Tetris: The Games People Play
Written and Illustrated by Box Brown
Published by First Second
Release Date: October 11, 2016
The New York Times Bestselling author Box Brown (Andre The Giant: Life and Legend) returns for his second major release through First Second to be released in October of this year. With herds of roaming purple-eyed glow kids tripping on curbs to collect the latest Pokemon lately, we thought this a fitting time to review the origin of Tetris in Tetris: The Games People Play.
Brown illustrates the graphic novel using two color printing (yellow and black) and a simplistic but humorous style that is uniquely his.
The story of Tetris doesn’t include Man from U.N.C.L.E. espionage, but it does have a dramatic element and compelling story that is difficult to put down.
Back in my day, my family, like Brown’s, all fought over the grey screened Game Boys and this addictive Russian video game, shrunken down from the full color version on our ‘big’ TVs.
Late in the ’90s, I even found myself at a stand-up arcade version of the game that seemed like it was built behind the Iron Curtain. It wasn’t, but it seemed to be held together like a Sochi Olympic dorm room bathroom (that is too say, it felt like it could break at any second).
There is barely a synapse more satisfying than whatever your brain squirts out to the rest of your body after clearing four lines of a Tetris. Hopefully ‘these kids today’ (I’m one of ’em) are getting that digital high collecting Pokemon water monsters.
We were lucky enough to talk to Box Brown regarding Andre The Giant and one takeaway was that he spends a lot of time researching his books, on top of all of the drawing and actual writing he does to get the final product on the page.
Tetris: The Games People Play is no exception to that diligence. In the Nintendo circles of the ’80s, there was mostly a ‘legend’ about the game Tetris. Most ’80s kids probably thought it was stolen by Clint Eastwood in 1982s Firefox and tried to make sense of the seemingly long credits with names we could not pronounce.
The truth is, the game was programmed and developed by Mr. Alexey Pajitnov at the Russian Academy of Sciences. And while we were gladly paying $45 for cartridges of the game, the actual money never made it to the creator until the ’90s.
The game ‘went viral,’ when Tetris was ported to PC and everyone was playing it until it found it’s way to Budapest. There it was ‘picked up’ for PC licensing, rather than being swapped around on floppies from friend to friend.
Here is where it gets interesting, and Alexey’s story takes a very Socialist turn. Alexey was mostly satisfied with having created a great game that stimulated people’s brains and that they enjoyed. He teamed with other engineers and psychologists to study the effects of Tetris on the players, and he was not surprised it had a great effect.
Alas, this review is not meant to be the story of Tetris. Box Brown has done all the heavy lifting for us. What he does is offer a compelling look at Pajitnov’s journey with Tetris from 1984 to the present day, from devices as small as a calculator and as big as buildings. The money, as it tends to do, goes in and out of some dark places, but in the end, the ‘Brand’ of Tetris survives to this day.
The unique cartooning with exaggerated body parts and features expresses mood with stark simplicity. Brown uses pixelization and stylized home-grown lettering to bring you into a Commodore 64 mood at points. A news story at a particularly surprising and serious beat in the book has a Broderbund Print Shop (an 80s dot-matrix lo-res graphics program) feel that is sublime with the subtext it defines. Truly brilliant stuff.
Comic lovers and video game fans, fans of Brown’s Andre The Giant, and pop cultural historians will be surely entertained with Tetris: The Games People Play.
Be sure to stock up on AA batteries, though. You may have a newfound interest in that Game Boy you still have under the bed.