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A no-win situation, also called a “lose-lose situation”, is one where a person has choices, but no choice leads to a net gain. For example, if an executioner offers the condemned the choice of death by being hanged, shot, or poisoned, all choices lead to death; the condemned is in a no-win situation. This bleak situation gives the chooser no room: whichever choice is made the person making it will lose their life. Less drastic situations may also be considered no-win situations - if one has a choice for lunch between a ham sandwich and a roast beef sandwich, but is a vegetarian or has a wheat allergy, that might also be considered a no-win situation.
In game theory, a "no-win" situation is one in which no player benefits from any outcome. This may be because of any or all of the following:
Carl von Clausewitz's advice (never to launch a war that one has not already won) characterizes war as a no-win situation. A similar example is the Pyrrhic victory, in which a military victory is so costly that the winning side actually ends up worse off than before it started. Looking at the victory as a part of a larger situation, the situation could either be no-win, or more of a win for the other side than the one that won the "victory", or victory at such cost that the gains are outweighed by the cost and are no longer a source of joy.
For example, the "victorious" side may have accomplished their objective, but the objective may have been worthless, or they may lose a strategic advantage in manpower or positioning. (One example is Great Britain in WWII, where Britain was one of the victorious powers, but found itself so exhausted in the process as to no longer be able to maintain its great power status in a world now dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union.) A related concept is sometimes described as winning the battle but losing the war, where a lesser (sub-) objective is won but the true objective beyond it is not well pursued and is lost.
In past Europe, those accused of being witches were sometimes bound and then thrown or dunked in water to test their innocence. A witch would float (by calling upon the Devil to save her from drowning), and then be executed; but a woman not a witch would drown (proving her innocence but causing her death).
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Unwinnable is a state in many text adventures, graphical adventure games and role-playing video games where it is impossible for the player to win the game (either due to a bug or by design), and where the only options are restarting the game, loading a previously saved game, wandering indefinitely, or a game over (negative game end, such as death). It is also known as a dead end situation or a softlock. Usually, this is the result of the player's previous choices, and not due to the game itself lacking a path to victory. For example, in games such as Goldeneye 007 , Perfect Dark , and TimeSplitters , the level does not end once a player fails an objective short of being killed, but it is impossible to progress to the next level no matter what the player does afterwards. Other games take steps to avoid unwinnable situations; for example, a game may not allow players to drop items which are necessary to continue. Softlocks can be triggered by incorrect manipulation of game code or mechanics, as seen in speedrunning - should a certain sequence of tasks to perform a sequence break be carried out incorrectly, the game may become softlocked, forcing either a restart of the game or the console altogether.
Unwinnable should not be confused with unbeatable, which is used to describe a character, monster, or puzzle that is too powerful or difficult to be overcome by the player or character at a lower standing, and is normally found in role-playing video games. In many cases, "unbeatable" gamestates occur because of integer overflow or other errors programmers did not take into account, called a kill screen. In this situation, the game may also crash.
In the film WarGames , the supercomputer WOPR simulates all possible games of tic-tac-toe as a metaphor for all possible scenarios of a nuclear war, each of them ending in a nuclear holocaust (mutual assured destruction). The computer then exclaims, "A strange game; the only winning move is not to play."
In the Star Trek canon, the Kobayashi Maru simulation is a no-win scenario designed as a character test for command track cadets at Starfleet Academy. It first appears in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . In the film, Admiral James T. Kirk states that he does not believe in the no-win scenario.
In the TV show Quantico , the agents are put in a terrorist hijack flight simulation mission that is unbeatable.
In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant's gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the other participants. If the total gains of the participants are added up and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero. Thus, cutting a cake, where taking a larger piece reduces the amount of cake available for others as much as it increases the amount available for that taker, is a zero-sum game if all participants value each unit of cake equally.
The prisoner's dilemma is a standard example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two completely rational individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher while working at RAND in 1950. Albert W. Tucker formalized the game with prison sentence rewards and named it "prisoner's dilemma", presenting it as follows:
Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of communicating with the other. The prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge, but they have enough to convict both on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the prosecutors offer each prisoner a bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to betray the other by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. The possible outcomes are:
Atomic chess is a chess variant. Standard rules of chess apply, but all captures result in an "explosion" through which all surrounding white and black pieces other than pawns are removed from play. Some variations additionally remove rules concerning check such that the king may be able to move into or remain in check.
A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Winning a Pyrrhic victory takes a heavy toll that negates any true sense of achievement or damages long-term progress.
Zugzwang is a situation found in chess and other turn-based games wherein one player is put at a disadvantage because of their obligation to make a move; in other words, the fact that the player is compelled to move means that their position will become significantly weaker. A player is said to be "in zugzwang" when any possible move will worsen their position.
The Kobayashi Maru is a training exercise in the fictional Star Trek universe designed to test the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario. The Kobayashi Maru test was first depicted in the opening scene of the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and also appears in the 2009 film Star Trek. Screenwriter Jack B. Sowards is credited with inventing the test. The test's name is occasionally used among Star Trek fans or those familiar with the series to describe a no-win scenario, a test of one's character or a solution that involves redefining the problem and managing an insurmountable scenario gracefully.
The game of chicken, also known as the hawk–dove game or snowdrift game, is a model of conflict for two players in game theory. The principle of the game is that while the outcome is ideal for one player to yield, but the individuals try to avoid it out of pride for not wanting to look like a 'chicken'. So each player taunts the other to increase the risk of shame in yielding. However, when one player yields, the conflict is avoided, and the game is for the most part over.
An action game is a video game genre that emphasizes physical challenges, including hand–eye coordination and reaction-time. The genre includes a large variety of sub-genres, such as fighting games, beat 'em ups, shooter games and platform games. Multiplayer online battle arena and some real-time strategy games are also considered action games.
In game theory, a kingmaker scenario in a game of three or more players, is an endgame situation where a player who is unable to win has the capacity to determine which player among others will. Said player is referred to as the kingmaker or spoiler. No longer playing for themselves, they may make game decisions to favor a player who played more favorably earlier in the game. Except in games where interpersonal politics, by design, play a decisive role, this is undesirable.
In chess and other chess-like games, a tempo is a "turn" or single move. When a player achieves a desired result in one fewer move, the player is said to "gain a tempo"; conversely, when a player takes one more move than necessary, the player is said to "lose a tempo". Similarly, when a player forces their opponent to make moves not according to their initial plan, one is said to "gain tempo" because the opponent is wasting moves. A move that gains a tempo is often called "a move with tempo".
Replay value is a term used to assess a video game's potential for continued play value after its first completion. Factors that influence replay value are the game's extra characters, secrets or alternate endings. The replay value of a game may also be based entirely on the individual's tastes. A player might enjoy repeating a game because of the music, graphics, gameplay or because of product loyalty. Dynamic environments, challenging AI, a wide variety of ways to accomplish tasks, and a rich array of assets could result in a high replay value.
In strategy computer games, of both the turn-based and real-time varieties, a build order is a linear pattern of production, research, and resource management aimed at achieving a specific and specialized goal. They are analogous to chess openings, in that a player will have a specific order of play in mind, however the amount the build order, the strategy around which the build order is built or even which build order is then used varies on the skill, ability and other factors such as how aggressive or defensive each player is.
A catch-22 is a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of contradictory rules or limitations. The term was coined by Joseph Heller, who used it in his 1961 novel Catch-22.
"Game over" is a message in video games which signals to the player that the game has ended. It is usually received negatively in a situation where continued play is disallowed, such as losing all of one's lives or failing a critical objective. However, it sometimes also appears after the successful completion of a game. The phrase has since been turned into quasi-slang, usually describing an event that will cause significant harm, injury, or bad luck to a person.
Cooperative board games are board games in which players work together to achieve a common goal, the result being either winning or losing as a group. As the name suggests, cooperative games stress cooperation over competition. This type of board game attracts people who enjoy the social aspect of games and is a good way to get new board game players interested in the hobby. Either the players win the game by reaching a pre-determined objective, or all players lose the game, often by not reaching the objective before a certain event ends the game.
A video game with nonlinear gameplay presents players with challenges that can be completed in a number of different sequences. Each player may take on only some of the challenges possible, and the same challenges may be played in a different order. Conversely, a video game with linear gameplay will confront a player with a fixed sequence of challenges: every player faces every challenge and has to overcome them in the same order.
Twitch gameplay is a type of video gameplay scenario that tests a player's response time. Action games such as shooters, sports, multiplayer online battle arena, and fighting games often contain elements of twitch gameplay. For example, first-person shooters such as Counter-Strike as well as Call of Duty shooters require quick reaction times for the players to shoot enemies, and fighting games such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat require quick reaction times to attack or counter an opponent. Other video game genres may also involve twitch gameplay. For example, the puzzle video game Tetris gradually speeds up as the player makes progress.
In game theory, the war of attrition is a dynamic timing game in which players choose a time to stop, and fundamentally trade off the strategic gains from outlasting other players and the real costs expended with the passage of time. Its precise opposite is the pre-emption game, in which players elect a time to stop, and fundamentally trade off the strategic costs from outlasting other players and the real gains occasioned by the passage of time. The model was originally formulated by John Maynard Smith; a mixed evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) was determined by Bishop & Cannings. An example is an all-pay auction, in which the prize goes to the player with the highest bid and each player pays the loser's low bid.
Democracy is a government simulation game that was first developed by Positech Games in 2005, with a sequel released in December 2007 and a third game in 2013. The player plays as if they are the president or prime minister of a democratic government. The player must introduce and alter policies in seven areas – tax, economy, welfare, foreign policy, transport, law and order and public services. Each policy has an effect on the happiness of various voter groups, as well as affecting factors such as crime and air quality. The player has to deal with "situations", which are typically problems such as petrol protests or homelessness, and also has to make decisions on dilemmas that arise each turn.
Star Trek: The Kobayashi Alternative was a Star Trek themed computer software game by American studio Micromosaics, designed for the Apple II Plus, Apple IIe, and Apple IIc. The game was also available for the Commodore 64, Macintosh and IBM PC. This text adventure was first published in 1985 by Simon & Schuster. The player assumes the role of Admiral James T. Kirk. As Kirk, the player commands the actions of the Enterprise crew, as well as the Enterprise itself. The game was expansive and ambitious, but also very buggy.