PBS Game/Show’s latest entry, “Tetris: You’re Going To Lose,” ventures into the world of the wacky Russian video game. Host Jamin Warren gives viewers a six-minute tour of what makes Tetris so addictive. First, we get a quick primer on Tetris’ cold-war beginnings, learning how Alexey Pajitnov created the game at his desk in the same facility where the Soviets modeled the effects of nuclear winter.
Warren then cites Jeffery Goldsmith’s 1994 article for Wired, “This Is Your Brain On Tetris,” which explorers the game’s ability to effect your brain’s cerebral glucose metabolic rate, or GMRs. Chasing a high, players ultimately push and train their brains. Tetris also shares a quality with many classic-era video games: It’s unwinnable; there’s no boss fight, no final cut sequence. It just ceaselessly imprints itself onto your brain; so much so that there’s a term for it. Warren calls it the “Tetris effect,” but anybody who has dropped their GPA down to a 1.4 thanks to Tetris and a bag of weed knows that it’s called being “Tetris-ized.” The affliction manifests in the form of seeing tetromino shapes outside of the game. It’s also the best indicator that it’s time to chill out with all the Tetris, bro.
Of course, Tetris’ difficulty is unique, even among games with unlimited difficulty scaling. Warren then breaks down “the bag,” a concept that was introduced when Nintendo obtained rights. The bag changed the randomization model for the blocks, and introduced the ”snake sequence,” a.k.a. back-to-back ”s block” and “z block” combinations which Tetris veterans will immediately recognize.
Warren gives a great overview of what makes the game so long-lasting and fun, even if he overlooks Nintendo’s other great contribution of the game: Hirokazu Tanaka’s “Type A,” the hypnotic 8-bit arrangement based on the Russian folksong, “Korobeiniki.” The episode closes with a plug for Vanessa Hill’s recent Tetris-episode of Braincraft, which you can find here.