Happy Birthday, Tetris

Tetris is much more fun than current games. Today, we celebrate Tetris’ 30th birthday. I’m sure all of you already know Tetris, its catchy music theme, and the frustration of seeing bricks pile up on the screen.

Invented in 1984 by Alexei Pajitnov in the Soviet Union, the game became extremely popular when Nintendo released it on the Game Boy in 1989. It was one of the launch titles on the groundbreaking portable console. Rumor has it that productivity drastically dropped in Japan on that day as employees brought their newest Nintendo console to work.

I wasn’t even born at the time. But it doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy Tetris. In fact, I have to admit something — I’m a Tetris addict. I played Tetris on the original Game Boy in the late 1990s, on many different computers, on the web, and even on multiple smartphones.

There are two things that I know for sure: you can’t properly play Tetris on a smartphone, and nothing has come close to Tetris in all those years.

There is this intrinsic challenge in Tetris that makes it so beautiful. Every time a game ends, you want to start again. Your score could be so low that you know you can do better. Your score could be so close to your high score that you want to try and beat it. Your score could be your new high score, and you still want to play to celebrate and see if you can do “just a little more”.

You can’t properly play Tetris on a smartphone, and nothing has come close to Tetris in all those years

I’m not the only one who has been obsessed with Tetris. There is even a very good recent documentary called Ecstasy of Order that every Tetris fan should watch. You can see some top Tetris players competing to find out who is the best NES Tetris player in the world.

Even more interesting, the NES version of Tetris is not an infinite game. There is a way to “max out” the game. As Chris Higgins reported, the score doesn’t go above 999,999 points, and level 29 is so fast that you can’t reach the borders of the screen. That’s why players call it the “death screen.”

I didn’t expect Tetris to still have a group of highly dedicated top players who play countless of hours. Compare that to current games, studios are now throwing millions of dollars to organize esports competitions. It seems very artificial compared to Tetris, which is competitive by nature. Let’s be honest, it’s the only reason you hit the Retry button.

We don’t see games like Tetris anymore. Blockbusters like Watch Dogs provide a much different experience. Multiplayer games are not about doing a better score independently from your opponents, they are about dominating your opponents, killing them. Maybe TrackMania still provides this arcade-like experience, but it’s an exception. And the most popular mobile games are riddled with in-app purchases, waiting times and ads — nothing like Tetris.

As the E3 conference is right around the corner, I think the gaming industry has just moved on. It is now chasing a different audience who didn’t grow up with Tetris. But does it mean that companies should be making different games? Maybe the Tetris of this generation is Candy Crush Saga. if that’s the case, I think I’ll just go back to playing Tetris. Just one more time.