Sure, every game has an ending of sorts. For a certain class of classic game, though, that ending was always of the "You Are Dead Ha Ha Ha!" variety. From Robotron 2084's ever-increasing robot hordes to Missile Command's memorable "THE END" explosion, you went into these games knowing that failure was not just an option, but really the only option.
Then there are the games that seem like they should go on forever but, for one reason or another, just don't. Whether it's because of a coding error leading to an unintentional "kill screen" or a simple design choice stopping an otherwise never-ending series of loops, a lot of games that seem unbeatable at first glance can actually be conquered in one way or another.
To be clear, these aren't just games that are hard to beat (though most of them are incredibly difficult). These are games that, by all rights, shouldn't have a victory condition yet eventually reach a point where it's technically impossible to keep playing even if you don't fail in any way. Enjoy.
The GIF that inspired this list (and became a hit on reddit over the weekend) is probably the only way you'll ever see a perfect game of Snake, the simple 2D game that's so old that Managing Editor Eric Bangeman wrote a BASIC version in 1982 (though this animation looks like it comes from a Russian Flash knock-off with the same general gameplay). Sure, you do technically "lose" when every single section of the playfield is taken up by a piece of your snakey body. But considering that it's technically impossible to get a better score once you've achieved this feat, we think it's safe to call this one a "win."
Also see: If you don't have the patience to watch the 19-minute original GIF above, you can watch a sped-up version that only takes a couple minutes, or look at an especially mesmerizing super-speed version that takes less than 30 seconds.
One of the most well-known accidental endings in gaming, Pac-Man descends into chaos after 256 levels, when an overflowing 8-bit level register causes half the screen to be filled with random symbols and become unbeatable. This actually means you can complete a perfect game of Pac-Man by eating every pellet and swallowing every ghost in all of the game's 255 levels, a feat first pulled off by the legendary Billy Mitchell back in 1999 and later bested by David Race, who completed the feat in a blistering 3 hours, 33 minutes, and 1.4 seconds.
Want to keep playing Pac-Man longer? In 2007, hacker Don Hodges dove into the Pac-Man assembly code and devised some MAME fixes that actually correct the problem.
Also see: The upside-down Ms. Pac-Man kill screens that start at level 134 and the Jr. Pac-Man kill screen that turns most of the playfield into a black void at level 146.
The second-most famous kill screen in all of gaming was popularized by the 2007 documentary The King of Kong, which shows Steve Weibe's memorable journey to beat Billy Mitchell's Donkey Konghigh score. While the error occurs once the level counter reads "22," you actually have to beat 117 "screens" before an overflow error messes up the bonus counter and internal timer, leaving you without enough time to even make it up past the second girder. Only a few people in the world are able to consistently reach this screen, but even then, there's no known upper limit to the score you can obtain in those 117 screens, thanks to the role of luck and ever-evolving point-hoarding strategies.
Fun fact: Donkey Kong actually includes a bit of code to stop the level counter from going above 99, despite the fact that the timer bug stops the game at level 22.
Also see: The extremely similar Donkey Kong Jr. kill screen, which also happens at level 22.
Yet another classic arcade kill screen, Dig Dug's "ending" comes after round 255, when the titular hero loops back to "Round 0." There, he finds only a hellish void where he can't even move before exploding over and over again, until being finally, mercifully spared by the sweet release of oblivion. The horror. THE HORROR!
Also see: This poignant comic featuring Dig Dug and Pac-Man contemplating the meaninglessness of existence in the face of the inevitable kill screen.
If you can manage to kill every duck through level 99 of Game A in this NES classic, it will loop back to a version of Round 0 where invincible ducks bounce around the screen at warp speed before flying away. Eventually, the ducks don't even bother coming out, allowing that damn laughing dog to keep bouncing up and down, tittering at your misfortune.
Also see: The arcade version of the game, Vs. Duck Hunt, which actually lets you shoot that dumb dog in a bonus round.
Tetris: The Grand Master
Most versions of Tetris, including the iconic NES and Game Boy editions, simply keep increasing in speed until even the best players are forced to eventually give in to their fate. But Arika's Japanese arcade version, Tetris: The Grand Master, sets itself apart with a "Master Mode" that can actually be beaten by those with preternatural reflexes. Watching the above video, you'll notice how the blocks start off so fast that they're practically warping to the top of the pile instantaneously, only to speed up even more after a few minutes. That's nothing, though, compared to the final challenge where the blocks disappear altogether after being placed, forcing you to play by memory as the credits roll. If you complete this ridiculous mode, you can truly and proudly say that you actually beat Tetris.
Also see: The excellent documentary Ecstacy of Order, which follows the compelling world of competitive NES Tetris.
River Raid (Atari 2600)
The designers at Activision obviously knew that intrepid River Raid players were going to utterly dominate the game when it was released. Once the game's score counter maxes out at 999,999, the game doesn't simply roll back over to zero (as many other games of the era did) or glitch out. Instead, the programmers coded in a simplistic "ending" where your plane explodes, the screen flashes red, and your score is replaced with six exclamation points. Go grab the polaroid, you're gonna be the most popular kid on the block!
Also see: This gallery of Activision patches that you could get mailed to you in exchange for photographic proof of a high score (River Raid only required 15,000 points).
Unlike most of the maze games of its era, the trackball-controlled Crystal Castles doesn't attempt to loop back to the first screen once you complete all ten of its levels (the first nine of which contain four distinct castles). Instead, you get one of the most entertaining "Game Over" screens in gaming history, which politely informs you:
This just proves the old saying: there are games that you beat, and then there are games that give up and beg for mercy.
Also see: This entertaining reminiscence from the designer of the classic game, including some live music performance.
The arcade version of Q*Bert is legendary for literally going on forever and requiring multi-day marathon sessions to even approach the world record score. Given that, it's kind of odd that the NES version of the game gives up the ghost at level 100, honoring the player with a seizure-inducing blinking victory screen and a chiptune melody that sounds like a group of cats dying painfully. That's what you get for causing the death of the arcade, you lousy console player!
Also see: The almost metaphysical pain of a Q*Bert arcade cabinet glitching out during a thunderstorm after a 56.5-hour record-breaking attempt.
As part of the '90s wave of Tetris-inspired puzzle action games, you'd expect Atari's Klax to similarly continue to speed up until the player cried uncle. Not so. Apparently, those patient and skillful enough to work their way up to Wave 100 and earn 250,000 more points are greeted with an actual, bona fide ending. The above video shows the NES version, but the arcade game apparently ends similarly, forcing you to stop hogging the machine and let someone else put in a quarter, for God's sake.