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Tetris: The Games People Play

ByJJ Cheng

Feb 8, 2017

Today, with the incessant development of new games on the console, PC, smartphone and emerging technologies like virtual reality, it is easy to forget gaming’s origins. In a fascinating new graphic novel TetrisThe Games People Play, American cartoonist Box Brown brings the reader through a brief history of games through the ages, and in particular the tangled history of the iconic game ‘Tetris’. His second full-length graphic novel, Tetris, is as enlightening as it is enjoyable, offering insight into the sensational and politicised history of the development of one of the most well-known games of all time.

Games have captivated people throughout history, from simple board games to card games, and now to the myriad multiplayer role-playing games enjoyed today. The novel starts with Alexey Pajitnov, the computer scientist who created Tetris in his spare time while working for the Soviet government. Throughout the book, we are given glimpses into Alexey’s mind and his belief that games reflect humanity and, “inform life”. He was a lover of puzzles, and Tetris was a product of his passion and creativity. In fact, it is a reinvention of his favourite game, ‘Pentominoes’ – but with continuous problems and a graphic interface. This is the story of its extraordinary and universal popularity, one that led to legal and political battles being fought around it.

From the rudimentary version Alexey created on his Electronika 60 with only text characters, the Tetris craze spread throughout his institute, then Moscow, and escaped from the USSR into the world, captivating players everywhere. Businessmen, videogame companies, media moguls and eventually even the Russian government became involved in the rights wars that ensued, partly due to the game’s enormous commercial potential but also due to Alexey’s inexperience in handling rights and distributors. Brown never loses the reader as he navigates the twists and turns of the tale expertly, picking out the most significant and interesting characters and events in an engrossing sequence of illustrations.

While the story is concerned mainly with the tussles in Tetris’ history, it is also framed within the context of the development of games in general and their role in society. Brown explores, in a series of simple scenes, the possible origins of gaming and its subsequent development in hardware and software. He includes the history of Nintendo, which invented the hand-held gaming device, and the creative minds behind it – minds that were visionary and recognised the importance of games in the human consciousness.

Throughout the book, Brown develops the idea that gaming is a natural and essential part of human life – puzzles reflect human thinking, involve emotions, and provide challenge; discovery; reward and closure to the participant. It is thus no wonder that a simple game born out of the day-dreams of a passionate and talented Russian scientist could inspire such dramatic events as it swept across the world to captivate everyone’s imaginations.

Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown (SelfMadeHero, 2016)


Photo courtesy of SelfMadeHero

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