Life,  Tech

The Blockbuster Behind the Iron Curtain: How Tetris Conquered the World

What is the greatest video game of all time?

All players argue about this. Judging from the media’s selection lists, “Super Mario Bros.”, “The Legend of Zelda” and “Minecraft” are often at the top, but the top spot is a game born 40 years ago – “Tetris” .

The popular media “Time” magazine ranked it first among the “50 Best Video Games of All Time” in 2016, saying that “the game is available on almost every platform, which proves that we have no end to stacking blocks.” Enthusiasm”; technology media Digital Trends also named it the winner of “The 50 Best Video Games in History” this year, saying “In the past 40 years, no matter how the developers have changed (from dazzling VR versions to ingenious battle formats) , this addictive game remains consistent and embodies a universal form of entertainment that is not limited by language or age.”

“Tetris” holds many world records: it is the game released on the most platforms, with a whopping 65; it is the best-selling video game, with 520 million copies sold, nearly twice as many as the second-best-selling “Minecraft”; It was the first video game to go into space, accompanying astronauts for 196 days, orbiting the Earth more than 3,000 times, and more.

Commercially, it generated at least billions of dollars in revenue for Nintendo and helped establish Nintendo’s dominance in the gaming industry from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. It also changed the life of entrepreneur Henk Rogers and inventor Alexey Pajitnov. It is also regarded as the Soviet Union’s most important technological export since the launch of the satellite.

Tetris also has many cultural impacts. It advances human understanding of the brain and deepens human understanding of electronic addiction and psychiatric treatment. It has created a popular culture in which Russian officials, private citizens from various countries, and companies all appropriate the symbols according to their own needs.

The vitality of “Tetris” in different generations is amazing. “Your parents played Tetris, your kids played Tetris, you played Tetris. In almost every country on earth, you’ll encounter the same story.” Technology writer Dan Ackerman Ackerman wrote in his book The Tetris Effect: The Game That Hypnotized the World. This is currently the only non-fiction book about “Tetris”.

In March 2024, LatePost spoke with Ackerman via email. He believes that “Tetris may very well be the greatest video game in the world.” Because it appeals to people who never thought of themselves as gamers, it appeals to everyone from moms to mathematicians. It is also a model of strict implementation of minimalist design and can run on almost any technology device, from mobile phones, laptops, VR headsets to gaming consoles and handheld gaming consoles. This shows that it can continue to evolve without losing the most fundamental elements of its initial success. For many years to come, a version of Tetris will be available almost instantly for any new device or platform.

“It’s amazing that a game based on simple block graphics and physics, with no storyline, characters or world-building, can still keep us hooked after all these years. It’s one of the few games I can think of that has transcended language. The best example of pure game elements and cultural barriers, which is one of the reasons for its continued popularity,” Ackerman told LatePost.

He feels that the story of “Tetris” is essentially a story of technological entrepreneurship, not much different from Facebook. But it takes place in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, not Silicon Valley.

While almost anyone can play Tetris, only a few are masters. It’s not just a game, it’s also an unbreakable code puzzle. It is a unique example of an idea, a product and an era coming together at the right moment.

Addictive four-block puzzle

In 1984, 29-year-old programmer Pajitnov saw the familiar geometric puzzle game “pentominoes” from his childhood in a toy store in Moscow. He took it back to his workplace, the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and had fun playing with it.

“Five Connected Squares” has a total of 12 shapes of “squares”, such as straight lines, T-shaped, and L-shaped. Each “square” is composed of 5 equal-sized squares. Players must use these scattered “five-connected squares” to form a standard rectangle. It suddenly occurred to him that he might be able to develop a computer game based on similar ideas.

The computer Pajitnov was using was a Soviet-made Electronica 60. It was bulky, outdated, and not even up to par with the computers used by American middle school students in computer labs in the early 1980s. Since the Electronica 60 did not have graphics capabilities, he used a combination of numbers, letters, and punctuation marks (mainly “square brackets [ ]”) on the keyboard instead.

He first simplified the “five-connected squares” into “four-connected squares”, and the 12 shapes of “blocks” subsequently became 7 shapes. The game process is designed such that the computer continuously randomly generates blocks of a certain shape. When the blocks fall, the player must make a quick decision to rotate and move the blocks before they reach the bottom of the screen, so that they can be connected to each other. As the game progresses, the blocks will fall faster and faster. The game ends when the blocks pile up to the top of the screen.

In order to increase players’ sense of tension and competition and allow them to focus on quick operations, Pajitnov innovatively reduced the game area into a narrow passage. But the game ends in tens of seconds or minutes, and it doesn’t make people want to play again. He went on to make a simple but important improvement: if the blocks were placed in a tight row, the row would be automatically eliminated.

This improvement is seen as the key to “Tetris” being “addictive”. “Elimination” can bring timely positive feedback, stimulate people to secrete dopamine, and make people feel satisfied and happy. In a short period of time, players continue to pursue “elimination”, that is, they continue to pursue “happiness”, forming countless loops, thus becoming “addicted”. The addictive mechanism of “elimination” directly influenced later games such as “Bejeweled”, “Candy Crush Saga”, and “Happy Match”.

The “showdown” between falling blocks and player actions reminded Pajitnov of “tennis,” so he named the game Tetris. Because in Russian, Тетрис (Tetris) is a lot like Теннис (tennis). The prefix “tetra” comes from the Greek word for “four”, which also corresponds to the meaning of “four connected squares”. However, the Chinese translation of this game is “Tetris”, and this name bears the imprint of its marketing strategy in Europe and the United States.

The early “Tetris” has basically taken shape. It uses a minimalist design to allow players in different regions to immediately understand the characteristics and rules of the game without any explanation, triggering a similar instinct in children to stack the blocks higher and higher. But it has no images, colors, sounds, backgrounds, plots, and obviously lacks some appeal. What’s more, not many people in the world use Electronica 60’s systems.

Gerasimov, a 16-year-old high school student, is extremely talented in computers and taught himself DOS operating system programming. Under his writing, “Tetris” had a color version compatible with IBM computer systems. Pajitnov’s friend Pavnovsky also introduced a high score list that is displayed after the game is over, making the game more competitive and interesting. After continuous discussion, debugging and updating, three programmers launched the earliest viral version of “Tetris”.

“We didn’t have copyright laws at that time, and according to the spirit of the law at that time, we had no right to sell anything to anyone, and personal gain was strictly prohibited.” Pajitnov recalled. So they copied the game program to a floppy disk and distributed it for free to colleagues and friends at the Computer Center of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Many colleagues are addicted to it and praise them for developing such an excellent game. Pajitnov’s friend Pokilko, a psychology researcher at Moscow First Medical University, also got the game. He was initially excited and immediately shared it with his colleagues, but soon found that their productivity plummeted as a result. One day after work, Pokirko took advantage of everyone’s absence and went around the table searching for game disks, confiscating them all and destroying them.

Ackerman, author of “The Tetris Effect”, analyzed this viral transmission mechanism. He believes that over the past 30 years, there has been little change in the way works created by independent artists or small companies are distributed, mainly free of charge. But the modern twist is the adoption of a “freemium” model, where the basic version is available for free and additional features are unlocked for a fee. For example, games like “Tetris” can limit players to a certain level or time, and they must pay to unlock it.

However, at that time, Pajitnov could neither “seek personal gain” nor have the support of modern payment technology, etc. His only option was to provide it purely for free.

“When you make something addictive available for free, there’s always the potential for it to spread out of control, like wildfire,” Ackerman commented.

And in the early computer and Soviet era, they used the “artificial delivery network” (Sneakernet) to spread. People spontaneously handed over physical floppy disks to each other, bypassing the censorship and attention of the authorities.

The wildfire of “Tetris” quickly spread throughout the Moscow computer community and reached the SZKI Computer Science Institute in Budapest, Hungary. During the Cold War, Hungary acted as a bridge between the European and American camps and the Soviet and Eastern blocs. It was one of the earlier regions in the Soviet-Eastern bloc to attempt economic reform and political liberalization. The toy “Rubik’s Cube” invented by the Hungarian architect Rubik became popular around the world by licensing it to an American company for production. He also became the first millionaire in a socialist country in the 1980s.

In 1956 Robert Stein came to the UK from Hungary. In the 1980s, he founded Andromeda Software Company (Andromeda) in London to engage in intermediary business. Stein took advantage of his Hungarian origins to discover software from the Soviet Union and Eastern Group that could be sold to the European and American camps, and took about 25% from it. income.

In June 1986, Stein came to the SZKI Institute of Computer Science to “treasure hunt” again and noticed “Tetris” on the computer. He sat down, tried it, and couldn’t stop. “Since people like me who don’t play games like it, it must be pretty good,” Stein said. He asked someone at the institute about the source of the game, who told him about a friend from the Computer Center of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

After returning to London, Stein sent a telegram to the Computer Center of the Soviet Academy of Sciences expressing his willingness to purchase the international copyright of “Tetris”. This was new to the Soviets. After obtaining the signatures of several directors of the Computer Center and the approval of six or seven leaders of the Academy of Sciences, Pajitnov gave a brief reply: “Okay, we are very interested and want to complete the deal.”

Negotiations between Stein and the Soviets began, which was also the beginning of the global spread of “Tetris”. In October of that year, Gorbachev and Reagan held a historic summit in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, and the Cold War showed signs of thawing. European and American businessmen saw the opportunity and felt that “Tetris” was the first game from behind the Iron Curtain, and they wanted to package its exotic flavor and emphasize its Soviet flavor.

It’s so fun. Is this game a conspiracy?

In June 1987, Stein resold the copyright of the PC version of “Tetris” to the British Mirrorsoft and the American Full Spectrum Characters without reaching a contract with the Soviets. Spectrum Holobyte. Both companies were owned by Robert Maxwell’s communications company.

Full Spectrum Byte creates a Soviet-style version of Tetris. For the first time, they added the Russian folk song “The Peddler” to the game (another famous song Nintendo added was Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker”), and also packaged the game in a red box. The box cover features the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral, with the game’s title written in Cyrillic, with the last letter borrowing the shape of a hammer and sickle.

The empty sides outside the game area are filled with various Soviet elements, including Lenin Stadium, the nuclear submarine base in Murmansk, the May Day celebrations on Red Square, and Soviet astronauts overlooking the earth from the space station.

They invited a Soviet ambassador to the game’s launch event and hired Reagan and Gorbachev impersonators to accompany people to industry trade shows. In an era without Internet marketing and cloud-based game downloads, only fancy and eye-catching packaging and promotion could make players stop and buy games in physical stores. “Tetris” was stored on a small floppy disk in a large cardboard box, and was called a “gift from the Soviet Union.” Some versions also thoughtfully add a “boss key” that is convenient for “fishing” without being discovered.

In January 1988, the PC version of “Tetris” was officially released in Europe and the United States, immediately detonating the market. Mainstream media that rarely write about games also published articles. For example, the New York Times reported on the Soviet origin of the game, saying that it was the first Soviet computer software sold in the United States and that the game was simple and addictive; the Chicago Forum Newspaper announced that the “glasnost” principle advocated by Gorbachev has entered the field of computer games. Tetris is so good that you can’t say no to it.

There are even reports: “Tetris is very easy to learn. Five minutes after you open the box, you can master all the rules. But it is so addictive. Once you start playing, you will stay in front of the computer screen for several hours.” hours to the point where you start to wonder if Tetris is a conspiracy hatched by an evil empire to make Americans less productive?”

Ackerman explained that generally speaking, if a game is well-received in mainstream media, it does not mean that it will also be well-received in professional media.

Tetris was an exception, and was given a warm reception by the gaming press. For example, “Calculate!” Compute! magazine called it “the most addictive computer game on this side of the Berlin Wall” and warned readers, “Don’t start playing Tetris if you have work to do or an appointment to catch up on.” .

In May 1988, Stein finally signed a licensing agreement for the personal computer version with the Soviet Hardware and Software Export Ministry (Electronorgtechnica, referred to as Elorg). His ambitions extended to licensing arcade and handheld consoles, but negotiations didn’t go smoothly. The Soviets felt that they had not received a cent from the previous computer version, and they would not consider new authorizations until this problem was resolved.

Similar to Stein’s “cut first and play later” on the computer version, Mirror Software sold the U.S. and Japanese copyrights for arcade and home consoles to Atari without formally signing a contract with the Soviets. Atari is preparing to use its subsidiary Tengen to publish arcade and home console versions of “Tetris” in the United States, and has sold the Japanese arcade rights to SEGA and the Japanese home console rights to Bulletproof Software. Rogers of Bullet-Proof Software. Rogers also purchased the Japanese computer rights to Tetris from Full Spectrum Byte.

If the licensing process for arcades and handheld consoles was the same as for computers, maybe Tetris would end up being just a successful video game and not one of the best-selling and greatest video games of all time. What changed all this was Rogers, who had an entrepreneurial temperament, and Atari’s rival in the United States at the time, Nintendo.

The reason why Ackerman feels that the story of “Tetris” is essentially a technological entrepreneurial story is because it is a technologically savvy person who has the drive to create new things and creates a “viral spread” in a short period of time with primitive equipment. ” (people didn’t know the word then) stuff. Furthermore, there is a direct tension between the creative, technical and entrepreneurial potential of a project. “This is a problem that any startup founder must face.” He explained to LatePost.

“Even in different eras and under different economic and political systems, some people still have the motivation to create and exploit technology and share their results widely.”

Rogers is one of the entrepreneurs. His first pot of gold in the software industry was to develop Japan’s first RPG game “The Black Onyx” based on his experience playing role-playing games (RPG) such as “Dungeons and Dragons” in the United States. With help from SoftBank, Onyx became a success in Japan. This is not easy for a foreigner. He is a Dutchman of Indonesian descent who immigrated to the United States to study and moved to Japan when he was 23 years old.

Rogers’ ambitions didn’t stop there. He wanted to develop games for Nintendo. After reading in a magazine that Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi was a Go enthusiast, he sent a fax to Yamauchi proposing to develop a Go game for Nintendo. The two met and negotiated a deal within minutes for 30 million yen (about $300,000 at the time). He went from a modestly famous computer game developer to an authorized publisher for the world’s largest video game company.

Ackerman calls Rogers a “software anthropologist” and feels he’s good at looking at games through an international lens and figuring out which concepts can transcend cultural and language barriers to form a unique business model.

In January 1988, Rogers discovered the computer version of “Tetris” while standing in a long line at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, USA, and was completely fascinated. He worked hard to obtain Japanese computer and console rights, selling more than 2 million copies. At this time, Nintendo’s revolutionary product Game Boy was also successfully developed.

Because of his good relationship with Nintendo, Rogers saw a prototype of the Game Boy in advance. At first glance, he thought it was a pocket calculator, and was surprised by the innovative design of the handheld game console – the body is compact and portable, the game screen is reduced, the display is monochrome instead of color, and it only requires four batteries for power supply, with nothing superfluous. The minimalist design of the hardware Game Boy matched perfectly with the minimalist design of the software Tetris.

Rogers told Minoru Arakawa, president of Nintendo of America and son-in-law of Hiroshi Yamauchi, that Nintendo should make Tetris a built-in game for the Game Boy. The business model of built-in games is like a razor that comes with a blade, letting people try it before buying more. Arakawa originally considered the built-in game Super Mario Bros. Rogers advised: “If you want only boys to buy the Game Boy, then have Super Mario Bros., but if you want everyone to play the Game Boy , then Tetris is the perfect built-in game.”

The lure of the Game Boy’s ability to tap into a vast new group of people was so great that Minoru Arakawa promised that Nintendo would buy the handheld rights to Tetris from Rogers as long as he got them.

“Anyone who has met Rogers knows that he is the kind of person who can find the right path in a storm,” said Nintendo’s legal counsel Howard Lincoln. Meat thrown before the lion.”

A transnational copyright battle

From the end of 1988 to the beginning of 1989, Rogers contacted Stein through several faxes, letters, phone calls, etc., hoping to obtain the handheld rights to “Tetris”. But Stein was vague and declined to contact him later. Rogers understood that if he wanted to get the copyright, he would have to go to Moscow to negotiate.

Because the arcade rights deal had taken place, but Stein had not yet signed a treaty with the Soviets. Coupled with pressure from Rogers, he felt anxious and had to travel to Moscow. Robert Maxwell’s son Kevin also went to Moscow at this time. He was the boss of a mirror software company that sold the rights to arcade and home consoles, and wanted to bypass the middleman Stein and solve the licensing problem directly.

In February 1989, in the dead of winter, without knowing each other, Rogers, Stein, and Kevin came to Moscow at almost the same time to start a copyright battle.

Due to their past contacts with the Soviet Union, Stein and Kevin successfully contacted the negotiating party, the Soviet Software and Hardware Export Department (Elorg). Rogers was an “illegal” interloper on a tourist visa and was not familiar with the Soviet Union, but he had his own methods. Without knowing Russian, he found places where Go players gathered in Moscow and competed with locals to make friends. With the help of chess friends, Rogers found an informal interpreter and tour guide to help.

In the Soviet Union, privately serving as a tour guide for foreigners was something that would attract official attention. The tour guide was very cautious and told Rogers that neither Soviets nor foreigners could go to Soviet government agencies without an invitation, not to mention that he was still holding a tourist visa. But that didn’t stop the “hungry lion”. Rogers ventured into the government building, met the first person who looked like an official, and immediately said: “I want to talk to someone about Tetris.”

Both Ackerman and American writer David Sheff detailed the negotiation process between Rogers, Stein, Kevin and Elorg Director Nikoli Belikov in their books.

After Rogers and Belikov signed the licensing agreement for the handheld version of “Tetris”, in an atmosphere of joy, he took out a box of cassettes of the home console version of “Tetris” that he represented and sold in Japan, and proudly Pass it to everyone. But all the Soviet people present showed shocked expressions.

The two parties exchanged information, and Rogers discovered that the copyright for the Japanese home console he bought was fake, while Belikov discovered that in addition to home consoles, even the copyright for arcade machines had begun to be sold. They were all deceived.

The next day, Rogers expressed his willingness to pay again for 130,000 game cartridges and wrote a check for $40,712 on the spot. This is also the first time Elorg has received a share of revenue. Rogers gained the trust of the Soviets and negotiated the rights to Belikov’s popular science games. He also helped review contracts and documents between Elorg and Stein.

After learning that Stein had deceived him, Belikov did not alert him, but drafted a supplementary agreement for Stein to sign, saying that this was a prerequisite for him and Stein to discuss other copyrights. In this supplemental agreement, Elorg defined “computer” in the computer copyright previously licensed to Stein—a personal computer consisting of a processor, a monitor, a disk drive, a keyboard, and an operating system. This is actually a supplementary explanation that the home computer is not a “computer” in the definition of the agreement.

But Stein did not discover this and mistakenly believed that the key to the supplementary agreement was that the Soviets had been complaining that his payments were not timely enough, so he added late fees for late payment of license fees. Stein then signed a supplemental agreement, and was then informed that the handheld rights had been sold, and that the advance payment for the arcade rights had increased several times from what had been previously communicated, to $150,000. Although he was unhappy, he knew he could still make a lot of money, so he quickly signed the arcade licensing agreement.

The meeting between Belikov and Kevin was brief but interesting. He took out the game cartridge that Rogers showed before and asked Kevin: “Do you know what this is?” Kevin said that it must be a pirated game, and the mirroring software does not have the home console copyright of “Tetris”. This is actually a disguised admission that Mirror Software had illegally sold home machine copyrights to Atari. They had nothing more to talk about.

Rogers told Minoru Arakawa the results of the negotiations. He got the rights to the handheld console. The Soviets did not sell the rights to the home console and wanted to sell it to Nintendo. Minoru Arakawa was excited. He and Lincoln were preparing to come to Moscow to sign the agreement. In order to prevent their rival Atari from noticing that they were going to the Soviet Union, the two flew from Seattle to Los Angeles, and then rushed to the Soviet Consulate in Washington to obtain visas. After getting their visas, they flew to London and took the next flight to Moscow.

Nintendo and Elorg have officially signed a licensing agreement for the home console, with the amount of the upfront payment being kept secret and rumored to be $5 million. This agreement also helped Nintendo completely defeat Atari. At that time, Atari had invested millions of dollars into a home console version of Tetris and had shipped 100,000 boxes. When the court ruled that Atari had infringed the sales ban, it also meant that all the company’s investment was in vain.

Maxwell, who was “empowered” to Atari, did not admit defeat and began to seek political help to turn the situation around. Maxwell’s influence is similar to that of Rupert Murdoch today. At that time, he established a world-class media empire and established numerous communication companies in the United Kingdom, China, the Soviet Union, and Brazil, covering news, books, software and other publishing businesses. Not only is he a media tycoon, he also has huge political influence.

Schaefer said in “Game Over: A History of Nintendo’s Global Conquest” that Maxwell was a trusted adviser to the leaders of Israel and Canada and a bulwark against the British Conservative government. Deeply trusted by Gorbachev, he knew four former Soviet leaders, including Brezhnev, Andropov, Gromyko and Khrushchev, and published books for them. Maxwell can speak nine languages ​​and always receives frequent calls from leaders of various countries. When the secretary said that the Prime Minister was calling, he would also ask: “Who is it?”

Maxwell contacted friends in the British and Soviet governments to pressure Elorg. Belikov said he was under shock and under surveillance. Maxwell did meet with Gorbachev and discussed the copyright issue of “Tetris”, but Gorbachev only verbally expressed concern about the matter and told him, “Don’t worry about that Japanese company.”

In fact, the copyright battle for “Tetris” came to an end, with Rogers and Nintendo becoming the biggest winners. In July 1989, Nintendo launched a home console version of Tetris in the United States, which immediately sold 3 million copies. That month, the Game Boy with built-in “Tetris” also went on sale, eventually selling 120 million units worldwide, with women accounting for about half of the gamers. Of course, what cannot be counted is the number of game consoles that are imitations of the Game Boy, which many Chinese used to play in their childhood. Conservative estimates suggest that “Tetris” brought at least billions of dollars in revenue to Nintendo, and Rogers earned at least thirty to forty million dollars from it.

In comparison, Pajitnov, the creator of the game, did not gain much from “Tetris” at that time. At most, he received a little salary increase and a bonus, which was far less than what Miyamoto Shigeru did when he developed “Super Mario”. “Brothers of Zelda” and “The Legend of Zelda”, but he became the most famous programmer in the Soviet Union and was happy that the world loved his games.

Both Stein and Maxwell were Western businessmen who were familiar with the Soviet Union and should be more qualified to become business winners. But they were all too confident in their understanding of the Soviet Union, so they dared to start reselling copyrights without formally signing a contract. Even if a problem occurs, the solution is to be solved through political relations and not based on business logic.

Rogers is like a “silly young man” who loves games and sincerely builds interpersonal relationships without too many ideological biases. He negotiates transactions honestly and in accordance with market methods. He was also the only Western businessman who came to compete for copyright at that time to establish a friendship with Pajitnov, the inventor of the game.

Pajitnov observed at the negotiating table that Rogers, who had developed games, really understood and liked games. He invited Rogers to his home, and Rogers invited him to his hotel. He went to a Japanese restaurant to eat and drink with Rogers, Minoru Arakawa and Lincoln. The first time he ate wasabi, he was moved to tears.

In December 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and the nationalized Tetris, like many of the country’s assets, began to be sold off and privatized. Elorg, which controlled its intellectual property, was turned into a private enterprise by Belikov.

At the end of 1995, the ten-year deal Pajitnov originally signed finally expired, and with Rogers’ help, he regained some of the rights to the game. The two founded Tetris together and purchased Elorg in 2005. At this point, they can finally fully own and manage the game and share in its financial success.

“Tetris Brain”

What makes Tetris a great video game is not only its product and commercial success, but also its social and cultural influence and richness.

In May 1994, freelance writer Jeffrey Goldsmith published an article “This is Your Brain on Tetris” in Wired magazine.

The article is based on his experience of losing six weeks playing Tetris in 1990. Except when he needs to go out to eat and buy batteries, he almost always plays games in his room. When he goes to a convenience store, he’ll grab some snacks at the checkout and then, at the last minute, pretend to nonchalantly toss in a pack of batteries, even though the real reason he’s in the store is to recharge his Game Boy.

Goldsmith found that when he went for a walk during the day, his brain put cars, trees, and people together like in the game. While sleeping at night, he could see blocks falling from the darkness. He realized that the game had changed his brain and his perception of reality. Goldsmith calls this the “Tetris effect” and muses that the addictive game may be a “pharmatronic.”

Although Goldsmith was not the first person to seriously discuss the problem of Tetris addiction, his article sparked the interest of many subsequent researchers to explore the impact of the game on the human brain.

For example, some researchers analyzed that because “Tetris” can affect people’s procedural memory (frequent, repetitive actions) and spatial memory (processing of two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes and their interactions), it will change the brain’s cognition. This change can be bad.

In addition to games, social media addiction has also become a problem in modern times, but they are similar to the addiction mechanism of “Tetris” in that they use dopamine in people’s pursuit of novelty and reward to form a cycle. For example, every “like” on WeChat or Facebook, every refresh or “retweet” of Weibo or X, and every “elimination” of “Tetris” is a circuit that stimulates the user to secrete dopamine.

But when people attribute the blame to technology itself, some scholars emphasize that people should “domesticate” technology, understand the mechanism of addiction, and be wary of corporate motives, so as to get rid of addiction to technology. Some researchers have found that “Tetris” can also have positive changes in the brain. Some expert players have shared that they have the effect of entering “meditation” or “flow” while playing.

In 1992, Richard Haier, a professor at the University of California School of Medicine, conducted experiments and proved that after people played “Tetris”, some parts of the brain thickened and activity decreased, indicating that the game made people’s brains build new neural connections, operating more efficiently and consuming less energy. Haier calls this the “Tetris learning effect.” The learning effect reveals the plasticity of the human brain. From this perspective, some researchers have also discovered the efficacy of “Tetris” in treating mental illness.

In 2010, a team led by Emily Holmes, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, found that “Tetris” can prevent people’s initial traumatic memories from freezing. The game absorbs the mental attention that was originally intended to convert terrible memories into long-term memory, and terrible memories are stored incompletely or not at all. They believe that games act as a “cognitive vaccine” and can be used to treat “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD) that causes flashbacks.

In addition to the immediate positive feedback loop, Adam Alter of New York University analyzed another addictive mechanism of “Tetris”. He believes that humans cannot resist the sweet spot between “too easy” and “too difficult.” The hardship of the “right” challenge is far more appealing than knowing you are certain to succeed. This sense of hardship is a necessary ingredient in many addictive experiences.

Schaeffer sums it up: “The perfect game is a wonderful combination of logic and humanity – logic and mathematics, psychology and emotion. A first-class game is both a challenge and a reward, and it can also bring specific benefits to people.” Sensory experience: exploration and recognition, frustration and achievement.”

This leads to another question, “Can you ‘win’ at Tetris?” Or, “If the game is played at a constant speed, is there a winning strategy that allows a perfect player to play indefinitely?” The above two problems are difficult problems that mathematics professors have discussed in papers.

In 2002, three MIT academics essentially solved this problem. They proved that Tetris is an “NP-complete” problem with mathematically described complexity. In other words, humans cannot find the perfect solution to the game because it is too complex and the time it takes to figure out the answer is longer than human history. Similarly, the game Minesweeper is also an “NP-complete” problem. The richness of this solution also gives players room to show off their skills to a certain extent.

In the 2011 documentary “The Ecstasy of Sequence: The Tetris Masters,” each master player had his or her own way of reaching high scores, or even “blasting” (the highest score the game can display, 999,999). For example, some players can rotate the block at the last moment of its fall to make its shape slide perfectly into the desired position. Others can rely on high-speed thumb presses (hypertyping) to move the block that is falling faster and faster. Suitable location.

In each “Classic Tetris World Championship”, players perform their own unique skills. But according to the calculations of some scholars, if you play for long enough (about 70,000 blocks), you will still lose, because the appearance of the Z block in the game determines the ending. However, mathematical calculations are different from actual games. Most people generally cannot play with 70,000 blocks. Moreover, when a certain level is reached, the blocks fall too fast and people’s hand speed often cannot keep up. Sooner or later, they will lose the game. .

In recent years, with the development of AI, a perfect solution to Tetris seems possible. In 2021, players invented a new method called “rolling”, which pushed the clearance of “Tetris” to a new level. The so-called rolling means changing from the traditional pressing of keys with fingers to tapping the handle like playing an instrument, allowing the keys to repeatedly touch the fingers, thereby achieving high-frequency operation. Due to this new method, 40 years after the birth of “Tetris”, 13-year-old Gibson, an American boy, became the first player to experience the game crashing and the screen freezing.

Over the past 40 years, Tetris has become a diverse pop culture and symbol.

For example, the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, was built with the theme of “Tetris”; “Tetris” is collected by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and has also been designed into many public art installations, etc.

Many companies have launched similar products. McDonald’s has released a McNugget-shaped handheld machine that can play “Tetris”. Hasbro has a “Tetris”-themed building block toy “Jenga”; last year, Apple launched a movie “Tetris”, but the film’s depiction of the Soviet Union is far from historical reality, such as the plot of the KGB and Gorbachev. Ackerman has also sued Apple and Tetris, claiming they adapted his work without permission.

People’s interpretation of “Tetris” has risen to a philosophical level. For example, this is an “existential” game. Although you know that you will lose in the end, you will still work hard and keep playing, just like Sisyphus pushing the boulder; “Tetris” tells us that the success achieved will disappear. , the mistakes made will accumulate, or the more mistakes, the less achievements will be made; “Tetris” also tells us that if you are gregarious, you will disappear, but if there are too many people who are not gregarious, everyone will finish playing together.

Pajitnov once explained the charm of this game: “Human beings all have an inherent desire, which is to ‘create order from chaos.’ Although the system of “Tetris” is simple, it can fundamentally satisfy this desire.” A desire.”

Ackerman has a similar view: “‘Tetris’ makes disorder become order. It’s like people have to fight against the colorful random events and endless trivial onslaught of daily life that fall from the sky every day.”

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