“Game over” is a message in video games which signals to the player that the game has ended, usually received negatively in a situation where continued play is disallowed, such as losing all of one’s lives or failing a critical objective, though it sometimes also appears after 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.
The phrase was used as early as 1950 in devices such as electromechanical pinball machines, which would light up the phrase with a lamp (lightbulb).
Before the advent of home consoles and personal computing, arcades were the predominant platform for playing games, which required users to deposit a token or coin (traditionally a quarter, in the U.S.) into an arcade game machine in order to play. Players would usually be given a finite number of lives (or attempts) to progress through the game, the exhaustion of which would usually result in the display of the message “Game over” indicating that the game had ended. The phrase might also be followed by the message “Play Again?” and a prompt asking the player to insert additional tokens to prevent the game from terminating and instead allowing the player to continue their progress. The message can also be seen flashing on certain arcade games while in attract mode, until a player inserts a credit; at this point the message would change to the number of credits inserted and “Press 1 or 2 player start”, or some variation thereof.