Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Haha! Why?! What's with these puzzles and games, Alexey? Aren't we here to study psychology, behaviour, that stuff?"
"Hear me out here: games aren't just an escape, not there just to keep us busy during idle hours.
"Puzzles and games reveal a lot about psychological behaviour! They imitate the mind! They inform life!!"
Indeed they do. And Alexey Pajitnov, computer scientist at Moscow Academy of Science in 1984, was just about to have to his own mind blown as to how much impact his musings about the development of human consciousness and subsequent meddling with computer coding were going to have.
Tetris, it's a funny old game, as renowned addict Jimmy Greaves might have been heard to articulate
I actually didn't pay it a great deal of attention as a callow teenager, fixated as I was on what I perceived to be far more sophisticated games: the likes of Elite, Jet Set Willy and err
Daley Thompson's Decathlon.
As a more mature gamer, with infinitely less time these days, and probably somewhat more sluggish reflexes (I doubt I would get anywhere near my personal best of 41.12 seconds for the 400metres on Daley's, a feat that required two of my friends to physically hold my computer desk down with their full weights to prevent it tipping over whilst my digits dashed across the sexy rubber keys of my ZX Spectrum 48K
) I have recently come to appreciate the merits of puzzle games, in my all-too-brief twenty-minute tram commute gaming slots. And their addictiveness
I think, actually, that will be one of the true lasting legacies of Tetris, that it was a game which transcended the then traditionally rather narrow demographic of computer gamers, almost entirely young male teenagers at that time, appealing to absolutely everyone, right up to pensioners, on a level that ignited the avarice of games manufacturers on a hitherto unimaginable degree. In that sense, looking at the demographics of gamers today, Tetris truly was years ahead of its time.
Box Brown provides us with a fascinating insight into both the genial genius of Alexey Pajitnov, who truly could have had no way of knowing what RSI-inducing monster of a time-thief he was about to unleash on an unsuspecting world, and the greedy, grubby shenanigans of big business, including one Robert Maxwell, who engaged in a frantic scramble for the various rights for different territories and platforms, with varying degrees of success.
The fact that they were all dealing with the inscrutable, hard-nosed Soviet party apparatchiks rather than a naïve game designer, thus being played off against each other beautifully, makes it all the more chaotically delicious a read. It would be fair to say there were more than a few shady stunts pulled and noses put out of joint on the capitalist side of the equation. Box details them all for our delectation.
Plus we get to see Robert Maxwell sink into the drink, quite literally, one more time, as his vast empire began to unravel and crumble around his ears. I remember very well all the kerfuffle at the time, the suspicions that he'd faked his own death (still wouldn't surprise me to find he was living in the lap of luxury somewhere), the rumours of suicide which would have invalidated his vast life policy, quite delighting his insurance company I'm sure. Anyway, that alone brought a fair few memories back, I must say.
We also get a brief history of the rise and rise of the likes of Nintendo, then just a card trading company, as they made the bold decision to diversify their gaming offering. I think we can say it was a wise decision! Even Alexey eventually gets paid, even if he only manages to get a mere slice of the vast pie of riches his creation plundered from the pockets of gamers, old and young alike. But money was never the point for Alexey. He just wanted to see if he could make a game that people - everyone - wanted to play. I think it's safe to say he succeeded in his aim. Another brilliantly constructed chunk of late twentieth-century cultural history from the man who also brought us ANDRE THE GIANT.
For a comic which uses Tetris as a metaphor for coping with life, please see John Allison's EXPECTING TO FLY #1 and #2!