No-win situation

# No-win situation

Discussion

Encyclopedia
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 dying by being hanged, shot, or poisoned, since all choices lead to death, the condemned is in a no-win situation. This bleak situation gives the chooser little room: whatever choice is made, the person making it will lose their life.

Less drastic situations might 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
Wheat allergy
Wheat allergy is a food allergy, but can also be a contact allergy resulting from occupational exposure. Like all allergies wheat allergy involves IgE and mast cell response. Typically the allergy is limited to the seed storage proteins of wheat, some reactions are restricted to wheat proteins,...

, that might be considered a no-win situation.

## In game theory

In game theory
Game theory
Game theory is a mathematical method for analyzing calculated circumstances, such as in games, where a personâ€™s success is based upon the choices of others...

, 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:
• Unavoidable or unforeseeable circumstances causing the situation to change after decisions have been made. This is common in Text adventures.
• Zugzwang
Zugzwang
Zugzwang is a term usually used in chess which also applies to various other games. The term finds its formal definition in combinatorial game theory, and it describes a situation where one player is put at a disadvantage because he has to make a move when he would prefer to pass and make no move...

, as in chess
Chess
Chess is a two-player board game played on a chessboard, a square-checkered board with 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight grid. It is one of the world's most popular games, played by millions of people worldwide at home, in clubs, online, by correspondence, and in tournaments.Each player...

, when any move a player chooses makes him worse off than before
• A situation in which the player has to accomplish two mutually dependent tasks each of which must be completed before the other or that are mutually exclusive (a Catch-22
Catch-22 (logic)
A Catch-22, coined by Joseph Heller in his novel Catch-22, is a logical paradox arising from a situation in which an individual needs something that can only be acquired with an action that will lead him to that very situation he is already in; therefore, the acquisition of this thing becomes...

)
• Ignorance of other players' actions, meaning the best decision for all differs from that for any one player (as in the Prisoner's Dilemma
Prisoner's dilemma
The prisonerâ€™s dilemma is a canonical example of a game, analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interest to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W...

).

## In history

Carl von Clausewitz
Carl von Clausewitz
Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz was a Prussian soldier and German military theorist who stressed the moral and political aspects of war...

'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
Pyrrhic victory
A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost to the victor that it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately cause defeat.-Origin:...

, 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 a win for the other side than the one that won the "victory". 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.

In Europe before the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

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).

## Video games

An adventure game is a video game in which the player assumes the role of protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving instead of physical challenge. The genre's focus on story allows it to draw heavily from other narrative-based media such as literature and film,...

s and role-playing video game
Role-playing video game
Role-playing video games are a video game genre with origins in pen-and-paper role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, using much of the same terminology, settings and game mechanics. The player in RPGs controls one character, or several adventuring party members, fulfilling one or many quests...

s where it is impossible for the player to win the game (not due to a bug
Software bug
A software bug is the common term used to describe an error, flaw, mistake, failure, or fault in a computer program or system that produces an incorrect or unexpected result, or causes it to behave in unintended ways. Most bugs arise from mistakes and errors made by people in either a program's...

but by design), and where the only other options are restarting the game, loading a previously saved game, wandering indefinitely, or a game over
Game over
Game Over is a message in video games which signals that the game has ended, often due to a negative outcome - although the phrase sometimes follows the end credits after successful completion of a game...

(negative game end, such as death). It is also known as a walking dead, dead end or zombie situation.

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 game
Role-playing video game
Role-playing video games are a video game genre with origins in pen-and-paper role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, using much of the same terminology, settings and game mechanics. The player in RPGs controls one character, or several adventuring party members, fulfilling one or many quests...

s.

• Cornelian dilemma
Cornelian dilemma
A Cornelian dilemma is a dilemma in which someone is obliged to choose between two courses of action either of which will have a detrimental effect on himself or herself or on someone near to him or her...

• Winner's curse
Winner's curse
The winner's curse is a phenomenon akin to a Pyrrhic victory that occurs in common value auctions with incomplete information. In short, the winner's curse says that in such an auction, the winner will tend to overpay...

• Catch-22 (logic)
Catch-22 (logic)
A Catch-22, coined by Joseph Heller in his novel Catch-22, is a logical paradox arising from a situation in which an individual needs something that can only be acquired with an action that will lead him to that very situation he is already in; therefore, the acquisition of this thing becomes...

• Double bind
Double bind
A double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual receives two or more conflicting messages, in which one message negates the other. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other , so that...

• Win-win game
Win-win game
A win-win game is a game which is designed in a way that all participants can profit from it in one way or the other. In conflict resolution, a win-win strategy is a conflict resolution process that aims to accommodate all disputants.-Types:...

• Morton's fork
Morton's Fork
A Morton's Fork is a choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives , or two lines of reasoning that lead to the same unpleasant conclusion...

• Kobayashi Maru
Kobayashi Maru
The Kobayashi Maru is a test in the fictional universe of Star Trek. It is a Starfleet training exercise designed to test the character of cadets in the command track at Starfleet Academy. The Kobayashi Maru test was first depicted in the opening scene of the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan...