Tetris: the Game of Life?

July 8, 2012 3:06 pm

One evening a friend and I were having after work drinks at a bar and when my friend excused herself to go to the ladies’ room, I tried to occupy myself, doing my best not to look a little lonely. This unease at perceived solitary public drinking probably originates from Rhett Butler’s line in Gone with the Wind: ‘Never drink alone, Scarlett. People always find out and it ruins your reputation.’ I reached for my phone and pretended to look busy. Actually, I began a game of Tetris.

 By the time my friend joined me again, I’d already finished the game twice. And lost twice, which started me thinking on the nature of Tetris and its resemblance to human life. Why can’t one finish a game of Tetris by beating a high score of another player or by clearing the set number of lines? Most commonly it’s Game Over via a top out. Why is it impossible to finish the game of Tetris by winning? Why don’t the Tetriminos ever stop falling from the Skyline? Why can’t a game of Tetris ever be completed?

Tetris was invented in 1984 by a Russian mathematician Alexei Pajitinov and the universally popularity of the game enabled him to cofound The Tetris Company with Henk Rogers in 1996. They continue to upgrade and invent new types of Tetris the popularity of which ‘has grown steadily since the company’s inception.’ Tetris successfully conquered various playing platforms from computers and game consoles to mobile phones. Over 75 million Tetris products are sold on the mobile platform and in 2008 Tetris became a top-10 bestselling application of all time.

The founders explain the worldwide popularity of Tetris by arguing that game transcends language, making it universally appealing, and the allure to players lies within the ‘universal desire for order.’ This aspect is probably why, in that particular moment of clarity, I  decided Tetris was the perfect representation of life. Tetriminos are pieces of the unsolvable puzzle falling down from beyond and unless you try your best to arrange the parts and eliminate them, they can bury you. There is no control over what will fall next but sometimes you have an epiphany well beyond your perceived level of intelligence, you clear the whole Matrix and you’re on top of the game.

That moment is often the first step of your downfall. When you relax and become overconfident in Tetris, you start hard dropping and before you know it, you make the smallest mistake which inevitably leads to a game over. Tetris, like life, keeps going until you’re buried under the cracked wall of your own construction. You can play alone or in pair, you can play against a clock or just score points, you can have clean sweeps or rise up from a seemingly uncontrollable mess. But however good you get with your Tetris techniques, the pieces keep falling until game over. Universally, people can’t resist the attraction. We all love playing the game.

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