Remember how I said that I wanted to write about video game stories? It may not seem like Tetris is the kind of game that I would gravitate towards, seeing as how there isn’t much of an arc to the stories of S-shape, I-shape, and L-shape. But sometimes the most compelling story isn’t the one in the game itself. It’s in the creation of the game, and the player’s experience of playing the game. Today I’d like to talk about two dreamers, who hoped big, got beaten down, but rose up, and eventually triumphed. The first is Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of Tetris, and the other is me.
People were decrying the influence of video games on popular culture way before Mortal Kombat came onto the scene. Arcades were time-(and money-)wasters. Tetris rotted your brain. Portable gaming systems destroyed kids’ patience (or tried that of their parents, really). If you’re a gamer who grew up in the ’80s, you know what I’m talking about.
These were just the typical portents of the doom of civilization through technology that proved to be almost entirely without base, and most people knew it. How dangerous could dumping block after block on top of one another really be? Were Mario Mario and his brother, Luigi Mario, really that much worse than the A-Team? Hadn’t people heard the same kind of arguments about film, television, and rock n’ roll? Despite a couple busts, video games got more and more popular every year with little-to-no outside intervention regarding their content.
… that is, until 1992, when a gamer could finally rip the still-beating heart out of an opponent’s chest. At that point, everything changed.
Before I was in the picture, my parents had a dog. He was a red chow chow called Sampson and he was the greatest dog that ever happened.
I mention all this because he is my earliest game connection.
I was as late to the party on the Super NES as I really ever have been on a video game system. It came out in the US in 1991, and while we’d rented one several times and played a fair share of Super Mario World and F-Zero, it was not until my brother got one for his birthday in the summer of 1994 that it became ours. (For a point of reference, we got a Sega CD before we got the SNES. That was, for lack of a better word, a blunder.)
That lateness on the SNES meant that I was also late to the party on one of the greatest games ever: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of Tetris. It influenced generations of puzzle games, sold millions of copies on multiple systems, crossed traditional gender boundaries (many of which still exist in gaming today), and continues to be one of the most popular titles of any generation of anywhere in the world. By almost any definition, it is THE video game of the 20th century.