Review-Tetris: The Games People Play

tetrisTetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown. 9781626723153. 2016. Gr 9-12.

Tetris, on its surface, is a very simple game. Blocks made up of four cubes are rotated and stacked to fit together and “clear” the bottom row. The flow of blocks gets faster and faster until they build up and reach the top of the screen, ending the game. The simplicity didn’t stop me from playing Tetris for hours, and didn’t stop it from becoming a world-wide phenomenon and top selling video game.

However, there was nothing simple about bringing Tetris to the masses from the mind of its creator, Alexey Pajitnov. Box Brown tells the epic tale of this, which he shows may have roots in human pre-history. He makes the case that games are deeply rooted in the human psyche, playing a part in art, competition, higher order thinking, and fun.

Brown’s story of Tetris begins with Pajitnov devising it based on his love of a childhood game called Pentominoes, which had players try to fit wooden tiles together. After he had programmed that concept into his game, he distributed it to colleagues and friends, whose obsessive play foretold the way it would soon spread across the world.
But, before that happened, there was a string of business dealings and politically-charged issues that needed to be dealt with, as giant gaming corporations like Sega, Atari, and Nintendo sorted out who had the rights to use Alexey’s game for their gaming platforms.

While Tetris the game is simple, Tetris the tale is very complex. The convoluted path it took from concept to world domination is amazing. Box Brown’s simple illustrations, using only black, white, and yellow, mirrors the simplicity of the game and allows the complex story to be front and center. In the end, Pajitnov didn’t reap the monetary benefit of Tetris, but he managed to bring his vision to the masses, and brought countless hours of fun to the world, which is what he set out to do.


Ryan H.