Video Gaming Distilled to its Core
Originally posted on my blog I Bring Nothing to the Table
Eric came up with an idea to write parallel reviews of the same video game to see how similar our reviews came out. You can see his at Eric's Binary World 2.0
Tetris is..."video gaming distilled to its core"
A Tetris Review (In Four Lines)
Tetris is a game where you try to clear lines from the screen using six different shapes.
The highest number of lines you can clear with one shape is four (called a Tetris).
There is no narrative reason for you to clear lines.
The reason for you to clear lines is because it is fun.
There's absolutely no reason to review Tetris. The game has existed longer than I've even been alive. Most everyone who's played video games has played it at least once. Everyone I know who has played it loves it. What is there to say about a game like that? I could write about tetrominoes, but I'm pretty sure most anyone who reads that word will say, "What the hell is a tetronimo?" (protip: it's what the individual Tetris shapes are called) or I could talk about Tetris syndrome, a repetitive stress symptom resulting from endlessly watching these blocks fall into place to clear lines.
None of these actually express the point of Tetris.
The Game Boy launched in 1989, only three years after my birth and too soon for me to experience it until far later. The system sold on the market until 2001 and the original iteration came bundled with Tetris. I don't remember the year that my older brother, Eric, got his hands on a Game Boy nor do I remember the year that I got one, but I know that we had one in 1992 and I know that I played the hell out of that game, both alone and with Eric and David. I have distinct memories of straining my eyes in the car, playing a few seconds at a time between the streetlights in Miami, probably causing the severe vision problems I'm beset with today.
Before we get any further, I think it's time for a digression.
For the first time since 1978, the entire oeuvre of The Beatles became available again for people to buy. Just about everyone who was alive during the brief seven years that the band released albums went out and paid what former 1UP editor Jeff Green affectionately called the "60s tax" to relive the blessed music of their youth. While I'm definitely not a flower child in any sense of the word, I happen to be a pretty big fan of The Beatles. I went out and paid my dues to nostalgia to bring home the works of The Greatest Rock Band of All Time. With deliberate caution I opened up the packaging and began systematically ripping and listening to the catalog in strict chronological order. I discovered something that I already knew, but had neither the equipment nor the resources to effectively conclude: The Beatles are fucking amazing. Note that I didn't use the past tense there, there is something undeniably timeless about their beats, their beautiful bass lines, those perfect harmonies, and the sublime percussive talents of one Mr. Starr.
I'm no audiophile, I'm no serious student of music, I'm no musician, but I fancy myself a true lover of music. It's rare for me to entirely dismiss a genre of music, I'll listen to it all and I do my best to collect music from as many different sources as I can. Music is something that resonates with the basic, primal, inherently human parts of me. Before there was society, before there were cities, before there was an Internet (mind-boggling, I know!), there was music. Before we knew how to rock, there were The Beatles.
The first track on Please Please Me is "I Saw Her Standing There." Within that short, 2:54 song, a pure, simple, but complex sound bursts from speakers. From Paul's frenetic bass line, to the clean, non-threatening vocals, the harmonies from John and George, and the pure perfection of the backbeat, it's clear, at least from my vantage point in 2009, that I'm listening to a group that had so mastered their medium that the only logical progression was for them to take music and irreversibly change it. The Beatles may have started with a medium that was established, but they would go on to create early forays into almost every modern genre. Just glancing at the bits of trivia contained within The Beatles: Rock Band shows a group unafraid to experiment with technology and push the medium to its furthest reaches. They found ways to implement the new until they ended with Let It Be sounding almost nothing like when they started.
It's the astute reader who already sees where I'm going with this.
A Tetris Review (In Haiku)
Four lines disappear
A never-ending supply
The fun never ends
Pong is a simple game. Its spartan simplicity was necessity. When it comes down to it, it's really just two lines at the edge of a screen bouncing a pixel back and forth. You couldn't really do more than that, but it was the 1972. Comparatively, Donkey Kong is a ridiculously complicated game released in 1981. As Jumpman, you're required to scale ladders, hop over barrels and fireballs, possibly smashing them with a hammer, and go toe to toe with a gigantic ape to save a damsel in distress. In 2009, I'm a huge fan of Left 4 Dead, a game that requires me to keep track of my health, the health of my allies, maintain situational awareness, know how to deal with six different types of zombies, each with unique attack/AI behavior patterns, navigate huge, 3D environments, and be able to aim and fire eight or so different weapon types. Tetris requires me to manage six shapes (two pairs of which are mirror variations on the same theme) and arrange them into lines. It's not Pong, but it's not even Donkey Kong complex. One joystick and two buttons that ostensibly serve one purpose.
There's a reason almost everyone alive today has played Tetris and that people who don't play video games still love Tetris. The barrier of entry is so low that anyone can play, but, thanks to the complexity created by the interplay of these six shapes, (WARNING: cliché approaching) very few can truly master it. When you combine that with the pure joy of taking that line piece you've been waiting almost twenty blocks for, while your tower sits mere millimeters from the top of the screen, and slamming it as hard as you can into place, generating that happy little sound effect while instantly eradicating four lines, well you've got yourself some magic there, don't you?
Eric has a house, a wife, cameras that probably cost more than an unfortunately large proportion of the population makes in one month, multiple, powerful computers, a High Definition (TM!) television, a Nintendo Wii, and countless other distractions, but, inevitably, when I ask him if he's watched this box set I lent him or had a chance to check this or that out, he'll tell me, often enough that this isn't that big of an exaggeration, that he didn't get much done on a given night because he was busy playing Tetris online against his sister-in-law. It's just something that calls to people, gamer or not, to play and try to master. It is timeless. It is a force of nature. It is rock. It is video gaming distilled to its core.
A Tetris Review (In One Word)