"Ethel, I think we’re fighting a losing game!"
—Lucy, I Love Lucy
'Unwinnable' is a gameplay state in which it is completely impossible for the player to finish the game. Players who have reached this point have only two options: reload a previous save—in the fortunate situations where this is possible, or start the game anew—for the much more unfortunate situations where it is not.
Unwinnable comes in four flavors:
- Unwinnable by Design, where chaotic evil programmers deliberately create traps for people to stumble into. Either type has been known to prompt a Big No from frustrated gamers, and if the instance is the result of particularly egregiously bad programming, it may result in an Internet Backlash.
- Unwinnable by Insanity, where the player looks at a few perfectly harmless game elements and says "Hey, if I did this highly unlikely thing, I'd break the game! Cool!" It's more of a novelty than anything.
- Unwinnable Joke Game, where the game is intentionally impossible from the beginning, generally played as a joke on the player.
- Unwinnable By Mistake, where bad design oversights or bug-filled programming stop the player from progressing, prevent the player from accessing needed equipment, or otherwise make the game impossible to beat.
Examples go on the subtropes above.