Why Tetris Became All-consuming For So Many And Now There’s A Movie About It

Pamela Connellan
on 17 April 2023

Tetris exploded in popularity when it came out in the 1980s but what followed was a mad race to secure the global rights for the Soviet-made video game – and this story is now being told in a new movie on Apple TV+ called simply – Tetris.

Decades later, Tetris is still a game which captivates our minds – decades later. Rotating a colorful shape before slotting it into the perfect position is such a satisfying experience that Tetris is one of the universally recognised games of all time – along with chess and a handful of others.

Many of us have tried Tetris and we know the hypnotic allure of this game but not many of us know the true story behind the game. This is all about how a prototype was created in 1984 by a software engineer for the Soviet Union’s Academy of Sciences. Somehow, this prototype ended up reaching millions of players across the world. 

The story about what happened then is covered by the new movie, called Tetris, released last week on Apple TV+. The movie stars Taron Egerton and it has an 88% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes already – see the trailer below…

A movie called Tetris has just been released on Apple TV+ and this movie
tells us the full story behind the addictive and unique game of Tetris.

The game is addictively simple – all players have to do is to move, rotate and position coloured square blocks to form solid lines, which are then cleared away, allowing for play to go on endlessly.

The game’s name comes from the Greek word ‘tetra’ which means four and ‘tennis’ which was the sport enjoyed by the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov. In recent interviews, Pajitnov has described Tetris as “the game which appeals to everyone” and he said he hoped in the future it would be a part of e-sports and the integration of artificial intelligence. He also said he’s working on designing “a very good” two-player version of the game but added: “We are not there yet.”

The movie – Tetris – is all about the way Henk Rogers – played by Egerton in the movie – rushes to the Soviet Union to fend off competitors to secure the game’s rights. As the film shows, this was a difficult task but one that paid off big time.

Tetris became a household name and this was consolidated even more with releases like Nintendo Game Boy.

Nearly four decades since Tetris was created

It’s been nearly four decades since Pajitnov created Tetris using the Pascal programming language on the Electronika 60, a Soviet-made computer. In that time, more than 215 officially recognised versions of Tetris have been released.

Rogers didn’t stop at just creating Tetris as a game on its own. Nintendo was going to bundle Super Mario Land with the hand-held gaming console, Nintendo Game Boy, following the company’s major success when they packaged Super Mario Bros with the Nintendo Entertainment System. Rogers was able to convince the president of Nintendo of America, Minoru Arakawa, that Tetris should be included instead because he argued it would appeal to a broader demographic.

The Tetris Effect

Anyone who’s played Tetris knows – it’s an incredibly addictive game. When people play for extended periods of time, they’ve reported seeing Tetris pieces in their mind when they close their eyes – or in their dreams. This phenomenon is known as the ‘Tetris Effect.’

There’s even been professional research carried out about the ‘Tetris Effect’. The psychologist, Richard Haier, found if people regularly played Tetris, this resulted in an increased thickness of the cerebral cortex. Haier’s studies also demonstrated that Tetris can affect the plasticity of cortical gray matter, potentially enhancing a person’s memory capacity and promoting motor and cognitive development.

A study in 2017 by researchers at Oxford University and the Karolinska Institute, showed that Tetris had the potential to provide relief for people with post-traumatic stress disorder – especially if they played the game after an incident while recalling a stressful memory.

The Tetris World Championships Final in November 2022.
The staying power of Tetris

Nearly four decades after it was invented, Tetris still has a whole lot of staying power. Newer versions of the game include Tetris Effect, which builds a Zen experience via music, and Tetris 99, in which players try to outlast opponents who are meddling with their boards.

In competitive play, new methods of moving the pieces are still being discovered. The game is still being played at the Tetris World Championships each year – but the standard way to play the Nintendo Entertainment System version of Tetris is by holding the gray rectangular controller so that the left hand controls the movement of the pieces, and the right hand manages the rotation.

But that way of playing – known as ‘delayed auto shift’ in the community, has been taken over lately by a new method called ‘hypertapping’ and ‘rolling.’

Hypertapping involves rapidly pressing the buttons which counters the traditional sensation that pieces are slowly being dragged into position. Rolling lets pieces be moved even more quickly, by flicking the fingers of one hand along the back of the controller.

The power of hypertapping became clear in 2018, when a 16-year-old named Joseph Saelee used the method to defeat Jonas Neubauer, a seven-time world champion. But in the years since, the rolling method has dominated the competitive scene because this method has become incredibly effective and seems to be less strenuous on fingers and hands.

You can watch the movie, Tetris, on Apple TV+ here.

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