TakeN Out of Gaming | Issue 3: Tetris

By Shane Jury 16.10.2011 2

Hello all, and welcome to October’s instalment of TakeN Out of Gaming, Cubed3’s monthly feature that grabs a gaming franchise by the arm and leads it into territories outside its comfort zone. For this round, we look at an immensely popular franchise which singlehandedly sold a big grey brick with a black and green screen to millions the world over, has appeared on every major format since in some form, and is in fact seeing a retail release on the humble 3DS this very month. It has no plot, no characters, and no goal, but alas possesses universal appeal, and will help you bag your shopping easier. Say Здравствуйте (hello!) to Tetris.

As the somewhat confusing Russian greeting up there may allude to, Tetris was the product of Alexey Pajitnov’s mind and technical expertise while he was working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow way back in June of 1984. The game was first created on an Elektronica 60 (a terminal computer thingie that your mobile phone would easily run rings around now) as a side project for Pajitnov, and from a PC port the game exploded in popularity throughout Mother Russia. The first company to notice the game and try to secure distribution rights outside of the Soviet Union was a British software house called Andromeda. Alas, before they could grab a rope to vault down to this potential goldmine, another publisher called Spectrum HoloByte did so, and through them emerged Tetris’ United States debut on the PC. Andromeda did eventually gain the licensing copyrights to publish the game on PC, but how this all played out legally is unclear.

Say the word 'Tetris' to a seasoned gamer, and one particular version will most likely pop into their heads. In 1989 Nintendo had their chance when the official license holder Elektronorgtechnica (in itself an organization of the Russian government that pursued the rights to the game, the Soviet Ministry of Software and Hardware Export) bequeathed the handheld rights to the big N. After going on show at a Consumer Electronics Show, Dutch publisher and videogame designer Henk Rogers helped Nintendo to secure the rights to distribute the game on consoles who, in a masterstroke, decided to bundle it with every Game Boy unit.

The rest, as they say, is history; the game, together with a handheld unit with interchangeable cartridges, became a huge hit for the bus, the toilet and beyond. A 35 million sales behemoth to be exact, and together with Nintendo’s other key franchises it helped cement the company’s dominant presence in the portable gaming marketplace. Tetris has had a successful run since, turning up on numerous game-playing devices of varying origin and make, sometimes adding new experimental modes of play but never wildly deviating on what made it great in the first place.

Other Mediums

Thus far, mostly due to its status as a basis puzzler with zero plot or end-goal accomplishment, Tetris has not reached too far outside the borders of gamedom. The effect the game can have on dedicated players however, has reached the creased brows of professors and scientists of multiple nations, so much so that the Tetris effect is so named for any activity that overshadows dreams, mental images and thoughts to an obsessive degree.

A bloke called Dr Haier from the University of California examined how the brain reacts to regular sessions of blocky stacks, finding that, yup, it does indeed cause brain activity and function to increase, with usage becoming more efficient the more you play. More specifically though, even just moderate play every now and then boosts critical thinking, reasoning ability, language understanding and information processing in the mind. Brain Training before Brain Training in other words.

A separate study carried out around two years ago here in merry old England turned up something else entirely. For those dealing with traumatic memories both current and previous, prolonged play of Tetris may disrupt and weaken those recollections, and reduce chances of flashbacks. Dr Holmes of Oxford University hopes to develop this research further, but for now we can assume that those coloured blocks can form a hole-filled wall to those deepest darkest thoughts you might have.

Aside from scientific studies, the game has made numerous cameos and references on popular TV shows: The Simpsons, Futurama, Family Guy, and even Muppet Babies. The famous Music A (originally a Russian folk song called Korobeiniki) notes have been covered by UK dance band Doctor Spin and US alternative rock band Ozma, among others. There is even a tabletop variation of the game, entitled Tetris Tower 3D from Radica Games. eBay is your best bet towards getting one as it has been discontinued for a while now; a Monopoly-beater it was not.

Future Possibilities

Tetris is perhaps the single most difficult franchise to take somewhere that wouldn’t be completely dependent on its structure or legacy; it would have to be open to modification and improvisation to really get anywhere. A movie for example, could use the block falling grid as a basis, but explained as an alien invasion into sealed-off cities with the human hero(es) negating building destruction by organising the pieces down with a tractor beam, or something to that effect. Or even base the concept of Tetris as some kind of futuristic gladiatorial game, like this awesome trailer does.


For a large group of talented gymnasts, a stage show using secure harnesses, flexible limbs, and a confined space could play out a human round of Tetris to a paying and wowed audience. Something like that would probably pass a Britain's Got Talent audition at the very least. For a better idea imagine this, but closer to the ground with a whole lot of wires:


Or what about some Tetris furniture? Pieces of shelving or seating that you could move around and combine to form your own unique setup? This idea has been thrown around before, with professional furnishings designers coming up with the models you see below, but nothing productively substantial has been seen of the concept as of yet. Ikea, get on the phone.

As one of the most recognisable games to even those who don’t frequent the hobby, Tetris will probably remain comfortably seated in the quick fix activity of many technology users today. Yet with a little expansion of the concept into newer waters (but not muddier swamps like that of Bomberman Act Zero), and a broader gaze into the home and beyond, the game could reach out further - although few would blame Alexey and the Tetris Company if they chose to stick to familiar soil.

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Nice artical.
There was a good documentary I saw once on the history of Tetris - actualy made it seem half like a spy thriller with all the different parties, including the russian government involved Smilie

I played that Tetris Tower game btw. Wasnt that bad.
(I also own a PacMan board game, and used to have a DK one)
oh, and I'm sure we will have a AR Mario Platformer within the decade Smilie

( Edited 16.10.2011 17:41 by Darkflame )

http://www.fanficmaker.com <-- Tells some truly terrible tales.
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My wife is already addicted to Tetris for 3DS. Not tried the AR mode yet...doesn't seem to be selling anywhere near as well as the Nintendo-published Tetris DS, though.

Looking forward to Issue 4 Smilie

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
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