Tetris: The Games People Play
It’s astounding what fascinating graphic novels can be made from the most unexpected subjects! Box Brown (Andre The Giant: Life and Legend) demonstrates that with Tetris: The Games People Play, which starts out as a history of the immensely popular, deceptively simple video game. As it continues, though, we see ruminations on the nature and history of art and sport. Games develop analytical skills and pleasure people’s brains with fun.
Tetris was created in 1984 by a Russian programmer with some ahead-of-their-time ideas about what puzzles reveal about psychology. He inadvertently came up with one of the most addictive games ever, one spread widely by copying it from computer to computer. Then people started trying to make money on it, mostly before they ever had the legal right to do so. Much of the book tries to lay out these various corporate shenanigans, which get quite tangled… and mostly ignore compensating the original creator. It’s all complicated by the nature of relations between the USSR and the Western world during that era, background that was used to sell the game into becoming a phenomenon.
Brown also includes the history of Nintendo, which began by making artistically illustrated playing cards before moving into technology-based novelties and the success of Donkey Kong. Their NES system and later Gameboy were important venues for the game.
Tetris, as I’m sure you know, involves moving tiles, each made up of four squares assembled into all the possible combinations they can be arranged, so that they make complete lines. It’s infinitely able to be continued, until the tiles build up higher and faster than you can remove them. It’s an interesting choice, since it’s very simple in concept but surprisingly attractive to play.
Something similar can be said about Brown’s art, which is flat and blocky, but he manages to portray all kinds of reaction and movement within this basic structure. Personally, I found the twists and turns of the company negotiations so compelling that I was almost ignoring the images to speed through to what would happen next. That’s a testament to Brown’s skill in making the pages immediately comprehensible at a glance.
The book is printed in black, white, and a vibrant marigold yellow. That gives it an unreal quality that suits both the video game and the historical flashbacks. You can see sample pages online. (The publisher provided a review copy.)