+1 To Wisdom: Tetris

+1 To Wisdom: Tetris

Almost every gamer over a certain age has spent some time playing Tetris. It's available on every single platform from next gen consoles and web-browsers to ancient flip-phones and graphing calculators.

Let me calculate how much this one program hurt my high school GPA.

Let me calculate how much this one program hurt my high school GPA.

What is it about Tetris that has kept it alive through nearly all of video gaming history? More importantly, what lessons or insights can be gained from the unique ways in which it challenges both our wits, and our reflexes? More importantly, how can I justify all the time I spent playing this as a kid?

(Note: These insights apply to single player endurance mode)

1. Life's Not Fair

Each version of Tetris operates on some version of a random number generator to select which pieces enter play. What this means is that even though each game operates on the same rules, no two games will play out the same. This means in some games, you'll continually get that vital line piece immediately after setting up for it and every time a Z or S piece drops, you'll have an unobtrusive place to put it. This also means the opposite can happen.

What it feels like.

What it feels like.

And that's okay. Preferable even. If Tetris presented the same order of pieces every time, that would quickly become repetitive and would not be nearly as engaging. The randomness of Tetris challenges us to think and made decisions in more challenging ways. Given life's mercurial nature and ineffable complexity, these are important skills to have.

2. It's Not Whether You Win or Lose...

Unless you're this person, there's no real thing as "winning" at Tetris.

The goal is more along the lines of, depending on your skill level, score as many points before everything becomes a mess or, as in the video above, use your pieces to score points as efficiently as possible before the pieces move so fast, it becomes physically impossible to continue.

Either way, it's something you never conquer, but rather fail progressively less and less at. There's something to be said about being able to throw one's self repeatedly at a task knowing that the outcome will be on some level failure. For me, this was an invitation to expand what my definition of victory was. I didn't need a "Mission: Accomplished" banner or a pat on the back, I just needed to look at my high score list to see that even when it didn't feel like it, I was getting better, and it was continuing in the face of superficial failure that made that possible.

3. ...It's How You Play the Game

But high scores aren't even what I remember most fondly about all the time I spent twisting bricks on old grey.

In all it's spinach tinted motion blurred glory.

In all it's spinach tinted motion blurred glory.

Whenever a perfectly timed a rotation filled in a gap or I managed to spend minutes successfully disentangling a mess it took only seconds to make, that's when I was having fun playing Tetris. Both of these situations are results of mistakes, and as mentioned before, it would all lead to crashing failure, that didn't matter.

What mattered was that I was challenged. This idea has been a guiding star for me. No matter how things are going in my life, I always made sure that I was challenging myself; always getting better at something. This brings in the greatest lesson one can learn from Tetris: That inevitable failure is no excuse to do anything less than your very best.

Thanks for listening,

SJC

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