you skip to the next stage, but if you play as Aria (who dies if the song ends) or Bard (who is unaffected by any music-related mechanics, including the song's time limit), you are completely stuck.
    • If you play as Monk, who dies if he so much as touches a single coin, you'd better always keep a spare bomb handy. If you kill an enemy that is standing over the exit, or kill a boss's minions in such a way that the gold they drop forms an impassable barrier, and you cannot blow up the coins, you have no hope of ever getting past them.
  • Due to the story variations in the ending to the Dishonored DLC The Knife of Dunwall you can't complete certain challenges if you were aiming for a High Chaos game. On High Chaos, Billie Lurk doesn't pull a Heel–Face Turn and instead the final conversation leads into an immediate Boss Battle, but Billie begins the fight by being alerted as any other guard in the area. As a result, the Ghost Run and Stealth Run challenges for that level, and the entire game if you were trying, is instantly voided.
  • Many of the boss fights in Final Fantasy XIV are designed to instantly wipe out the whole party if certain mechanics are not done on time or if they are done incorrectly. Other bosses will get a massive buff in attack power or attack speed that make it impossible to weather out since the damage given and/or the rate of damage pumped out is simply too much for the healers to counteract. The bosses are obviously beatable, but they will become unbeatable if you screw up.
  • It's very hard to get the good ending in Megaman Sprite Game on the first try for one particular reason: if you walk off the path, you'll be arrested. The only time this is foreshadowed is a sign in the beginning of the game... which requires you to step off the path to read, naturally.
  • Bloodwings: Pumpkinhead's Revenge has a fairly dastardly example. The first level is spent collecting items to use through the rest of the game and it's entirely possible to leave the first level with only a small portion of the items. If you leave the first level without the Voodoo doll all of level 2's objectives are rendered impossible to complete and you can't go back to the first level for the voodoo doll. You also need either the newspaper or the dollar bill or you won't be able to finish level 2. You should also bring the crystal gun and plenty of ammo before finishing the first level as levels 2 and 3 have no ammo or spare weapons.
  • Several levels in The Lost Vikings and its sequel require hitting switches that can only be reached by one of the three controlled characters. The problem is, two of the Vikings can't jump at all - if they walk to an area that doesn't have a way back to where they need to hit a switch, the level can't be cleared. Luckily, there's a "level restart" option that can be taken at any time from the pause menu.
  • The adventure game adaptation of the Polish Kajko i Kokosz comic has numerous opportunities to get stuck. For example: picked up the flower at the beginning with your bare hands? It withers immediately, and you will need it later. There are also two Points of no Return in the game; if you leave any necessary items behind (you have limited space in your inventory) before moving to the next part, you're screwed—and there's no way to tell ahead of time which items will be useful and which won't.
  • In Undertale, killing even one monster locks you out of the True Pacifist ending because you can't make friends with Undyne. Even nastier is what happens if you get the No Mercy ending - which requires you to specifically hunt down and murder everything - and then reset to do a Pacifist run. Even if you don't kill a single monster the entire time and befriend everyone, you cannot get the True Pacifist ending, because you gave your soul to the Fallen Child. What you get instead is the "Soulless Pacifist" ending. And unless you play the game on a different Steam account or know how to edit Steam's files, you can never get True Pacifist. That's right - this game can make itself permanently unwinnable!
  • Kingdom: New Lands has a finite number of resources, which may make it impossible to complete the task of getting off that island and moving onto the next one. Sometime around the 25th day, the forests will wither up and die, and water will run out. This means that you can no longer collect gold by hunting rabbits and deer, or from farming (the farmers themselves eventually throw away their tools and become jobless peasants again.) At this point, there's only one way you can collect gold, which is to pay a single gold coin to the Merchant and have him send off for supplies, which will give you gold upon the start of the next day that he's returned to your camp. However, if you clear out the trees next to the merchant's camp, it'll disappear along with the cleared out woods surrounding it, making it impossible to earn any more coin at that point.
  • Ninja Gaiden II on Xbox 360 is a tricky little devil. While not exactly a sandbox-type game, there are plenty of places you can explore - and you'll have to if you want to have any hope whatsoever of beating the bosses, since you'll have to search high and low for ammo, health upgrades, new weapons, and cash. And make damn sure you're thorough, as you will likely not be able to backtrack. You can get stuck as early as the boss fight of Chapter 3 which is impossible if you didn't equip yourself properly. If you play it right, you can upgrade a weapon all the way to the third and highest level in the same chapter you found it, which you will desperately need since the game is stupid hard, befitting the series' notorious legacy. This is not a game you should approach with the mentality of merely getting to the end of each level; each level holds secrets you must unlock to have any hope of finishing the game, or even beating the current boss - which can actually be fairly easy to beat if you have the right equipment. This is definitely one for the save scummers among us, and the game's files enable save scumming quite easily.
  • Invoked In-Universe with Lucas Baker's final Death Trap in Resident Evil 7 Biohazard. The "quest" appears easy; you need to place a lit candle on a birthday cake to earn your freedom. But, a pressure-plate in the floor of the doorway triggers a roof-mounted sprinkler that douses your candle when you get near. There's a window outside to another room that you can see a wheel-crank in, which can be used to deactivate the sprinkler. So, you set off on what seems like a typical Resident Evil-style puzzle. You pull out a big key from a wooden cask near the birthday cake and stick it in a creepy animatronic clown-scribe to unblock a nearby toilet. Recovering a dirty polarized telescope from the toilet, you wash it off under the sprinkler and then look at a nearby family portrait to reveal the three symbols you need to open a safe containing a straw doll. Burning the doll on a lit stove reveals a dummy finger, which you use to repair the clown-scribe's missing hand. Lighting the candle, you burn off the rope holding a third door closed, which takes you to the room with the door to the crank-room. But it's protected by a code-word tumbler. Looking around, you find an uninflated balloon nearby and take it back to the main room to a gas vent. Here's your first warning that things aren't what they seem: the balloon is full of sharp objects, so you wind up with a nail through your hand and a feather pen driven quill-first into your gut. When you give the clown-scribe the quill, it carves the code into your arm with it. And then, finally, when you solve the puzzle... you die a horribly flaming death. See, that cask with the key in it? Was full of oil, which has been seeping all over the room since you pulled it out and so promptly ignites when the firecrackers in the cake go off. With the room sealing itself and locking the sprinkler system when it does. This comes with a unique solution: you have to watch a VHS of some poor bastard solving it the intended way, so that instead you can skip the deadly parts and just burn the rope, enter the password, turn off the water and light the cake, as an invoked/meta example of Save Scumming.
  • In the SNES version of Cool World, you can be teleported to Las Vegas two times after you get the pen. But if you fail to ascend towards the Hotel, or waste your time after capturing the Doodles, you will be teleported back to Cool World. The second time will be the last time, and you will be stuck in Cool World forever.
  • While you're trying to save somebody in the past in Ghost Trick, you can only use a telephone when it's in use, and can only travel to the other phone's location. This creates many scenarios where you'll get stuck in a place that doesn't have anything useful to prevent the token person from being killed, forcing you to start the segment over and not take the bait again. Played with even further when you discover that sometimes the same phone will ring twice, with the former call being the misleading trap and the latter being the key to prevent the killing.
  • If you run out of nitro in Motocross Maniacs you might as well restart the game, because not only are the vast majority of nitro pick-ups only reachable with a nitro boost, but some later courses literally cannot be beaten without it (as in, even with unlimited time you can't even finish the lap due to mandatory obstacles with no alternate routes.)
  • Prince Of Persia 1 features an in-game timer that gave the player one hour to reach the top of the castle and save the princess. However, the SNES version gives two hours, and if the clock runs out, the players are allowed to keep going, lulling them into thinking that the quest is still doable they didn't get the Game Over... only for them to arrive and see her missing, necessitating a restart.
  • Both Shenmue games have a time limit that automatically locks the player into the Bad Ending if they haven't reached the final mission by a certain date. However, the time limit is so generous that most players would have to deliberately fail just to see it.
  • Done in-universe in The World Ends with You. At the beginning of week 3, Kitanji takes all of the other Players as Neku's entry fee for the Reaper's Game. No Players means no partners means no way to fight the Noise (in gameplay, it translates to your pins being disabled) means bye-bye Neku. Then cue Beat.
  • GoldenEye (1997) was one of the first games ever to include objectives you could actually mess up, to the point where the manual has an entire page warning the player that just destroying everything won't get them far. As a general rule, many levels give you things to do (like placing a bug), to find (like the golden gun), or to avoid (like killing scientists) and if you fail, the levels will be unwinnable and the player has to restart. Other well-known instances are:
    • In Facility destroying the computer that operated the remote door leaves the player completely stuck in this room. Killing Dr. Doak will prevent Bond from entering the bottling room (00Agent only) and damaging the tanks in the bottling room will lock the exit doors and Bond will be killed by poisonous gas.
    • In Surface 1 destroying the console instead of powering it down will fail the mission (however you have to destroy it in Surface 2).
    • In Bunker 1 if you kill Boris, you can't steal the data with your data thief and fail (00Agent).
    • In Statue failing to meet Valentin or killing him beforehand fails the mission. Also encountering Janus with your gun equipped will get you nowhere.
    • In Control if you destroy the computer in the elevator hall or kill Boris, Natalya will refuse to help you and abort the mission. However players get around the 2nd one with a glitch.
    • In Caverns if you destroy the radio (and this is very easy to do) you won't be able to contact Jack Wade, thus fail (00Agent)
    • In Aztec destroying the computers that are needed to open doors will get you stuck with no way around it. Also, if you fail to reprogram the shuttle you still can launch it, but the mission will be a failure.
  • The Spiritual Successor, Perfect Dark, has a lot of these, as well. Some prominent examples:
    • You can actually (and on higher difficulties, have to) encounter the Disc-One Final Boss in the very first mission. You can freely gun her down, but it will fail the mission and prevent you from progressing. (The In-Universe justification is that she has a key you need to get into the secret lab, but it will stop working if she dies - and the mission's intro cutscene even tells you as much!)
    • Rarely, mission objectives will have (non-obvious) timers; two big examples in the same mission are the taxi and the limo on the Chicago stage. You need to bug both of them, but the taxi will leave permanently only a short time into the mission, and the limo will depart a short time after (they'll also both leave if you make too much of a ruckus.) Didn't bug them before they depart? Mission failed, abort and try again.
      • Also in the Chicago mission, you need to create an opening to sneak into the secret base. If you just casually waltz into the guards' line of sight, they'll permanently lock the door; mission failed.
    • Obviously, any mission where you need to keep plot-critical NPC's alive will fail if they die.
    • You need a disguise to infiltrate Area 51 in the second self-named mission. If you get the disguise, but then botch it by raising the alarm anyway, you can't get into the room you need to to complete the mission. Time to restart!
      • Likewise, in the start of that same mission, you need to escort a hovercrate to a weakened wall to blast an opening into the base itself. You have to move it through a warehouse full of enemies. The crate is fragile, and there is only one. You do the math. However, you can still pull it off if you lose the crate, by throwing the assault rifle in proximity mine mode next to the marked wall, then shooting it with another gun to detonate it.
    • In the Airbase missions, raise the alarm in the airbase before you've infiltrated it, or on Air Force One before you've proven the conspiracy to the President (or don't have the evidence when you do, or leave before you present it, etc.) will turn the level hostile and prevent you from finishing.
  • So Far, by Andrew Plotkin, has this in some places:
    • Play around too much with the hatch on the west pillar on the abandoned road? Now you can't get past the gate and into the castle.
    • Waste too much time in the alley with the granite statue during the rodeo world? Now you can't get back in at all, and have no way of jumping to the next world.
    • Fail to get the knife on the hillside before the locals are alerted? Now you can't jump the river in the rodeo world.
    • Went through the castle without inhaling the vapor? Better not save anytime soon.
    • Get rid of the blanket after leaving the ice world for the first time? Good luck making it out alive the next go around.
    • Of course the worst cases are failing to get objects located near the beginning of the game. Failing to get the square from the rodeo makes the second-to-last puzzle unwinnable, while leaving the box at the theatre (the very first part of the game), will make it impossible to traverse the dark world in safety.
  • In Castle Master, instead of Bottomless Pits, there are pits that drop you into a dungeon called an oubliette. You survive the fall just fine, and you can still move around down there, but there's nothing to see except the walls and a skull called Yorick, and there's no way to get out. You're just stuck there, trying to find the exit, until you eventually give up and start the game over.
  • In Baldi's Basics in Education and Learning, whenever you find a notebook, you need to answer three math problems, but if you get one wrong, Baldi will come after you. It doesn't take long before the third problem in a notebook becomes a garbled mess that's impossible to solve, thus ensuring Baldi will be coming after you.
  • A short flash game called Labyrinth X has this with the final opponent. You have three choices as to attack her; Low Punch, Kick, or High Punch, but no matter which one you choose, she kills you and it's game over. In order to defeat her, you need to find the katana that a warrior lady you free from a spider web tells you about, and when you reach the boss, you'll have the Katana option, which is how you defeat her. The thing is, the warrior is found on a path past the point you can get the katana, so learning about it the first time means you won't be able to win.
  • A game of AI War: Fleet Command with two opponents both at difficulty 10 is intended to be unwinnable. Anything that lets you win such a game without massive cheese or exploits is considered a bug or imbalance and will be patched; if the difficulty scaling bug out and spawns a million ships, as long as it doesn't happen on lower difficulties it's a feature and will remain. The devs have stated that 10/10 is meant to only be honestly beatable by someone who sinks as much time into the game as pro Starcraft II players put in; since nobody does, the level should be unwinnable.
  • In the movie tie-in game The Phantom Menace, if you kill anyone in the city on Tatooine before helping Anakin fix his podracer, he will peg you as a murderer and refuse to talk to you—regardless of whether you have started his mandatory quest or not. Where this falls on the scale depends on how readily you slice NPCs with lightsabers, but there are numerous required battles before this point in the game, including just outside the city.
  • Baba Is You:
    • In addition to the usual traps of Block Puzzle games, you can also lose control over a certain object by breaking apart the "[Object] is You" rule associated with it. If that was the only such object, the music stops as if to tell you you'll need to undo/restart.
    • Level Meta-15, "The Box" can be rendered unwinnable before you enter it, because its solution relies on you having turned Meta-14 into a flag. Thankfully, the game's level structure makes fixing this problem a matter of simply backtracking and doing the earlier level correctly.
  • In Muse Dash, playing as Little Devil Marija gives you a 25% score boost every time you hit an enemy, but she makes easier, less dense charts literally impossible to complete simply because there aren't enough hearts to offset her 10 HP per second depletion; at 200 HP, she will fail in 20 seconds and no track in the game is anywhere near that short. Even if she also equips her Lilith companion to restore 2 HP per Perfect and hits every enemy perfectly, she will still lose if the chart isn't dense enough.
  • There's a boss in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link that can only be damaged by using the Reflect spell to bounce his magic spells back at him. If you reached him without obtaining Reflect, you cannot win. Luckily, dying puts you in the room before the boss room so you're free to leave the temple and find the spell.
  • Supposedly, I Wanna Be the Guy enters this trope in the Impossible option. It's the same game as before, but without Save Points. But still, gamers found a way to beat the game.
  • The demo of Ratropolis is unwinnable from the beginning. After beating wave 15, you are told to "prepare the last defense". Shortly afterwards, a horde of mooks buffed to 99 attack and 999 health spawns and reduces your city to smouldering ruins. Since this is a demo version, this was to be expected. The full game is 30 waves long and so is the demo if you somehow find a way to defeat these enemies.
  • Garfield Big Fat Hairy Deal is a Cruel variant. You play as Garfield, who has a constantly depleting hunger meter. When it runs out, Garfield eats whatever he has on hand. If the meter depletes and Garfield doesn't have any items, it's Game Over. The game is full of Moon Logic Puzzles and Red Herrings, so it's hard to figure out what you actually need and what's just there to refill the hunger meter. There's no indication when Garfield eats something important, so you're doomed to wander around until you run out of items to eat.
  • Ghouls 'n Ghosts is the only game in the series to give Arthur an actual melee weapon, the Sword, and its range is as awful as you might expect. It also plays host to a boss whose strategy involves Arthur running along its back and firing down at its exposed hearts. Naturally, the Sword can only reach a few of the targets, so your only choice is to waste a life to try grabbing a new weapon from a chest or as a random drop.
  • Keineged an nor: Missing any crucial item will get you screwed. For instance, if you don't get the sword in room 2, you won't be able to open the right lock in room 3, and there's no way to return to a previous room.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night:
    • It usually kills you outright when you mess up, but features an example that fits the "cruel" category: refusing to cooperate with Rin during Saber's route will jump you to Rin's route, but won't kill you until more than a day later after you've made several decisions, culminating with the game automatically picking a path that gets you killed. The Tiger Dojo is kind enough to point out how far back the decision actually is, but it's long enough the player might have overwritten any saves early enough, forcing them to start over completely.
    • To make matters worse, there's another example on the "Heaven's Feel" route when Rin asks you to pledge allegiance to her, or else she'll not help you. It looks like an obvious choice, right? it's not. This time you MUST refuse to form a contract with her, or else, when it's decided that Sakura must die, you won't be able to go against Rin and you'll get a Bad End. Luckily, Rin herself states in-story where you screwed the pooch and the Tiger Dojo drills the point even further with a good dose of Fourth Wall breakage, but between the fatal decision and the Bad end there's a LONG day and since nothing seems to indicate you fucked up (aside from Rin looking crestfallen just after the fatal choice) it's very possible you saved the game already.
    • The "Heaven's Feel" route has another one: If you promise Rin that you won't unwrap Archer's arm and later don't do it on your own to test it, Shirou will die roughly two hours of gameplay later, following several other choices, as he gets locked out of a choice to save Sakura that means he won't die. Not only is this just as bad as the Fate example, The Tiger Dojo won't even tell you what you did wrong since not having enough approval with Sakura (from any number of other dialogue options earlier) will lead to the same result.
    • "Heaven's Feel" is littered with these, actually. In one of the most interesting Non Standard Game Over you can get, after not recruiting Rider's help before going into the final dungeon, Shirou beats Saber at the cost of his mind. To make matters worse, the Tiger Dojo, instead of giving you a hint as what to do, praises you for beating Saber on your own. And that only happens after several other choices are made and a In-Universe day passes.
    • If anything, they made the scene skipping function exactly because there are lots of Bad Endings. And you will either got stuck on one of them (especially the more cruel ones) or going to try to find all of them to complete the Tiger Dojo stamps.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors has a fake ending called the Coffin Ending. The Coffin Ending is exactly the same as the True Ending except that it just simply ends before you even get a chance to see the final room. The reason for this is because you are missing one condition needed to reach the True Ending: You need to get the Safe Ending first. There is no indication of this within the game other than getting the True Ending because the game will notify you that you got both after finishing it.
  • Visual Novels by Key/Visual Arts are notorious as being unwinnable without a guide. Choices you make early on can produce a game over late in the game and with so many choices it's nearly impossible to get through any routes. Probably most noteworthy is Nagamori's route in One: To the Radiant Season where you have to abandon her to be raped in order to get her true ending. Whether or not she's actually raped before you turn back to save her is up to interpretation.
    • CLANNAD is absolutely rife with this.
      • Misae requires you to choose three answers that specifically advance the plot. None of the nine answers you can give seem like wrong answers, and the last one seems too silly/perverted to be the proper answer. If you fail, you get rejected in the final conversation with zero hints of what went wrong, and considering that some routes in the game require you to advance other routes to properly succeed, you're likely to assume that you just need to do other stuff to advance it before looking up a guide and realizing these three questions are the entire deciding factor.
      • Kyou's route requires that you be going out with Ryou, but making decisions that benefit the former than the latter. Worse yet, finishing Ryou's route does not grant an Orb of Light, something needed to activate the post-game story. Most of the narrative of the story basically requires you to be purposefully breaking Kyou's heart whether you like it or not, and rejecting Ryou at any point instantly grants a game-over..
      • Tomoyo, Kotomi, and Fuko all have one thing in common: you have to do part of Nagisa's route. The first requires you do enough to meet the girl, the second requires you do enough to get the club started, and the final one requires that you practically play the whole entire narrative through but change gears towards the end. None of these routes make any indication that you cannot win if you don't do this, ultimately ending in either Tomoya dumping the girl, the girl dumping Tomoya, or a nonstandard Game Over where Tomoya goes home and sulks about how there's no love in his life. Tomoyo's route at least helps by having a moment where the game goes "Gee, I wish that girl could help, but I don't know here, if only I did, this wouldn't have happened", but it doesn't say who it is or what you were supposed to do, and the other two are even worse as you can do half the route without any interruption and without doing any of Nagisa's story and suddenly the route ends with a bad ending.
  • Katawa Shoujo:
    • Shizune's route is an interesting case, because unlike many other Visual Novel stories it has very limited interactivity - only a single choice (whether or not to sleep with Misha), towards the end of Act 3 (out of 4). Thus, choosing wrong at this point inevitably leads to the player getting a bad end...a whole act later. Hope you've made a save before (admittedly, this isn't a very "cruel" example because basic decency, logic, and even the game itself practically scream at you all the way through what the right choice is - the odds of you getting it by accident, rather than to see all the scenes, are miniscule).
    • More diabolical is the case of the Hanako route: towards the end, after Hanako has locked herself up in her room and wouldn't come out, Hisao desperately calls Lilly on the phone and they have a conversation where Lilly basically spells out to Hisao what he did wrong and how he should act with Hanako... except that if you chose incorrectly on a seemingly unrelated decision earlier ( opting not to go to town with Hanako after Lilly leaves for Scotland and instead going back to your room) Hisao will simply refuse to listen to Lilly and will go out on his own to do something incredibly stupid that gets you a bad end. If you haven't acted like an idiot, this is where you get an actual choice whether or not to do the right thing.
    • Lilly's is the most ridiculous, though. If you make all the right choices, after she leaves the school to return to Scotland permanently, Hisao has an epiphany and does a Race for Your Love to produce a happy ending. But if you're dishonest about something trivial early in the game, nothing changes until hours later when she leaves and the game abruptly ends, with no hint as to what you did wrong or how things could have turned out differently.
  • In Yandere Chan, it's possible to get into a situation where all three of the possible choices lead to Bad Endings. If you ignore Mia and eat lunch with your friends, she'll ambush you in the hallway and commit murder-suicide; if you ignore your friends and eat lunch alone with Mia she'll eventually kidnap you; and if you force Mia to eat with your friends she'll kill you and them with poisoned ravioli that she conveniently had prepared for just such an occasion. The choice that leads to this situation? Not giving Mia her calculator back when you're at the train station. Want the Golden Ending? Better restart. Fortunately, it's a very short game.
  • Chrono Clock has an in-universe case in Makoto's route. After losing the pocketwatch (and Cro) to Makoto in a "guess the hand with the coin in it" game, Rei eventually finds out through use of the pocketwatch she possesses, Makoto is able to teleport small objects, and is thus able to teleport the coin between hands, effectively making it so that such a game can't be won regardless of which hand Rei chooses.
  • Kara no Shoujo is a particularly cruel example, as simple oversights during Pixel Hunt segments and apparently inocuous choices can lock you on a bad ending with no indication on what you did wrong. Some of those choices even go against common sense, for instance, if you leave the analysis of a certain piece of evidence found on a crime scene to a forensics team, instead of analyzing it yourself, you will get locked on an ending where the serial killer gets you no matter what you do afterwards. Unless you read this visual novel along with a walkthrough guide expect to hit invisible walls a lot.

Non-Video Games:

  • In a commercial for American Express, (now former) tennis player Andy Roddick faces an opponent that "returns everything"—Pong. He then inverts it by making the game Unwinnable by Design for Pong by taking advantage of Pong not being a 3D game and constrained to the back of the court—and lobbing the ball just over the net so it goes under Pong.
    Roddick: My life is about finding a way to win.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Danganronpa 3 Future Arc's Final Killing Game is implied by the Mastermind's last message to be this, as it was a ploy to wipe out all the leaders of the Future Foundation.
  • During the first night of the culture festival arc in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, a Phantom Thief steals all the spare heart-shaped balloons from class 2-B and leaves behind a note stating that they'll be taking their next target with a picture of a bunch of clocks. Fujiwara, known for her love of riddles, spends the entire second day trying to figure out the meaning behind it, but can't seem to figure out the answer. Kaguya ends up realizing that this is deliberate: Shirogane just threw some nonsense symbols together to distract Fujiwara long enough for him to put together his Grand Romantic Gesture.
  • Kaiji features an example in its second part: the Man-Eating Bog, a pachinko machine designed to never pay out. The defenses are intricate: first, the balls have to pass through a tight set of pins, followed by a set of flippers (which can be set to block any incoming ball whatsoever), and lastly, the balls have to pass through three trays: one with three holes, one with four holes, and one with five holes. Each tray has only one correct hole. This last one is the kicker: the trays, machine, and even the floor itself are tilted ever so subtly, and there's a slight bump around the final jackpot hole. These circumstances make it literally impossible for a ball to enter the fifth hole. And even if that gets bypassed, there are small air blasters installed around the final hole, able to blow away balls that are headed for the jackpot.
  • Sword Art Online has the Grand Quest in ALO. The enemies spawn endlessly, meaning that no matter how long you fight, you'll eventually be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. The AI is also competent enough to target healers. And assuming that a player can somehow make it past all the enemies and get to the door at the end in one piece, the door is restricted to admins. This is because the door actually leads to where Sugou is holding Asuna and experimenting on the 300 other SAO players' minds.

    Card Games 
  • Klondike Solitare has many possible deals that are unwinnable; in some cases, there may be no valid moves besides dealing. The odds of dealing an unwinnable game are believed to be between 8.5% to 18%. The fact that the exact odds have not yet been determined has been called "one of the embarrassments of Applied Mathematics."
    • In comparison, some 99.999% of the possible FreeCell deals are solvable. Of the 32,000 standard games from Windows FreeCell, exactly one (#11982) is impossible to solve. In addition, entering -1 or -2 as the game number results in an unsolvable deal.
      • XP and onward have 1,000,000 deals. Out of those million, 8 are unsolvable.
      • Vista introduced games -3 and -4, which are very much the opposite.
    • In general, card solitaires often have a high percentage of unwinnable deals, with FreeCell being an unusual exception. Even an Undo button will not save you in many cases.

    Comic Strips 
  • In one series of FoxTrot strips, Andy buys Peter some guaranteed non-violent video games. Nice City, which is all about not killing anyone, becomes Unwinnable if you so much as step on an ant.

  • In the adventure book series Lone Wolf:
    • In the second book, Fire on the Water, there is a magic spear that can be missed. It is the only weapon you get that can kill Helghast, and you WILL encounter at least two of them. Even if you get it, there is an opportunity to give it to an ally so that he can survive guarding the mouth of a cave and allow you to continue. Sure enough, later on, if you did the right thing and gave it to him... then you made the book Unwinnable. He never shows up again. You are forced to face a Helghast that proceeds to kill you because you lack any weapon that can harm it.

      It is possible to get past this part without having the magic spear, but it requires picking the right skill from the very beginning, choosing the right path, and talking to mice. Guide Dang It!! And in the original version, if you have the spear and give it up, then you miss the chance to talk to the mice. The free online Project Aon version fixes this.
    • The first three books are bad with this. In addition to the magic spear kerfluffle, book two becomes Unwinnable if you fail to get the vitally-important Seal of Hammerdale back in Ragadorn or if you sell it later for extra cash. Also in book two, if you don't have enough money to pay meals and lodging for the entire carriage journey, then you'll be forced to sleep in the stables at the last stop, where an assassin will get you in your sleep.
    • In book three, you have to go downstairs instead of up at one point, or you'll never meet the captive wizard who has to help you in the final battle; noticeably, the game actually contains some thirty-odd sections on the route if you go the wrong way, including fights and opportunities to use your abilities, all of which are completely pointless on account of the path having no route to victory — it leads to the series' only non-lethal Non Standard Game Over. There's also the important-looking magic gem that is evil and will kill you if you hold on to it too long — though if you do meet the captive wizard, then he will recognize it and get you to dispose of it shortly after you meet him.
    • Book 8. God Kai help you if you begin with that book. Unless you get CS-increasing armor, a high CS, the CS-increasing potion, Kai skills including Psi-blast and Weaponskill, the weapon you gain an advantage with using Weaponskill, and a string of 0s and 9s for the three (or four, depending on how you interpret the text) turns you get in the final battle, you're pretty much SOL.
    • A third example of near-Unwinnability comes in book 11. If you played through the books and brought the Sommerswerd to Book 10 (forcing you to retain it for 11 — Lone Wolf is unable to do much of anything at the end of book 10, and storage is many miles away), then you're forced to fight three boss battles near consecutively. Even with full health, the Chaos Master has about twice your hit points and is nearly unbeatable. Now, even if you leave the sword behind, you still have to go through all three battles; but not having it with you nets you an even better sword for the Chaos Master battle and reduces the enemy stats.
  • Give Yourself Goosebumps:
    • The book Escape from the Carnival of Horrors can be unwinnable; instead of having a game-over, it causes you to repeatedly jump back and forth between two pages forever to simulate the player being trapped inside a hall of mirrors.
    • Certain bad endings are determined by factors entirely outside of the reader's control. In another Goosebumps book, you are shrunken to a tiny size and have to deal with a (to you) enormous rat. Your decision in the matter is determined by how many letters are in your first name. If you have an odd number, you successfully evade the rat and can continue onward. If you have an even number? Your attempt to make friends with the rat works a little too well and it takes you back to its nest where you spend the rest of your days raised by a small furry mammal. Game Over. In another book, getting one of the good endings is determined by your height. In the same book, on the path to another ending, you die if you're not left-handed.
    • Another one about a Cave Spirit involves far more than remembering stories. You have to select which weapons or spells your character will be armed with. The hunter's path is always the hardest because your weapons have finite ammo or durability. If you use the wrong weapon at a certain time or don't PICK the right weapon to use at a certain obstacle, then the game is unwinnable.

      To make matters even worse, you can actually lose the one weapon you need for the ending by using it on the wrong obstacle early on. Plus, at the beginning of the hunter's path, there are two weapons you NEED to pick to get a good ending — fail to pick either of them (you can only pick three of four weapons) and you'll meet an untimely end later on. (Hint: the weapon you can use only once is pretty much useless and use of it will spell instant death for you — unless you're on a certain story path, which only leads to two bad endings anyway.) The spellcaster's path is easier, as you can actually choose not to get into any problematic situations until you meet the Cave Spirit again... but you'd better steer clear of the park or else kiss the path's best ending goodbye (because you either will be turned into a frog/snake or destroy the one thing you need to defeat the Cave Spirit to escape).
    • In Inside UFO 54-40, the best ending is deliberately unreachable through regular gameplay (or, as the book puts it, by "making a choice or following directions").
    • There are cases of the readers having to choose between Choice A or Choice B to get out of dire situations. Choice B would lead to Choice C or Choice D which both ended up in Game Over Page, meanwhile Choice A is inaccessible without getting certain item(s) first that most people would not know without getting some Game Over pages beforehand unless they are psychic.
  • Extremely common in Fighting Fantasy books. There are many plot-critical items that are Permanently Missable Content and if you fail to pick them up before the Point of No Return or use them beforehand you are either stuck or cannot defeat the final boss, leading to a Non-Standard Game Over, which you won't be aware of until it's too late. The same thing happens when you have to perform a series of actions whereby one path in the chain allows success whereas the others are failures, often long before your decisions come into effect. Sometimes the book is merciful, such as when it tells you that you need as specific item beforehand or relies on basic genre awareness (bringing a stake and garlic along in a vampire-themed book should always be a good idea), thus setting you looking for those things. Other times, the things you need to progress are totally arbitrary.
    • In the first book, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, you have to find keys to retrieve the treasure in the end. If you don't find them or bring along the wrong ones, the game is unwinnable and you lose even though having defeated the final boss.
    • In the City of Thieves gamebook, the player needs to gather a compound to rub into the undead overlord's face, comprised of three items. Just before the final dungeon, you find out you need only two of the three, but you aren't told which ones. The final action in the book is choosing which two you combined. Two combos result in a one line death. The other results in a one line victory. There are no clues to help you. Also there's an inescapable are: if you try to scale a building you're trying to infiltrate, then you'll be faced by a gargoyle. You're told you need a magic sword to beat it. Say you have one, and the game chides you for cheating, saying you can't have one yet. Say you don't, and you're dead. Oh, and the alternative is to approach a guarded door.
    • House of Hell: There are areas in the game that are inescapable as soon as you reach them, like the kitchen where every possible action leads to death. Also if you fail to pick up a well-hidden clue, you won't find a secret door that gives the only way to win the game. Also, if you roll low on your initial fear score, the game is unwinnable (you have to take at least 8 fear points throughout the game and when you take as many as your initial score - which can be from 7 to 12 - you die from fear).
    • Scorpion Swamp: If you fail to find a certain berry you still get infinite chances to do so to complete the "good" storyline. However you also have the chance to eat it up, in which case the game is unwinnable.
    • Moonrunner: If a particular item is not picked up and the Big Bad uses a particular random attack, then the book becomes unwinnable because of a hypnotically implanted cue that turns you into a monster in the final area.
    • Crypt of the Sorcerer follows a VERY narrow path to have even a remote chance of winning. Among other things, you need to smear yourself with a certain creature's blood to avoid death from a huge lizard monster in the middle of the book. The creature is met at the very beginning of the gamebook, and smearing yourself with the blood gives you a random chance of dying.
    • Magehunter also involves a ridiculously narrow win path. The plot involves a body swapping mechanic, and in order to get the proper ending you need to get yourself, the Big Bad and your companion back into the correct bodies by the end of the book. Making the wrong decisions right at the start will leave the bodies mixed up in a way that is impossible to fix, with the result that vast swaths of the book are devoted to activities that will never result in a victory. Only by mastering the body swapping magic and switching into the right people at the exact right times can the reader come out on top.
    • Rebel Planet: At one point, you break into an enemy armoury. There, you get the chance to take 2 out of 4 weapons. You must pick the right ones and guess which order to use them, or you die. There are no clues to help you.
    • Trial of Champions contains a luck-based challenge forcing you to choose a chain of maneuvers against a blind kendo master, all of which are essentially random and lead to either total victory or end of game with no use of skill or items. The same book also has a wizard who requires you to have gathered exactly nine gold rings from random places as well as the code numbers to use them. Failure at any point is instant death.
    • The Big Bad confrontation in Return to Firetop Mountain requires the player to have gathered gold teeth with numbers written on them (Hope you don't have to forfeit a gold item in the eyeball-eating contest!), a series of tiny book pages saying how to use them, a magnifying glass to read the pages, a throwing knife to throw at a rat to avoid it stealing the tooth, and a successful skill roll to hit the rat. After all this, you finally get to fight Zagor, who may kill you if the print-based Quicktime Events didn't already.
    • Knights of Doom has an amusing but sadistic example in the form of the Assassin's Dagger. This intangible opponent will plague you for the whole game, and can only be permanently defeated by choosing an appropriate skill before the adventure even starts or by buying a certain item. Otherwise, the book will give you opportunities to trap the dagger and run away, only for it to keep escaping and catching up with you later on. If you don't finish it off, then it finally manages to plunge itself into your back just as you confront the Big Bad...
    • In order to defeat the Big Bad in Armies of Death, you need the Crystal of Light. You learn about the Crystal from an Oracle, who will only give you the information in exchange for a golden brooch. The brooch is obtained early on in the game by winning a bar bet. The chance of winning the bet is 50/50. Thus, even if you do everything right, win every battle and succeed at every other test, you have a 50/50 chance of losing the game less than a quarter of the way through and not even knowing it.
    • Vault of the Vampire: Failing to bring along a magic sword and a wooden stake makes the game unwinnable (although the Count could technically be beaten without a magic sword). Also not clearing enough of the Count's coffins when you have the option to does the same trick.
    • A Cruel example is found in The Crown Of Kings: At the very end of your adventure, you will be forced to find a safe means of escape from Mampang Fortress, and the only way to do so without using magic is to have much earlier found and befriended the well-concealed Samaritans of Schinn. If you play as a warrior and either fail to find them or fail to earn their trust, you will continue your adventure only to discover at the last that you cannot escape the Fortress.
    • Another Cruel example comes in Creature of Havoc: your first few "decisions" are determined by dice rolls. Almost from the beginning, getting the wrong roll will make you miss the only item you can use to defeat the main villain. It is possible to play the book until the final confrontation and lose because you missed an item you can only obtain by 50/50 chance near the very start. To make matters worse the game explicitly gives you the option to use it in any battle any time in your adventure, and it is destroyed after one use.
  • Dave Morris generally believed that heroes should be heroes, and in most of his books (other than The Fabled Lands and Heart of Ice) he punishes people for trying to play a Sociopathic Hero. In "Down Among The Dead Men", you and a few shipmates escape from an evil captain; later, after going across the ocean to reach civilization and proving your worth to the others, you become captain and lead a ship against the Big Bad... unless you've acted in a blatantly immoral fashion, such as demanding first dibs on food, murdering another captain in cold blood while they sleep (this also earns a What the Hell, Hero? from your shipmates), or letting a crewmate sing a really depressing song when morale is already critically low, just because you're too afraid to make him stop. In any of these cases, the adventure continues, but you have to note down a Codeword, and when you get to civilization, if that Codeword is on your sheet, your crew decides you're not cut out to be a captain and leaves you.
  • Some of the Time Machine gamebooks give you one of several inventory items to pick at the beginning. Pick the wrong one? You're gonna be stuck.
  • Meanwhile has another "Infinite loop" scenario. If you use the SQUID, a device that allows you to experience the memories of whoever you attach it to, on yourself and set it to "Lifetime", you'll see the main character being born, growing up, getting to where the plot takes place and using the SQUID on himself, then since the flashback is part of your memories you'll see it again, and again, and again until you Rage Quit.
  • In Amazeworld's "The Maze" game, you can get trapped in the "Labyrinth of Death," a vicious cycle of links that form an infinite loop similar to Goosebumps: Escape from the Carnival of Horrors, if you click on too many or too blatantly wrong answers. The game is polite enough to warn you to "be very careful" if you're facing a specific question where only one of three answers doesn't link straight to the Labyrinth of Death, but it won't warn you anywhere else if there are incorrect answers that lead to the Labyrinth.

    Game Shows 
  • Knightmare had a No Backtracking rule, meaning it was easily possible for the teams to miss a vital clue or item. In a few cases, this led to an extremely hard Luck-Based Mission. Usually, it was only a matter of time before their mistake came back to kill them.
  • The Price Is Right:
    • The most famous game, Plinko, is technically close to unwinnable because the official rules only consider Plinko to be won if the full $50,000 is won. The only way to do that is to win all four additional Plinko chips (by correctly answering 'either/or' questions), and then to have every one of the five chips land in the center slot (out of nine) at the bottom of the pegboard. Even hardcore TPIR fans consider the game to be won if that slot is hit at least once, but Word of God disagrees. Nobody has won the game in the 29 years since it's been introduced, and nobody is likely to win it any time soon. So far, the highest winner on the show earned $31,500 on May 25th, 2017.
    • One early pricing game, "Bullseye" (not to be confused with another identically-named pricing game), has the dishonor of being the only pricing game with a "true" 0% win rate. The player had seven chances to guess the exact price of a car, and would be told whether their bids were too high or too low. They tried pretty hard to make the game easier — spotting the contestant a $500 bidding range, rounding the price to the nearest $10 and even playing it for a sailboat instead — but none of the tweaks helped, and the game was gone only two weeks in. Incidentally, if you know what you're doing, you could get the exact price (rounded to $10) if you can guess it within a $1,260 price range. The equally short-lived two-player variant, on the other hand, pretty much forced a win by ending when one of the contestants nailed the price; ironically, at least two games ended within less than seven guesses even though no bidding range or price rounding was used.
  • On Minute to Win It, those who make it far enough are subjected to a game they call "Supercoin", where you have to bounce a quarter into the top of a water jug from a few feet away in 60 seconds to win $1,000,000. The producers have allowed people to play it for $1,000,000 after meeting special conditions (either by winning the "last man standing" episodes which award a guaranteed $100,000 to their winners, or being a lucky audience member during their "million dollar mission" during Season 2). No one has won, and of the two times the $500,000 level was cleared, one couple was smart enough to walk away with the half million, and the other attempted the game and failed. A YouTube user has proven that part of the challenge is possible, the part involving bouncing the coin into the jug, but it took much longer than 60 seconds. Thankfully, losing on Supercoin would theoretically only drop you down to $250,000, which is still a good payout for a night's work. Eventually they lampshaded the whole ordeal by putting a safe point conveniently at $500,000. However, there was ONE person who managed to win Supercoin in under a minute- the host of the Turkish version!
  • On the Game Show Distraction, the winner must play an inverted Bonus Round to save his or her prize(s) from damage or destruction. If you were stuck with this endgame, your opponent started shoveling your £5,000 into the cement mixer immediately upon the round beginning, thus making it impossible to save your entire prize.
    • The "cash in the toasters" round was just about as evil - you had to answer five questions, each of which allowed you to save £1,000 from a toaster before it went up in flames. The first toaster pushed down represented the last question you were asked - even if you had gotten the first four with no problem, the money in the fifth toaster was likely half gone by the final question.
  • Played for laughs on the short-lived You Don't Know Jack TV series. The "$2 Million Question" starts at $2,000,000 but starts counting down when host Paul Reubens started reading the question, after which something would inevitably interrupt him and stall the question so that the value was down to less than $1,000 by the time he finished reading it.
  • Some physical challenges in Double Dare were set up this way.
    • The "Root Beer Relay" challenge involves one contestant filling up a root beer-like substance with a spray tap and sliding it to a teammate who has to fill a bucket across the line with it. At least twice, the bucket was not properly grounded and fell off the stool. The judges would declare this a loss despite such a case being beyond the contestants' control.
    • "High Five", used in Super Sloppy Double Dare, involves contestants breaking balloons that are hanging from a support beam. If a balloon falls off without popping, the challenge is rendered incomplete. This happened at least once, with the team understandably upset at the poorly-designed challenge.
    • Double Dare 2000 has a challenge similar to the one above where a contestant has to put on a hedgehog outfit and crawl underneath a set of balloons. Just like before, the challenge is lost if a balloon falls off without breaking. This once happened, during a Special Olympics episode no less, but thankfully it didn't affect the outcome of the game.
  • The UK Saturday morning kids' show Ghost Train included a gameshow called Skull which began with a quiz section. For every question the contestant got wrong, they'd have one more enemy in the following section (where the enemies were blindfolded and the contestant had to dodge them). However, the final question was a "Mafia question" (Barry Mafia being the name of the villain) which was unanswerable (eg, "What did I have for breakfast this morning?") ensuring there would always be at least one enemy. (Although on one occasion when a contestant got every other question wrong, the player's guess at the Mafia question was deemed correct!)
  • The Flemish Phone-in Game Shows are a perfect example of tricking people into something that seems easy, but that is impossible to solve.
    • During the very first years of those formats, the host was able to invent an answer on the spot. No matter what you answered, the host would say it is wrong, and when the time had come to reveal the answer he/she would remember the answers that were wrong and give an answer that wasn't previously given.
    • After people complained about it, the format was changed. This time the right answer was on a card. If one guessed the answer on the card correctly, the host and people behind the scenes would distract the audience to buy time to switch the card with another one.
    • After government court hearings, the format was changed again and split in two. This time it is "winnable", but good luck knowing the right answers, as they are nearly impossible to know.
      • One format involves guessing names that involve a particular subject. On one episode of Basta, they use one of the panels that has animals as a subject. They go to the zoo to see if they could find all of the animals written on the panels. One animal wasn't in the zoo, so they had to go to a school restaurant to find meat that was made from that animal. You might as well be looking up a random obscure word in the dictionary and asking people to define it.
      • Another one involves a "calculation". The term calculation is used loosely here, because you're not supposed to calculate the sum that is being presented in order to find the correct answer. Instead you have to add up all the letters and numbers to get the correct answer. Note that it's rather dubious as to what means what: while numbers that have been spelled out always work (like in "an after-eight"), the letters themselves are another matter and are frequently switched up (a good question to ask is whether or not the C in the question is just a C or if it's the Roman number 100—and keep in mind that these games aren't afraid to put up Chinese counting units used in 1100 BC). All in all, you have such an obtuse game that requires such leaps of logic it would make a Conspiracy Theorist seem sane by comparison.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Amanda's traps in Saw III. Jigsaw actually decrees that she's not worthy of being his successor because her "games" are unwinnable, unlike his.
  • WarGames: The computer thinks it's playing a game called "Global Thermonuclear War". After analyzing all the scenarios, it finally concludes: "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."
  • In the Final Destination franchise, once you're on Death's list, it will pursue you relentlessly until you're dead. While it is possible to intervene in someone's death so that Death "skips" them, Death will simply continue working its way through the list until it's cycled back to you- ad infinitum. Attempts to subvert the list such as giving birth, resuscitation and suicide have all failed so far, leaving Death unbeatable. Final Destination 5 introduces the new rule that you can kill someone in order to get their remaining lifespan, seemingly offering survivors an out. However the two characters who use this method in the film both inherit short lifespans and end up dying within a fortnight, the implication being that Death will just manipulate you into killing someone with very little time left anyway.
  • The Kobayashi Maru scenario from Star Trek is designed to be unwinnable, because it is a test of character. Needless to say, Kirk found a way to win by cheating.
    • The method of cheating is slightly different, depending on the continuity. In the original timeline, he reprograms the simulation to make the Klingons more agreeable. In the altered timeline, he programs the Klingon ships to have their shields go down, turning the simulation into a turkey shoot.
  • In Wayne's World, Noah Vanderhoff boasts that the most popular game in his arcade is this; in order to reach level two, you have to defeat a certain enemy... which never spawns. Since the players don't know this, they keep feeding the game quarters and play on in the hopes of being the first to beat the level.
  • In Truth or Dare (2017), when the players start trying to use Exact Words to avoid the dares, the evil presence running the game just either ensures that they fail in those attempts at "cheating" or introduces dares that are inherently deadly.

  • The Wheel of Time has a children's game called "Snakes and Foxes", played with dice and tokens on a simple board. Kids grow out of it once they realize it is Unwinnable without cheating. Heavy foreshadowing indicates that its unwinnability and the need for cheating is important to the plot.
  • In Ender's Game, the Giant's Drink simulation is unwinnable because it isn't really a game. Its only point is as a psychological gauge for each student. If they try it a few times and give up, good. If they keep on playing, despite having their avatar repeatedly killed, they have to be assessed for suicidal tendencies.
    • Then there's Ender, who breaks the system and takes a third option. Retconned in the sequel, though.
    • Arguably, the only real win is Bean's decision not to play at all, and even that is probably a bad move. He doesn't refuse to play to avoid the scenario; he'd just in the habit of not giving people anything that can be used to understand him or predict his actions. Being unwilling to play a computer game helps lead to his being put in life-threatening danger later. It's also a factor in him not being put in command at the end because the instructors didn't know what he was thinking, what his values were or how he would behave under pressure.
  • Catch-22 features the eponymous law, or regulation, or whatever. It is invoked by whatever abusive authority needs a heads I win, tails you lose argument. The prime example: Yossarian learns that any pilots who are insane are kept from flying combat missions and because of the extreme danger of flying combat missions all of the pilots are considered insane. But if you ask to be grounded you want to avoid combat, which is a rational decision, which means you are sane, and therefore you must fly combat missions.
  • Games Magazine's Gamebook short story Horace Beam and the Blue Peril has a cruel one: if Horace doesn't buy the crystal from the psychic in San Francisco, then even if he makes it to the end, he's shark bait due to not being able to access the ship. In short, reject the crystal and the sole hope for even staying alive is to end up in a gulag (a losing ending itself).
  • Conversed in Mako. The sudden twist during the final level of the VR game Mako Assault is that a group of Auran colonists imprisoned by the Alystierians have been brought to the refueling post the players are trying to destroy. Reiser claims that had Lee's team exfiltrated without rescuing the colonists, the game would have sent them on a final bonus level to rescue them, which was deliberately a no-win scenario. However, no such level exists.
  • Propositiones ad Acuendos Juvenes, a 9th century medieval Latin manuscript of math and logic problem, has one. The 43rd problem proposes a situation where a man wants to slaughter 300 pigs in 3 days. However, it says there has to be an odd number of pigs on each day, which makes it impossible. The Other Wiki theorizes this was written to punish troublesome students.note 
    • One answer: "On the first day, I will slaughter one pig. On the second day, I will slaughter one pig. On the third day, I will slaughter two-hundred-ninety-eight pigs, which is a truly odd number of pigs to slaughter in a single day."
  • In The Fifth Elephant, The Game has become this under Angua's brother Wolfgang. When their father was still in charge, the human had a chance at winning, but under Wolfgang, the human always dies.
  • Raymond Smullyan's logic puzzle books have a few puzzles that are logically impossible to solve and are presented as either jokes or lessons on the limits of Knights and Knaves scenarios. An example of one of these puzzles is you wanting to marry an island princess, but her father will only let you marry her if you can prove with your statements that you're not a "normal" (e.g. someone capable of telling the truth or lying) but a "knight" (someone who always tells the truth) or "knave" (someone who always lies) instead — which is impossible to do, as a normal is capable of telling all the truths a knight can and all the lies a knave can. As Smullyan puts it in his given solution to this puzzle; "Sorry! Better luck on the next island!"

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek:
    • Command track Starfleet Academy cadets have to go through the Kobayashi Maru simulation, an unbeatable scenario where their ship will inevitably be lost with all hands, in order to graduate. This is not a subject matter exam so much as a Secret Test of Character to reveal command capability and personality traits, in particular how each cadet deals with failure. Many short stories examine how each character handled the simulation. Variations include use of diplomacy (crew still dies but considered a win), cheesing the simulator physics (breaks as more ships will spawn), invoking ritual combat (you die, but everyone else lives), and in the case of Nog, bribery.
      • James T. Kirk was the first captain to beat this unbeatable scenario... by reprogramming the computer the night before. One of William Shatner's own continuation novels had a new character bring up to Kirk about how he was the first to beat the Kobayashi Maru, and then immediately and unwittingly bring him down several pegs by revealing that everyone wins nowadays. It's become a programming challenge rather than test of character.
      • Star Trekker, a parody manga briefly published in the US by Antarctic Press until Paramount came down like a mountain on them, subverts this by having a Japanese captain fire on the freighter loaded with dilithium crystals, with the resulting explosion crippling the nearby Klingon cruisers. The captain is ordering a followup strike when Admiral Kirk himself (who doesn't want anyone else to win) kills the simulation and dresses her down. She explains that since saving the civilian vessel is a clear impossibility, priority has to be given to saving her own ship.
    • On Deep Space Nine, O'Brien and Bashir often spend their evenings playing a simulation of the battle of the Alamo in the holosuite, with themselves taking on the role of the doomed Texas soldiers. When asked why in the world they keep playing a battle scenario that's literally impossible to win, they explain that it's such an irresistible challenge precisely because it's unwinnable. After their previous simulations of RAF officers in the Battle of Britain and Spartans at Thermopylae, counselor Ezri was getting kind of worried about them.
    • The episode "Court Martial" of the original series has a scene where McCoy comes across Spock playing computer chess. Spock reveals that, because he programmed the computer to play chess himself, he should not be able to win against it. Him being able to beat it four times in a row is evidence that the computer has been tampered with.
    • In the Next Generation episode "Thine Own Self", Troi thinks at first that the promotion exam is supposed to be unwinnable, and it's supposed to gauge how an applicant handles a hopeless situation. It's not. The solution can be obtained if she orders someone to do something she knows he won't survive. The test is supposed to determine whether she is able to give such an order.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • In one episode, the team is ensnared in an alien device that keeps making them relive the same memory over and over again, offering them the opportunity to "set things right". However, every time they try to, the scenario is changed and forces them to fail. Even if they anticipate the previous change and prepare for it, the machine will create a modified scenario in which they still fail.
    • There is also an episode where Teal'c is hooked up to a simulator through his mind, and is constantly going through the same base invasion scenario. The other characters realize that because the real Teal'c wouldn't give up, neither will the simulation in trying to beat him. The problem herein is two fold; for one, the machine is based on the alien devices in the former episode, and for two, Teal'c's mission in the simulator is to defeat the Goa'uld trying to destroy the Star Gate Command, but since Teal'c is absolutely convinced the Goa'uld can never be completely defeated, his subconsciousness constantly creates worse and worse scenarios. It's eventually beaten by putting Daniel into it and giving him a 2-second future vision, which eventually pays off and gets them out of the game after finally winning.
  • In an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati where Johnny incorrectly announces the prize for a "guess the songs" contest ($5000 instead of $50.00) he and Venus try to make the contest unwinnable, but the second person who calls in ends up winning it.
  • In an episode of Alice (1976), Mel sets up a "Spell 'M-E-L-S' To Win" contest for a $500 grand prize. After raising the grand prize to $10,000 (to one-up a competitor who offered $1000 on a similar contest), Mel destroys the only "E" game piece to avoid having to pay. (Even if he did want to pay, he didn't have the money.) Vera reassembled the destroyed piece and discovered that Mel ripped up an "M", not the "E". Cue diner regular Henry finding the "E" piece.note 
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: In Kamen Sentai Gorider, Kuroto Dan set up a Locked Room Mystery game, with protagonist Emu and several deceased Kamen Ridersnote  trapped in a Amusement Park of Doom trying to figure out what's going on and how to get out. And simply not playing the game isn't an option, since it's infinitely spawning monsters that will eventually overrun the planet. The main problem is that Emu keeps getting killed and "reset" back to the beginning with his memories of the past loop erased. It eventually turns out that Kuroto made the game unwinnable on purpose, planning to use the despair of the captive Riders to bring himself back to life, manipulating events while disguised as Kenzaki. However, he ended up screwing himself since this draws the attention of the real Kenzaki; once he enters the game, everything comes crashing down because, as established in Blade, if the Joker is the only Undead in the world, the world ends.
  • A two-time All That sketch about a Game Show called "You Can't Win!" is all about this. No matter what the contestants do, they'll never get a question right, since the host will do things such as ask a question with a nonsensical answer, ask a nonsensical question, or even announce a question but never actually say it. The 10 second challenges are also this, since they involve doing things that tend to be impossible altogether (such as turning a sheep into a dolphin). One contestant actually completed a 10-second challenge of eating 400 meatballs, but was still ruled as a loss because she actually ate 403 meatballs, which was 3 too many.
  • A MADtv sketch about a Game Show called "Get Your Land Back" decides to pull this in a lightning round to eliminate all the contestants so that they don't get any land back. The round involves the contestants having to guess the correct word (Alabaster, shown on-screen below) without any hints as to what it is. When the third contestant manages to guess "Alabaster", we see the word change to "Alabama" and he's considered wrong and eliminated.

  • On Star Trek (Stern), each mission has three stages. On a machine with un-updated game code, the second stage of every mission requires 65,535 shots to complete it. This is a number so ludicrously high that the machine will likely break down before you can get that many shots (making it undoubtedly unwinnable), assuming you don't lose or exhaust yourself before then. A patch released soon afterwards lowered the number down to a much more realistic 15 shots each. This can still be a problem for operators with Star Trek machines in public who don't know about the patch, however.

    Print Media 
  • Games Magazine's Escape from the Forest puzzle has a few. Did you pick the wrong fruit? Or did you land the ark in the wrong place? You'll be torn to pieces by the ogre if you try to reach Anagrammaticus, because you can't assemble the proper word. The earlier Escape from the Dungeon is the same way.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia does this pretty much all the time. The public and private PC goals are routinely in direct conflict, so someone is going to fail at something (cue the Blame Game, which the debriefing is specifically designed to invoke). Occasionally a clever PC will find a way to get credit for appearing to succeed. Individually, goals tend to range from Failure Is the Only Option to merely ludicrously difficult (or "even if the GM can't think of a way to succeed, throw it at them anyway, they might come up with something").
    • More than one classic Paranoia module doesn't even reach the debriefing stage, with the PCs never even making it back for debriefing. In Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues, the Troubleshooters survive the adventure ... but Alpha Complex doesn't.
    • In the Paranoia XP edition, the sample mission is winnable, sort of. The PCs can deal with the scrubbot virus just by surviving the finale. Problem is, that wasn't the mission they were supposed to go on. The Troubleshooters were actually supposed to go looking for missing nuclear fuel, but they met with the wrong mission officer.
    • And the mission The Quantum Traitor does this even more blatantly; the name of the adventure should be a clue that whatever the players do with the sealed environment they're given, it turns out that what's inside is something that makes their choice wrong.
  • Bleak World has exactly 2 endings for ghosts: the first is walking the Earth as a disembodied spirit for all eternity before eventually turning into a wraith or being killed by a reaper and ending up in the second death. The second is to put all your points into hold at the start of the game (only possible for 2 races) and go through the mind numbing process of causing enough love or human misery to open up a portal to heaven where they will likely be attacked by the final boss anyway.
  • The original Call of Cthulhu RPG from Arkham House is this: even the lowliest enemies can kill you real quick in a direct fight, and even seeing one of them can drive your character insane. It's a wonder why they bothered to print game stats for the actual Mythos figures, which are so overpowering that they can't really be used in actual gameplay (they do lampshade this a bit with Cthulhu itself, whose attack reads "Each round 1d4 Investigators are scooped up to die horribly in its terrible maw.")
  • Many co-operative board games like Pandemic as well as some solo games like Patience (a.k.a. Solitaire) have random initial conditions, which can mean that a given game is lost before it has even been begun when the draw is such that no choices the player(s) can make will lead to victory. To a great extent the aim of the game is to find out whether you're in one of those games or not.
  • In the 15-puzzle or "boss" puzzle (one of the first group-theory puzzles, if not the first), only half the possible arrangements of the tiles can be reached from the solved position by sliding the tiles as one is supposed to do to solve the puzzle. For this reason the boss puzzle is called a parity puzzle: meaning one with two distinct sets of configurations that determine how or if they can be solved.note  Sam Loyd exploited this to publicize the puzzle by offering a cash prize for solving a position which he knew to have the wrong (unsolvable) parity. Many other parity puzzles (like the Rubik's Cube) have a similar situation.
  • An interesting "game" one can play is called Nim. Despite its seeming simplicity, a very sophisticated mathematical analysis has revealed that the layout and rules of the game can be used to predetermine a winner provided the player knows the trick. One easy-to-see version of this involves a single row with a total number of elements that are a multiple of N. Provided the limit of items that can be taken per turn is N-1 (the common limit is 3, so you want a multiple of 4, like 12), as long as the second player knows this, he can always win the game.note  Just as interestingly, if the total number is not a multiple of N, the first player can always win.note 

    Web Animation 
  • DSBT InsaniT: Kayla, in a rare moment of brilliance, talks about the reasons arcade games are like this in 'VRcade'.
    Kayla: That's because arcades, like all other businesses, need to make money. The longer you play, the less amount of money you are giving them, thus, to gain said money, as you progress through the game, the difficulty increases until it reaches such a spike that even the most reactive and perfectly-timed maneuvers are going to eventually end in your loss, thus requiring you to provide the machine additional funds in order to resume your enjoyment of the game.
    • This is pretty much half the premise of 'Carneelval' where its filled with rigged games. Examples include the rings in ring toss being too light, the balloon darts game having darts that are too dull, and the mallet in the bell-ringing game not being heavy enough.

    Web Comics 
  • Erfworld:
    • Parson creates a turn-based strategy game designed to be unwinnable while following the rules — the only way to win would be to surprise the gamemaster through lateral thinking. Originally Parson wanted to try the game on his friends, until he was teleported into a wargame universe with the same setup but different mechanics...
    • Erfworld's economy is specifically set up so that none of the factions can ever control a large part of the board alone. Cities are the main source of income, but every one you add reduces the income from every city a side controls. Around a dozen cities you start to lose income by expanding further. The biggest side seen in the series so far, Haffaton, turned out to have a negligible defense even against a tiny side (of pacifists) simply because they couldn't afford the cost and upkeep of units.
  • xkcd 724, providing the image for Unwinnable Joke Game: a Tetris game where the bottom is curved, rendering it impossible to complete a line. The sequel makes up for it, though.
  • SBURB, the Reality Warper computer game from Homestuck, has many subroutines that are unwinnable without considerable lateral thinking.
    • Prospit's war with Derse is inherently unwinnable without the intervention of the players to help defeat the Black King.
    • Trying to play SBURB alone renders the standard win condition and player reward completely unattainable. The game still continues, but in a radically different manner, one that seems custom-built to be as soul-crushingly boring and difficult as possible, to the point that one player who went through such a session (and failed) believes it was designed to be unbeatable. As far as anyone knows, only one player across the infinite number of universes, past, present, and future, has ever succeeded in winning a solo session: the Big Bad, Lord English, aka Caliborn.
    • There is an in-game one-time-use Reset Button known as The Scratch (think broken records and games of billiards). The Scratch restarts a game session with a different set of players who have a higher chance of success, although a win is still not guaranteed. Players in at least one post-Scratch session do NOT have the option to Scratch again, so pre-Scratch sessions need to do all they can to ensure win conditions on the replay before Scratching. The pre-Scratch kids find ways to transport themselves and their fully-prototyped Battlefield into the post-Scratch session to make up for its lack of prototyping.
    • All players must prototype their kernelsprite at least once before entering the game. If even a single player has not done so before entry, the battlefield does not reach its fertile stage and the game is unwinnable unless someone finds a way to bring the missing battlefield and forge, like the pre-Scratch kids did.. Since Sburb exists in nonlinear time, it knows in advance if the players will fail at this, and the players' worlds will be haunted and empty.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Family Guy, during a game night, the cast plays Cleveland Brown's choice of board game, Two Decades of Dignity, that purports to simulate the experience of African Americans. After being sent to jail for looking at a white woman, Peter asks how one is supposed to win, to which Cleveland replies, "You don't win; you just do a little better each time."
  • The Robot Chicken sketch for the Hall of Memory game. The game is only winnable through trial and error, in which every error kills the previous contestant.
  • An old Paramount cartoon with anthropoid animals featured a quiz show for kids. Because of the tight budget, they made the game supposedly unwinnable by means of questions no kid should be able to know so they wouldn't have to pay for prizes. The punchline of the cartoon is that a genius owl comes on stage who can answer anything they throw at him, even beating a computer. In the end, all the owl really wanted was the lollipop given for answering the first (still ridiculously hard) question.
  • In an episode of The Raccoons, wanting to improve sales for his line of potato chips, Cyril comes up with a giveaway contest. He distributes pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into bags of chips, offering a grand prize (an expensive bicycle) to whoever completes the entire puzzle. However, Cyril deliberately produced only one copy of a particular piece, with the intent of never distributing it. Bert, not knowing that the contest is rigged, manages to collect all of the other pieces without too much trouble, but ultimately blows all of his money trying to find the final (impossible) piece. Cyril's plan seems to be working, until the pigs accidentally lose the winning piece in the chip factory's assembly line, leading to it getting packaged into one of the bags.
  • One episode of Sniz and Fondue involved a gacha dispenser that gave out spiders, considered to be the most popular, as one of the prizes inside gacha eggs. However, it turns out that the company deliberately doesn't put any spiders in the eggs so that kids will keep coming back hoping to get them. After bringing down the guy in charge of the company, Sniz and Fondue make a deal with him and are given dispensers that give out nothing but spiders.
  • In one episode of U.S. Acres, Roy was hosting a trivia show entitled You Can't Win. He was offering fabulous prizes to anyone who could win, but only asked questions that no sane individual would actually know the answer to (i.e. the address of a particular dry cleaner in Venezuela). Meanwhile, Orson happens to receive an alien necklace that allows him to read other people's minds. Orson uses the necklace to win at Roy's show, not to claim any prizes, but to get Roy to stop.

    Real Life 
  • The literacy tests used to register voters in the South were often made insanely difficult for Black People who were forced to prove themselves as acceptable voters. Subjective grading ensured even schoolteachers and college graduates failed them.
    • Some voters were asked the number of bubbles in a bar of soap.
    • The Amazing Atheist took one of these and tried to do it in the ten minutes one was supposed to solve it. Even as a decently intelligent modern-age guy, he completely failed due to several tiny mistakes and eventually running out of time when he had solved at best 60% of it all. [1]
    • On top of how difficult the tests themselves were, they were also incredibly vaguely-worded and often lacked a standardized answer. An easy example would be "name the three forms of local government in this state" when the state actually only has two forms, meaning that a "correct" answer listing the two could be failed for not listing three, an answer that attempted to list a third could be failed for making up an answer, and an answer that pointed out the mistake could be failed because obviously they're disagreeing with the test and therefore they must be wrong. This meant that no matter how the question was answered, even if someone did know the correct answers, the examiner could fail it if they felt like it (and considering it was the rural South, they absolutely did).
    • Often they were literally impossible to pass, but people whose grandfathers were allowed to vote were allowed to skip the impossible test. This is the original Grandfather Clause. No unfair grading required.
  • Similarly to above, in Australia, the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 allowed immigration officers to submit prospective migrants a dictation test in any European language. Any European language. Its purpose was to exclude any undesirable migrants (i.e. Asians and Polynesians) from entering. For example, a German would have to pass this test in German before being admitted, while a Chinese would have to pass it in English and then, if he succeeded, in any language until he failed, thereby allowing his deportation.
    • On 1934, Communist and anti-war journalist Egon Kisch was asked to pass this test in English and then in several other European languages until he failed to recopy the Lord's Prayer in Scottish Gaelic (more about this here).
      • A related case was Irishman anti-war activist Gerald Griffin, who was failed after being given a test in Dutch.
    • A new form of this would be enforced in the new millennium. You are now required to take an English test before applying for immigration to Australia. And the requirement is so stringent (8 across the board. The maximum score each of the segments in the test is 9) that even native English speakers have been denied entry. Accidentally spoke with an accent or even stammered during the oral segment of the test? Or made a mistake on more than one question in the comprehension segment? Bad handwriting in the Essay segment? You blew it.
  • In the Soviet Union, candidates of Jewish or any other undesirable extraction received special tests in order to fail them without sounding too much like blatant discrimination.
  • Many street level or carnival games are unwinnable. For example, the classic Shell Game often has the scammer running the game stuff the rock into their sleeves so any choice the person makes will be the wrong one.
  • Speaking about operating systems for computers, due to Executive Meddling between Apple and Nvidia, recent macOS versions have discontinued the drivers for the Nvidia graphics cards, so shoving a recent Nvidia card (ie, a Pascal-based GTX, or a Turing-based RTX) for the recent MacOS version 10.14 (Mojave) will not show images at worst. AMD graphics cards (such as Polaris and Vega-based Radeon cards) on other hand receive continued support from Apple, but on certain basis. Time will tell if the recent AMD Navi-based Radeons will receive Apple support, though.


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