Video Game Thoughts: Tetris

Tetris was a 1984 puzzle game by Alexey Pajitnov that I played on the Game Boy. This game was a worldwide hit and singlehandedly made the Game Boy the dominant handheld gaming device for decades. Alexey was a Russian man who created the game as a way to test computers he was working on for his government job. After some colleagues really liked the game, he started selling the rights to various companies. It became a big licensing mess, but eventually it was sorted that one company would have the rights to the arcade version, one company would have the rights to the PC version, and one company would have the rights to the console version. Nintendo got the rights to do all the console versions, including on handheld devices like the Game Boy.

The rules of the game were really simple but allowed for complex gameplay. Pieces made up of four squares (“tetronimoes”) dropped from the top of the screen. The player could move the row the piece fell down and also rotate the piece. The goal was to place these pieces so that a full line of the playing field was filled with the tiny squares. The line would be cleared from the board, and the player got some points. As the player cleared more lines, the game would speed up the rate that pieces dropped, creating more and more pressure to place the pieces down well.

The game randomly picked which pieces would drop, so every game was slightly different from the last. This made the game really addictive. It wasn’t the same every time. Sometimes I would get on a roll, progress much further than normal, and get a high score. Like gambling, these few times of extreme success compelled the player to keep trying with the hopes of beating their high score. The game design was pretty much perfect. To this day, there have been very few changes to the formula. The graphics and sound quality are better in the newer versions, but the gameplay is nearly the same.

Tetris wasn’t my favorite game as a child because the speed just ramped up too fast. I probably could have gotten really good at it if I tried, but other games absorbed me a lot more. I had a lot of free time. If I had five hours to play games on the weekend, I wanted a game I could make progress in for that long. Tetris was not that kind of game. Each game would last maybe ten to twenty minutes before it got too fast. The player could try again, but they were starting over from zero. I just didn’t like that.

I didn’t mind failure as long as I was working towards some greater goal. For example, I might fail many times at completing a level in a Mario game, but eventually I would finish that level and move on to another one. I didn’t have to play that older level again, I had progressed beyond it. I loved this, but Tetris couldn’t do that.

Now things have reversed. I much prefer the games I can put just fifteen minutes in and feel like I did something than the game that take hours and hours to beat. That is just what happens when we get older. We develop many more interests. We just don’t want to spend all our free time on one thing. I still play video games, but it’s just one of many activities.

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