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There's Unwinnable by Design, where a game is intentionally unwinnable if you do a certain thing. And there's Unwinnable By Mistake, where a glitch prevents you from winning.

And then there's... this.

This trope is for when you can render your game Unwinnable by doing something utterly dumb, or something no sane player would attempt in any conceivable gameplay.

This trope overlaps both with Unwinnable By Mistake and Unwinnable by Design. Usually it is testers' job to think of the craziest possible decisions a player might make, and make sure the game still works properly. On the other hand, designers may decide they simply cannot prevent unwinnable situations from occurring altogether, and leave them in the game, reasoning that the player deserves such an outcome if they do something so obviously suicidal.

Other times, it's a reasonable oversight. When the fruits of a few dozen programmers gets into the hands of thousands or even millions of players, odds are at least a few of them are going to be far more creatively insane than anyone could realistically account for. (But compare The Dev Team Thinks of Everything for examples of where they actually do.)

In many genres it's nearly impossible to avoid it. For example, in a shooter the player can fire away all the ammunition, enter a fight with a health bar at nearly zero, and save. In a strategy game, one can stay still, not gathering or building anything, and when the enemy attacks with overwhelming force, save.

Nonstandard Game Over is a related trope.

Examples of Unwinnable by Insanity include:

  • Pokémon: Who with any sense would go to an island with only a Finneon capable of getting them off again, and trade that Finneon for a Magikarp which can't?
    • In the Japanese Pokemon Red and Green, if you evolve your starting Pokémon before you get the Pokédex (raising it from level 5 to 16 against Pokémon about levels 2 through 4 before you get to the second town and back) then you can never get the Pokédex, which means you can't get Pokéballs, which means that old man won't let you past the second town, Viridian City. This was corrected in Pokémon Blue, as well as all international releases.
    • Thanks to a glitch involving the Safari Zone, saving, ledges, and poison, one can gain the ability to walk through walls. However, this ability is lost upon reloading the game, so if one saves and reloads inside a wall, they'll be stuck. Similarly, one can use the glitch to reach the Seafoam Islands without any Pokémon that know Surf or Fly. However, the glitch is so elaborate that one would need instructions to pull it off.
    • It's also possible to make Gen I unwinnable if you release all your Pokémon in Cinnabar (except for one, who can't learn surf or fly) and then get rid of all your money and Pokéballs so that you can't catch any Pokémon. You have to pretty much be trying to do this, though. But back when you could actually rent Game Boy games, it wasn't uncommon to find the pre-saved file trapped in some place like Cinnabar with no way to catch Pokémon.
    • Also if in Gen I you manage to defeat all possible trainers and then spend/lose all your money before entering Saffron City, it is impossible to buy a drink so the guard lets you pass. The only way to correct this is by catching/trading a Pokemon with Payday. This was corrected in the Gen III remakes by making the guards ask for tea, a key item obtained from a little old lady, instead of a drink you bought with your own money.
    • In addition, Gen I has the famous Glitch City, which - if the player follows a particular sequence of actions involving the Safari Zone - will put you in a "town" made of a random jumble of tiles pulled from the town you last visited. Walk too far North, South, or East and the game crashes. Walk too far West lose the ability to go back and then the game crashes. The only way out is to Fly to another city or Teleport/Dig yourself back to the last Pokemon Center you visited. So if you save in Glitch City without a Pokemon who knows one of those moves, you're screwed.
    • Also qualifying in Gen I are the glitch Pokemon such as Missingno. and 'M. Granted, you usually have to go out of your way to encounter them, especially in Yellow, but it seems the harder you have to look the more damage they do. While Missingno. rarely does anything worse than mess with your Hall of Fame, other glitched Pokemon and trainers can screw up your party, destroy your savegame, and in some case render the entire cartridge unusable. Demons in all their glitchy glory here.
    • The Finneon situation isn't as bad as one may think. Unless you don't have any of the rods (meaning you got Finneon in a trade) and don't have enough Rare Candies. In that case, you're truly screwed because then you've no way to level up Magikarp to the point where it'd evolve into Gyarados (which is capable of using Surf), or at least being able to kill it via a much stronger wild Pokemon (or Struggle, if you only had the Old Rod, Magikarp is unable to use Tackle yet, and you lack any HP restoration items), forcing you to end up at a Pokemon Center after losing.
  • Diablo has strong Roguelike influences and can screw you over in numerous other ways. Black Death in particular take away 1 hit point permanently on striking (with no indication that this is the case) and can render the game unwinnable if you are playing very badly and get hit hundreds of times, leaving you with a tiny amount of health.
    • Unless you're a mage who's using Mana Shield... at which point you get to use the ludicrously advantageous "No Stun" bug.
    • When you die, the save function is disabled, but not immediately. Yes, saving at this point makes the current game unwinnable.
      • It requires timing by the milliseconds, though. A frame too late and the game disables the save function. The easiest way is probably to get a +HP item and then get yourself down to health lower than said item provides you. When you remove the item, you die. If you click and press ESC almost exactly at the same moment, you get to save without having that item on you. No, there is no time to put it back on.
    • It's possible to make the game unwinnable by abusing the Chamber of Bone entrance in a hilariously stupid way. You need to teleport there before you use the book to open it (either with a scroll of teleport or using a scroll of town portal then going there from town) and leave yourself stuck in a sealed room. Yes, you need to be completely stupid to do this unless you're doing it intentionally for the lulz.
  • Play through Dragon Age Origins without ever taking a level or making a hard save. Get into a fight with an autosave at the start that you can't win at your low level. Find out you can't take a level up during combat. Despair.
  • Although extremely difficult, it is technically possible to make Monster Rancher 2 Unwinnable. You get a Game Over if, at the start of the month, you have less than 100 G and are unable to feed your monster. The only way to get this situation is if you saved after the last tournament of the month your monster could possibly enter, you have no items to sell, your monster is too young to sell, all of your monsters in storage are too young to sell, and your monster never brings you any item you could possibly sell for money out of the blue. Whew!
  • In Ragnarok Online, certain maps have mesas or other landforms or rooms that can only be accessed by teleporting to a random cell on the map. A player who doesn't have the teleport skill can use a flywing item to teleport until they arrive at one of these places, and if they run out of teleporting items on that exact teleport and don't know the skill, they are stuck because these places usually don't spawn monsters and if you are at a high level it's unlikely a monster would be able to kill you anyways even if you took off all your armor and buffs and stood there letting it try to hit you for an hour. There are ways to fix this involving the help of another person (like contacting a GM to help you, or another player to teleport until they get there too and hand over some flywings or Butterfly Wings, get close enough to trade, kill you themselves, or warp you), but on your own, there is no way to get out of the situation, to the point that Jerkass players with the Warp Portal skill would make save points at these places and place warps under random people's feet, teleporting them there without warning and, if they happen to not have teleporting items handy, without any convenient way to leave.
  • Metroid Fusion has the TRO Trap, which would be a very tricky Sequence Breaking except that it doesn't actually work. It lets Samus reach TRO without having obtained Space Jump first, but after Nettori is defeated the game breaks and Samus is trapped in the Boss Room.
  • In Minecraft, it's possible to find a 2-blocks deep hole in the (indestructible) Bedrock, and jump in with nothing in your inventory. Be sure that the area around you is also lit up and sealed off so that it will be impossible for any mobs to enter into the hole and kill you/aid in your escape. Rage Quit. After Beta 1.8 added a hunger meter, it became possible to starve to death[1], taking this out of Unwinnable territory... but 1.0 added Hardcore mode, which puts it right back in.
  • It is possible to make Monkey Island unwinnable if you try very hard. Basically spend all your coins, one by one, in the soda machine, until you don't have enough to pay for the sword, the shovel and the map. You can also use them by up by giving them to Otis in prison.
  • In Super Smash Bros Melee and Brawl, if you do an endless-time match with pause turned "off" (i.e. activate the setting that disallows pausing during a match), you can't escape the match unless you turn the game off. This isn't as serious as other Unwinnable cases, and in fact could occasionally be by Unwinnable By Mistake (e.g. your friend keeps pausing the game to take Snapshots, so you end your match and turn pause "off." Then, forgetting that Pause is off, you later start an endless match to rack up your Playing Time. Unable to pause and reset your match, you made it unwinnable.) But most of the time, you have to be trying.
  • In Laura Bow 2, it is possible (although unlikely if you're one of those Sierra players who live under the mantra "take everything that isn't nailed to the ground, and even if it is, solve the puzzle to trigger the anti-nailing event to nab it") to make it impossible to get the good or semi-good endings if you've failed to get most or all of the evidence in the game. If you don't pick up at least the evidence littered by the dead bodies, it doesn't matter if you can successfully identify the murderer to the correct victim and motive, or that you've successfully identified who had what dirty little secret--without proof they can't put do anything with the murderer, the dagger will go missing again, and the killer will still kill Laura.
    • Although a bit difficult (and unlikely, considering the game's emphasis in examining everything), you can find both halves of the Rosetta Stones in the museum, but not actually examine them, preventing you from writing down hieroglyph letters written on the stones to add into your journal. The problem comes when you eventually meet The Ra cultists in your chase, and you have to spell out the answers to their riddles using hieroglyphs (which Laura can't do if you didn't write them down, even if you know the answers).
  • In the DS game Lux-Pain, the game can become Unwinnable during Chapter 7. If you take too long finding Yayoi Kamishiro when she is obviously suicidal, then you will be told that Liu Yee is going after her and get an automatic game over. Your time is basically measured by Nami's phone conversations with you. If you save your game after she's talked with you three times, then the game is Unwinnable. Luckily, the game warns you and tells you to make a new save before all this occurs; you should be fine as long as you follow the game's advice.
  • Nethack has uncountable ways to kill you, but very few ways to become unwinnable, most of which are variations of "tick off your quest leader before you get the Bell of Opening". It's not a bug -- if you look in the game's source, you can see the developers included code to handle just that vanishingly unlikely situation.
  • The airship Highwind is required to continue parts of the story in late Disc 2 and Disc 3 of Final Fantasy VII. Thanks to the ability to bring Chocobos on board, it's possible to permanently lose access to the airship by parking it in an isolated area, riding your on-board Chocobo over mountains, rivers, and oceans back to the ranch, and releasing it (along with any other Chocobos you may have). In doing so, you have just lost on-foot access to the Highwind - which, as stated, is necessary to advance through the game. You no longer have any special Chocobos which might be able to bring you to the Highwind. Furthermore, it's impossible to breed any new special Chocobos because doing so requires "good" and "great" Chocobos, which are not found on the first continent. Your only way to access the second continent at this point is the Highwind[2]... which you just lost all access to. For extra kicks, park it somewhere just nearby, like at one of the islands near Fort Condor, so you'll be able to see it and know that it's forever out of your reach.
    • If you already have Cloud back in your party after getting the Highwind, you'll need to access the sub and park it in Costa Del Sol first.
  • Final Fantasy VIII has a point where you have to disarm a missile -- or, technically, set the error ratio high enough that the missile misses its target. After the alarm goes off, the computer you use to change the error ratio locks itself. If the alarm goes off before you change it, then the game becomes Unwinnable -- and the save point is indeed accessible at that point. The game does explain what you're supposed to do...
    • But of course you can get the password to the computer from a dying soldier. The only way to make this section truly unwinnable is to save after you set the time limit too low, if that option is available.
    • There's also another way to make the game (nearly?) unwinnable at the end of disc 3, if you play your way through the game spamming GFs instead of bothering to learn even the basics of the junction system. This isn't particularly hard to do, since enemy levels scale with yours, drawing spells is tedious even with proper junctions and needs to be repeated for every character you wish to use, most early game spells provide a miniscule boost to your stats to further discourage you, most of the stat junction skills need to be learned first and even if the player manages to stumble across the vastly more convenient ability to refine items and cards into spells, they probably won't have many items they can use for such purpose, and one of the more convenient GFs for such purpose needs to be gotten by drawing it from an early boss, at which point they've already come to loathe the junction system. Contrast all the above with impressive-looking GF attacks that vastly outdamage characters with little to no junctions that can be used liberally and who also shield your characters from damage while they're being summoned, and it's easy to see why some people might fall into this trap. Because of all of this, you can get stuck in a boss battle where spamming them is no longer an option since there's another target along the boss that needs to be kept alive, and almost all GFs hit all enemies by default, and the few that don't are practically impossible to get with the GF spam tactic. You could still fight enemies in the area to draw spells from them, but they're all at level 1 and thus their selection of spells is severely limited and in the time it'd take you to get your stats to what they'd normally be at that point of the game, it'd probably be faster to start the game over and play it to that point normally, especially since you wouldn't have to spend ages on each boss battle watching GFs do their thing.
  • One can make an unwinnable save-state in The Last Remnant, but only by deliberately doing so. Going to an area with incredibly high level monsters (compared to the current party), making them aggresive towards Rush, having them chase Rush into a corner and then saving will make the game essentially unwinnable, since upon loading there will be no way to avoid the encounter, and subsequent defeat.
  • In Duke Nukem 3D, you could actually save while dead.
  • In SaGa 2, utilizing the "trashcan bug" can result in this if you overuse it. Using the trashcan at specific MAGI counts will give it the effect of other items. Most are pretty ordinary, but if you have exactly 67 or 68 MAGI, you can get free permanent-stat raising potions (Power at 67, Speed at 68) if you do this. However, overusing this glitch will screw up your MAGI counter after a certain number of uses (depending on equipped MAGI) and leave you unable to progress with the game.
  • In Fallout 3, the door to Vault 87 took a near direct hit from a nuke and is thus irradiated to all hell. To even get close enough to mark it on your map requires that the player be wearing some of the best anti-radiation gear in the game and munch anti-Radiation pills like popcorn the entire time (even then, you'll still die in at most one minute). The problem is, the game on default settings autosaves when you discover a new location... (The Insanity in this case is attempting any of this without hard-saving beforehand.)
  • Several levels in worlds 6 and 7 of Super Mario Bros 3 require ducking through a one-block-high hole to pass, something that can't be done if you're in the Frog suit. And in at least one of them, you can't even commit suicide by way of Bottomless Pit. Why you'd be using the Frog suit in levels that have absolutely no water to use them in, however...
    • Fortunately, you can commit a slower form of suicide by waiting for the timer to run out, thus avoiding the need to reset the game.
  • In Task Maker, you have to find an object requested by the title character to advance in the game. Should you choose to Bestow the task item to an NPC and then kill them, it will very likely not be on their person when they die. However, there are often far better objects that you can Bestow, and you don't really have to Bestow in the first place (it's mostly used to calm down angry monsters, but only up to a certain level).
  • The Legend of Zelda Links Awakening can be be made unwinnable in Dungeon 5 by pulling off a tricky diagonal jump to get into a locked door. The door the (generic) key is meant for has a replacement behind it--this door does not, making it impossible to complete the 5th dungeon, meaning dungeons 6, 7, and 8 never open.
    • In The Legend of Zelda a Link To T He Past, it's possible to use a series of glitches to get to the room where Agahnim awaits without first acquiring the Magic Mirror or Moon Pearl. This is important because defeating Agahnim puts the main character in the Dark World... where he turns into a rabbit that can't attack or defend himself, unless he has the Moon Pearl to prevent the transformation. The only option is to return to the Light World... which can only be done using the Magic Mirror.
    • Zelda II the Adventure of Link has the "fairy warp" glitch. Go to Darunia and jump from roof to roof until you reach the tallest building in town. Next, jump up off screen, use the Fairy spell, and push either left or right. You'll fall into a glitched-up town, and trying to leave it will deposit you in the middle of the ocean, unable to move.
  • In earlier Resident Evil (up to Zero) games it is possible to make the game unwinnable for yourself if you were to waste all of your ammo, ink ribbons, and healing items and then get yourself mauled by monsters until you are on Danger and only have the combat knife for a weapon.
    • It's also entirely possible to do this in 4 and 5 if you sell all of your weapons and do something with the cash like purchase nothing but First-Aid Spray, ammo or grenades.
      • It's harder than it appears to make Resident Evil 4 Unwinnable - the player is only required to fire four shots through the entire game. Three to shoot spots on one collapsing ceiling (the fourth spot can be knifed) and one rocket to kill Salazar. Every other encounter in the game can be handled using some combination of the knife and grenades. Now, granted, to get said grenades you'll have to repeatedly farm enemies until they drop them... but you can still technically win!
  • From Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War : if Cuan and Ethlin survive Trabant's ambush in Chapter 5 and if you let them conquer Phinora Castle, which is your next step at that point... Congratulations, now Phinora is an allied castle and you can't conquer it back, meaning that you're stuck in Yied Desert with no way to advance further in the game (since your progress is very linear, conquering a castle disables the Invisible Wall guarding the next one). Though you have to try really, really, REALLY hard to pull the whole thing off.
    • Fire Emblem in general? Break everyone's weapons, then spend all your money on non-weapon items. Congratulations, you can no longer damage your enemies!
  • The Final Boss of Dark Cloud 2 has a timer. Try going through the entire game with only base weapons and no power-ups...or just don't keep any backups/repair powder. Thus the game is unwinnable because you have a time-limit and can't cherry tap the boss fast enough.
  • In The Elder Scrolls, it's possible to quicksave right next to enemies about to kill you.
  • Robo Warrior. Using up all your life rings before you traverse a water area is a pretty stupid thing to do.
  • Kings Bounty has an area which can only be reached by flight, and which contains only a single treasure spot. If said treasure spot contains non-flying creatures, and you were to recruit them and then ditch your flying creatures, and you didn't have any Town Gate or Castle Gate spells, you would be stuck there forever.
  • In Lands of Lore 2, it is entirely possible to drop an absolutely vital item into a river and you'll never see it again. The third game makes this impossible.
  • Early in Exit Fate, you can sell all your equipment and use all money you have now to buy consumables, then waste them, and you'll be permanently stuck in a town where you're required to rest at an inn, but don't have the money to do so.
  • In "Toys N The Hood", the first real stage of Dynamite Headdy, you have 2 platforms out of reach. Your goal is to pull one of them close to you with your detachable head so you can hop onto it. If you purposely stand as far away as possible, pull the platform to you, and run away immediately after, when the platform comes to you, it'll be too far away for you to reach the ledge or the other platform. You can't kill yourself either. Here's a video demonstrating this.
  • Portal and its sequel have certain rooms where you can trap yourself, making it impossible to continue. (In the X Box Live port of the first Portal, there is even an achievement for trapping yourself so that G La DOS had to help you escape.) That said, Valve found most of the possible ways to trap yourself, and added dialogue on your state as well as providing a way out (by lowering a wall or dispensing an extra cube, for example.) That said, they didn't find every possible trap, so some weird cube or portal manipulations may leave you permanently trapped.
  • In Earthbound, if you run a very Low Level Game until you get Paula, then kill Ness and never revive him so he can't level past this, all the way up to Magicant, then discard all of his goods and equipment (and preferably empty your bank and locker too), the game is virtually unwinnable. Technically, flawless manipulation of the RNG would permit it, realistically it would take hundreds of turns to do enough damage to kill a single enemy, while a single hit connecting on you will kill you instantly.
  • In the original version of Final Fantasy IV, you could give Cecil a sword that would give him auto-berserk. So what happens when you're at the final boss battle, and he has to use the crystal before you can even damage it? You can't actually win, you're pretty much just stuck there. This was fixed in later releases, though. The reason that this was considered insanity is that unless you're a fan of berserk, you'll probably never find yourself still using the weapon by that part of the game as you get weapons that let you deal more damage even while not berserked.
  • An Untitled Story. If you miss the save point teleportation power the first time by avoiding the pit outside Skytown, then miss it a second time in Stonecastle by jumping over it on purpose, and finally going down the upper branch of Farfall, you can end up stuck in a pit with a save point, unable to escape because you don't have the power
  • In Silent Hill: Downpour, you get the Forensic Flashlight in the Centennial Building. You can switch this out with a standard flashlight in the police station if you hadn't already grabbed it. Then, if you enter the orphanage, you are stuck with a large number of enemies that are invisible without the Forensic Flashlight's ultraviolet setting. Not technically unwinnable, but getting through is statistically impossible.
  1. though the mechanics of hunger make this tedious, because you can't simply walk away from your computer for an hour and come back to the death screen
  2. The Cargo Ship which allowed you transport between Junon and Costa Del Sol stops running after you get the Highwind