Alexey Pajitnov – Russian video game designer and inventor of Tetris
Tetris – a tile-matching puzzle game, named #2 in 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time by IGN in 2007.
Tetris has a bit of a legendary status in the video game world. It’s a brilliant game that is simple in premise, and addictive in nature. It’s just puzzle pieces that drop from above, and you have to fit them together into solid horizontal lines, that will then disappear once complete. If the tower of pieces reaches the top, game over. Every level gets faster and faster, forcing the player to make decisions more quickly, which makes each success that much more dopamine inducing. As a ten year old, I would literally spend hours upon hours playing this game. I don’t remember the highest level I ever achieved, but that’s hardly important. What is important is how the game made me feel. And it wasn’t just me. It was everyone that played. Articles were written about what happens to your brain when playing this game, it was that much of a phenomenon.
But despite the raging popularity of this game, the crazy story of how it came to be is not a story widely known (outside of those in the industry, anyway). It’s a fascinating tale of a young Russian computer scientist, the Cold-War Soviet Regime and its uneasy relationship with western capitalism, the very early video game publishing industry, and competition for intellectual property in a pre-internet era. Box Brown (creator of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, the graphic biography of Andre Roussimoff, aka: Andre the Giant), has used his talent as an illustrator and storyteller to bring the fascinating origin story of the world’s most popular game to a graphic novel shelf near you. The storytelling through images is uniquely suited for the history of Tetris, and it’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov, who had no idea what would happen when he gave v.1 of this game to his lab co-workers to play.
Versions of Tetris are still being released for multiple gaming systems today. It’s cultural significance can’t be overstated. And the creator, who has resided in the United States since the mid-nineties, has had his unique story immortalized in a really beautiful way. Regardless of whether you ever played Tetris or not, the story is about more than just a game, or its creator. It’s about the entire system of creation and commerce in which we all participate today. And that is not a small thing.
I sat down with this book one afternoon and it was so compelling that I didn’t put it down until I was done (which took only about one hour). Because there is so much information covered, there were a few items that didn’t get as much attention as I maybe would have liked. But considering the medium, I don’t necessarily think this is a weakness. On the contrary, it inspired me to go do a little research of my own, which for some can be its own rewarding experience.
Tetris: The Games People Play will be released on Tuesday, October 11th. Box Brown will be at Book People in conversation with Austin Kleon on Saturday, October 15th! Please join us for what is sure to be a fascinating event! The event starts at 3pm.