I recently (and finally) became acquainted with Tetris—the Classic version from the video game granddaddy, Nintendo.
I never played as a child. Shocker as that may seem for an ’80s baby, my parents simply did not invest in any video games for us kids. Not that they couldn’t afford it, but we had a bit of a traditionalist upbringing; we were perfectly content to play in the mud with our Tonka trucks and pop wheelies on our dirt bikes and build forts in trees. Thus, my parents were satisfied with giving us more of an outdoor childhood and stealthily managed to avoid the “all-my-kids-want-are-video-games” 18-year financial fiasco. That being said, I somehow managed to stay up-to-par with most of the popular video games and technological trends, often playing games at friends’ houses, or checking out my peers’ new gadgets they brought with them to school.
But the mighty Tetris evaded me. It was like the Rubik’s Cube of the video game world; everyone is impressed by it, enraptured by it, and jealous of the warriors who’ve conquered it. Maybe I sold myself short, simply assuming I could never master it (or get past Level 1 for that matter) due to my over-reactive thumbs. Or maybe I was just too lazy to try the darn thing. Either way, I never touched the Godfather of video game puzzles.
However, two years ago the Classic Tetris World Championship made its way to my neck of the woods in Oregon during the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. I attended on a whim and, lo and behold, my first-hand experience enabled me to finally understand the worldwide, glorious fascination with Tetris. I stood back, feet planted, arms crossed, and watched dozens of guys and one chick battle it out for the title of Tetris World Champion.
(SIDEBAR: Believe it or not, there is actually a Tetris documentary out there called Ecstasy of Order. In the film, director Adam Cornelius, with producers Vince Clemente and Robin Mihara, track down the greatest Tetris players in the world to record their preparation for the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championship. The documentary won first place during the 2012 Phoenix Comicon Film Festival and the Audience Award at the 2011 Austin Film Festival, as well as multiple film festival nominations. It is no surprise that Vince Clemente is also the creator, director, and host of the Classic Tetris World Championship. *Insert shameless plug for Ecstasy of Order here.*)
Once you understand the true complexities of the game, the strategies necessary to stack up the blocks neatly and without mistake, you realize just how fast the players have to think in order to survive the gauntlet of falling tetrominoes. Sure, you can start out at Level 1 or Level 9, but that is often too slow for these players, who often start at Level 13 or 18, ramping up to Level 19, 20, 21, and beyond into a realm of blurred blocks requiring complete concentration in order to survive. Some lucky individuals even “max out” by literally reaching the highest score the game is able to display on the screen: 999,999. In comparison, most experts average around 500,000 to 800,000 points in a good series of levels before ‘stacking up’ in the melee of rapidly falling blocks in the Levels of Insanity (19-29), or sooner if errors are made.
Watching pros from all over the world duke it out on the classic Nintendo consoles gave me an overwhelming appreciation for this often-misunderstood game. I found it to be (almost) as exciting as watching sports…at least it has my permission to replace golf as a sport on ESPN. (I kid, I kid!) No, but seriously.
Yes, Tetris is a bit nerdy, but, in truth, this is a game that requires such a high level of properly-firing synapses and perfectly-timed reflexes, that anyone who can master Tetris is an acceptable sperm (or egg) donor, in my opinion. I mean, there are already a gajillion studies (yes, a gajillion, folks) out there testifying to its mental health benefits. So please, Tetris Masters, if you’re reading this, do us all a favor and provide our country with smart(er) babies.
I was lucky enough to score a volunteer spot during this last year’s Classic Tetris World Championship (free t-shirt, woo!). So there is a heightened likelihood that you might catch sight of me at the next Championship this coming year, as I apparently possess an unshakable admiration for anyone able to get past Level 9, let alone max out. As fun as it would be to play, I doubt I’ll even attempt to compete, although my top score of 3,000 is looking promising. Instead, you can find me on the sidelines playing on the reject consoles, daisy-picking my way through the single digit levels. I’ll be the one muttering under my breath and falling subject to the tetromino effect in the most shameless of ways. You can’t miss me.
*Note: None of the included images in this post are mine, nor do I claim credit for them.