A to Z Challenge: (T)etris

TetrisWhether you’re a casual gamer or a hardcore gamer – or you’re really not even a gamer at all – pretty much everyone has heard of Tetris. It’s one of those pop-culturally relevant things like Star Wars or Ninja Turtles; even if you were never into it yourself, you likely know someone who was, or at the very least you can hear the world and not be completely bewildered by it.

So what’s the story behind this iconic piece of gaming and pop culture history? Well, it all started in 1984 with a man who loved the puzzle board game, Pentominos. Oh, and did I mention that he also happened to program computer games for the expressed purpose of testing the capabilities of USSR equipment? Having both the skills and the motivation, Alexey Pajitnov decided that he was going to design a game for himself, based on Pentominos. After deciding that the game should challenge players to arrange puzzle pieces under pressure, he created the iconic seven distinct geometric pieces that we know and love (or hate, if you were never really very good at Tetris). The name ‘Tetris’ comes from a combination of “tetra” (the Greek word for “four”, to represent the fact that each geometric piece is made of four squares), and “tennis”, which was Pajitnov’s favorite sport.

The finished game was created on an Electronica 60 at the Moscow Academy of Science in 1985 and soon became the subject of lots and lots of legal battles. See, it was ported to the IBM PC, and eventually worked its way to Budapest, where it was ported to the Apple II and Commodore 64. From here the president of a British software company took notice, and planned to buy the rights to the game from Pajitnov. However, before even contacting Pajitnov, he turns around and sells the rights to the game to Mirrorsoft UK and their affiliate, Spectrum Holobyte (USA). From there you can imagine how badly this mistake got out of control.

But despite rampant licensing messes and the downfall of more than a couple of companies, ‘Tetris’ eventually made its way onto Nintendo’s blockbuster handheld system, the Gameboy, in 1989, and North Americans haven’t stopped playing it since. The simple idea of fitting shapes together like puzzle pieces, combined with the difficulty of gradually increasing speed, has captured several generations of gamers and non-gamers alike. ‘Tetris’ has been ported – mostly unchanged – to every possible platform; it can even be played for free online, and is available as a free downloadable app on iOS and Android devices. It’s staying power is truly magnificent. And also, it’s existence brought about things like this:

…which is just amazing.

Myself? You’re damn right I’ve played my fair share of Tetris over the years. I owned a cartridge for my first Gameboy (which I think I lost…damn it), and have seen fit to play the game on a number of devices over the years…there’s currently one version on my Samsung phone. It’s one of those games that you just go back to every now and then because it’s familiar, easy to pick up, and keeps you busy for a few minutes when you need to be kept busy. I suspect it will probably stand the test of time for quite a few years to come.

Have you ever played Tetris? Please tell me you’ve played Tetris. I will seriously be sad if anyone comments on this post and tells me that they’ve NEVER played Tetris. Lie to me. Please share, but lie to me.

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