Monday, May 18, 2009
As you came to on your living room couch, your panicked mind frantically tried to recollect the events of the past day. These blackouts were becoming increasingly frequent, and more and more time was passing unaccounted for. You were concerned over these lapses in memory, seemingly jolted back to reality in a cold sweat and wondering what exactly had happened over the last several hours. You held some vague recollections, but on the whole it seemed pretty fuzzy. Ashamed to admit your addiction to your friends and family, you began to try hide your usage and downplay its increasingly prominent role in your everyday life.
No, your problem wasn't drugs or alcohol. It was Tetris.
In a distant time before lifelike 3D video games and their complicated nuances, we could sit intently for hours on end, eyes glazed over at the innumerable self-directed rotations of the confounding tetrominoes that lay before us. Over and over, we orchestrated our little shapelets into interlocking patterns. Left, clockwise, down. Right, right, counterclockwise, down. Right, Right, down. Left, counterclockwise, down. The interlocking pieces fixed together in a satisfying manner, all while playing their trademark siren song:
Even just hearing the song catapults my mind back to its scheming, strategizing, anxious Tetris-engaged state.
Regardless of whether or not you personally lay claim to an original Game Boy, it's likely at some point you were exposed to the addictive contagion of Tetris. When you woke up in the morning, there was Tetris. When you daydreamed aimlessly during lectures about Tuck Everlasting or prime numbers, there was Tetris. When you lay down to sleep at night, there was Tetris. Try as you might to deter Tetris from infecting your brain, your mind began to morph into a singularly Tetris-strategizing way of thinking. Every problem or dilemma you encountered suddenly broke down in your head into "L-shape. Square. Squat "T". Line. Square-edged S. Square-edged Z." These were your tools now, and they overtook your mind like a robotic-music-soundtracked parasite. Though some may have tried to fight it, resistance was inevitably futile. Eventually, we would all come to worship at the great shrine of Tetris.
The original video game was released in 1985, but it really gathered steam with the release of the original Game Boy. First of all, let it be known that Game Boys may now seem fairly pedestrian and unimpressive, but upon their launch these things seemed relatively remarkable. I mean, imagine, parents now had a way to keep their children occupied and could now combat whininess with quiet personal gaming. While other handheld system had been available previously, none reached the cult of video game personality that surrounded Game Boy.
When one purchased the almighty Game Boy, it contained a cartridge of the game Tetris. "Tetris," you may have thought to yourself. "Why, I've never heard of it. Perhaps I should give it a go."
And suddenly, without warning, 12 hours had passed.
The game seemed simple enough, but it truly lured you unsuspecting into a series of mental aerobics. At first glance, Tetris was deceptively benign. Seven different shapes (tetraminoes, for anyone out there who would like to one day drop this word casually in conversation at a cocktail party and alienate friends with their undeniable geekiness) descended slowly down the screen. Your mission, should you have chosen to accept it, was to maneuver these shapes by rotating them in 90 degree increments to fit together and avoid gaps between shapes on the bottom of the screen. When you succeeded in creating a solid line without gaps, the line disappeared and the stacked tetraminoes shifted downward.
If you have never played Tetris, you may be thinking, "So? That doesn't sound so captivating. It actually sounds mind-numbingly boring."
Au contraire, my Tetris virgin friends. The true hook of the game was the progressive expedience of the falling shapes. They began slowly, lulling you into a sense of false security. "I'm mastering this!" You would marvel. You reckoned yourself a sort of Tetris savant, wondering what all the fuss was about. Why, this wasn't tricky at all!
Shapes began falling faster and faster, both efffectively obliterating your game and crushing your can-do spirit. "Well," you thought. "That wasn't much fun at all. Maybe if I just try it one more time..."
And so it went. You could never play "just one more time". For many, Tetris became a way of life, counting down the minutes until you could get your next fix. Games would replay continuously in your head, as you mentally shifted and manipulated the shapes into an interlocking configuration. You could so easily see where you'd been drawn astray; how could you have thought the L-shape should lay downwards and horizontal? That should have been vertical, dammit.
In my household, it was only my mother who owned a Gameboy. She would sit long nights on the den couch, with the glow of the sidetable lamp illuminating her glassed-over eyes and quick-moving fingers. She also liked to play the music (rather than selecting the more polite you're-in-a-shared-space-for-God's-sake mute option), and I believe she had a strong preference for Melody B. My mom was actually a pretty ace Tetris player*, but she was totally stingy about it. Ocassionally on road trips when she tired of it. we were allowed to have a go. Soon both my sister and I were hooked, and the nightly bickering over our one measly Game Boy led to the institution of a scheduled rotation. It was that important to us. Really, it was. I treasured my time with that game, down to the last second. We all boastfully recounted our high scores, and delighted in our autonomy at selecting our own music track. And if we made it into the hall of fame, well, that was just the cherry on top.
I never did get my own Game Boy, but I did get a graphing calculator. In middle school I was briefly able to resume my Tetris dependency during alleged learning time in class until I was outed by a fellow classmate when I failed to pay attention during a class discussion. I had been called on by the teacher, but I was justifiably immersed in my record high score, thank you very much. Thus ended my once-stellar Tetris career. Just think. I could have gone pro, if it weren't for teachers questioning my perfectly legitimate use of a calculator during an English lesson.
There is, however, good news for all of us. Tetris is back and in more forms than ever before. No longer must we wait our turn for the family Game Boy. Not only is it available in numerous forms for free play online, you can now discreetly play on your phone as well. You even have this to make sure a coworker doesn't tattle on you playing at the office.
Happy playing, children of the 90s. Just don't blame me when you find yourself emerging from a Tetris-induced blackout. You've been warned.
*In case you were curious, she now highly recommends Bejeweled and Bomp Bomp Ball
Check it out:
Play Tetris Free Online (note: while checking out this site, I got roped into playing for 27 minutes. Like I said, I warned you.)
Tetris for iPhone
Tetris T-Shirt, Anyone?