Saturday, 21 January 2017

Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown Review

We’ve all played Tetris and enjoyed its blocky goodness (until the pieces start coming down too quickly and that damn long piece won’t appear and it’s game over, man, GAME OVER!!!). Box Brown’s Tetris: The Games People Play tells its origin story and unfortunately it’s not nearly as fun.

For a book ostensibly about Tetris, it takes it’s sweet time getting around to talking about it! It’s 70 pages before we meet Alexey Pajitnov, the Russian creator of Tetris. Up ‘til then there’s a truncated history of games from ancient times to modern and the company background of Nintendo. It’s slightly interesting but feels totally unnecessary. Nintendo was a popular format for Tetris, especially when paired with the Gameboy, though the game appeared on a number of consoles and we don’t get the history of Atari or arcade machines!

The thirty pages(!) of seeing Alexey develop his idea of a modified electronic version of the Russian puzzle game, Pentominoes, was compelling and informative. Then from page 100 until the end 150 pages later the book becomes a dreary catalogue of the rights battles over Tetris. First one businessman owns them, then another, then one boring businessman owns the American rights but not the Japanese, and on and on - who fucking cares?!

The actual development of the game as well as some other details like the phenomenal cultural impact it had and the sad fate of Alexey’s friend who helped him make Tetris, Vlad (who went nuts, murdered his family and committed suicide), were fascinating. But too much of this overly-long book, documenting the tedious squabbling of suits over a product none of them created, was an utter snoozefest to read. At least it has a happy ending with Alexey finally receiving royalties for the game he made – 12 years afterwards but better late than never, eh?

Unless you’re interested in the pedantic legal wrangling behind Tetris, don’t bother with this one.

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