No-Win Scenarios

When used to consider real world situations, no-win scenarios can force a player to reconsider the validity of a solution they may take for granted.


A designer wants to demonstrate the environmental cost of NFTs in games. They create a game in which the player has to balance the environmental cost of each NFT purchase by trying to reduce the carbon footprint of their company. However, since each carbon footprint reduction is funded by another NFT purchase, the player cannot help but continue to negatively impact the environment.


  • No-win situations can force a player to confront the hard truth about a real world problem that they may misunderstand or oversimplify, examining how they must act to change the situation in the real world. 
  • No-win situations can encourage deep systematic consideration of a situation, resulting in significant changes to how players mentally model a problem.


  • No-win scenarios show how a specific solution to a problem may not be realistic by taking that solution to an extreme.
  • No-win scenarios often use the “digging yourself out a hole” approach to show how pursuit of a particular solution simply makes the situation worse.
  • No-win scenarios are closely linked to New Goal Orientation. The inherent flaw in a no-win scenario is that the player is attempting to achieve an impossible goal.
  • Play in no-win scenarios must somehow point out how and why the situation is no-win and why that is relevant. Designers should avoid “punishment machines” or “doom and gloom” by providing information on how the no-win cycle can be broken in the real world.

From the Environmental Game Design Playbook
– by IGDA Climate SIG