- Game Design

Cat trapped in bird cage looking at parrots outside of it

Ever got stuck playing a video game for hours without making any progress? I decided to analyze this phenomenon to determine how players get into such situations, why they have trouble getting out of them, and what game designers can do to minimize them.

Note that the suggested mitigations below do not apply to all situations and may compromise the challenge necessary for the game to retain its level of fun when applied incorrectly. Use your judgement and those from others wisely.

Let's start.

Too many combinations

The only strategy that the player can come up with to progress is to attempt a bunch of different things, except there's so many of them or they take so long to execute that the task of doing so is too daunting.

Possible mitigations

Similar game states

A player attempts a series of steps to progress. Along the way, they encounter a game state that appears partially or completely identical to one they encountered previously, and incorrectly deduce that their previous actions had a simpler consequence than reality. They may repeat the same steps over and over again because they are not questioning their incorrect belief after their first assessment.

Possible mitigations

Missing knowledge

The player is unable to progress because they do not know the information that would unblock them and cannot deduce it. There are a lot of causes of this, but they can be generalized into the following categories:

Possible mitigations

Too difficult

The player lacks the necessary skills to overcome a specific challenge, and is unable to improve sufficiently to do so in a reasonable amount of time.

Note that the player may believe that they are facing this problem when they are actually facing the missing knowledge issue that would reduce the difficulty threshold significantly.

Possible mitigations


The game entered a state that prevents achieving the winning state, and the only way out is to restart. This may be intended or unintended by the game designers. In either case, the player may not realize this is happening until exhausting all possibilities.

Possible mitigations

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