The Philosophy of Falling Blocks

Author’s Note: This is a repost of an old entry I made for a previous version of this website on 31 March 2019. My sister and I were homeless at the time, and devising this post helped take my mind off my troubles.

Recently, I played Tetris for the first time in many months. I’ve been an on-again, off-again fan of the game since Alexey Pajitnov‘s brainchild first hit the original Nintendo Game Boy back in 1989, but I hadn’t picked up the game in some time, and Electronic Art’s recent Android and iPhone offerings in the Tetris franchise — while still exceptional puzzle games — have nevertheless fallen prey to EA’s typical shenanigans. Rather than begrudgingly hand my hard-earned money to the much-maligned EA for the privilege of reliving my misspent puzzle-gaming youth, I inserted my classic (and still functional!) Tetris DX cartridge into my trusty old Game Boy Color and set my higher brain functions to “autopilot.”

As I relaxed and let the tetrominoes fall where they may, I had the following epiphanies, and I thought I would share them here.

  • Tetris isn’t merely a test of spatial reasoning and problem-solving skills. With the added factor of time, Tetris becomes a test of a player’s crisis management skills that far outweighs its value as a test of anything else.
    • Unsurprisingly, this above all else clearly illustrates Tetris’s Russian origins. Why did Communism fail in Russia? Her leaders never truly developed their crisis management skills beyond what was required to keep their government in control of their populace on a day-to-day basis.
  • The decision to build a tower of tetrominoes in the game is an easy one to make, but it is almost always fatal. You get a piece that doesn’t fit where you planned, you need to put it somewhere. You get another of the same piece, you think, “I’ll put it on top of that first one,” and unless you break that line of reasoning the next time you get the same piece, then it’s already too late for you. You aren’t resolving your problem; you are delaying its resolution, which only magnifies it over time. Your tower will grow. Your tetrominoes will fall faster and faster. You will lose control. Tower-building almost inevitably leads to a player’s downfall.
    • The moral? Ignore the drive to establish an empire and remain on the move instead. Mobility is flexibility.
    • Why do people build towers (like skyscrapers) in the modern era? Typically to conserve space — the same reason people build towers of the same or similar pieces in Tetris. They aren’t solving the problems caused when populations grow and people require more space; that usually gets solved when people grow weary of big city life and move to smaller towns farther away, spreading out instead of stacking up. Unfortunately, building a tower in Tetris is like building a tower in an unstable seismic zone: the smallest thing — an unplanned block falling at just the wrong time or at far too quick a speed — will obliterate your entire control strategy and cost you the game.
    • The only time tower-building works in Tetris is if a player builds a tower on either the extreme left or extreme right edges of the screen; even then, it’s only a temporary solution to an ongoing problem, and circumstances can rapidly defeat such a strategy. Stability for typically unstable structures or schema is only found on the fringes of existence, at specific points of stability.
    • If Tetris has taught me anything, it’s that any piece can fit anywhere if you’re committed enough, and that the best things in life can sometimes be built atop the most dicey and seemingly unstable foundations.
  • The best-laid plans of the average Tetris player are always ruined by that one stupid block you didn’t plan for.
  • Ultimately, it’s not how many points you score, how many levels you attain, or even how many lines you make. In Tetris, as it is with life, it’s all about how long you can stay in the game.
  • Take care of any and all problems quickly and efficiently. Never let too much pile up on you all at once.
  • Chaos theory lies at the heart of Tetris: “Here are some random, irregular-shaped blocks. You have a set time limit to make several perfectly straight lines from them. Now, do the same thing again with far more random blocks and far less time. You will be graded.”
  • As with life, we begin the game with all the time we think we’ll ever need. We players progress through levels as we living beings progress through years, though, and time begins to pass more rapidly as we speed toward the game’s end. Eventually, we scramble to make meaning of the raining chaos as time flies by, and we have no idea where all the time we had before went.
  • Sometimes, God speaks to us through the strangest of mediums. I could read the same passage in Scripture again and again, yet receive only the most straightforward interpretation of that passage, attaining little spiritual sustenance from it than what I’ve already received before or finding fewer deeper philosophical truths hidden within its letters than I’ve found in readings past. Yet, I could play five minutes of Tetris and find the meaning of the universe in just a few falling blocks.
  • At the game’s end, it doesn’t matter what pieces you got or where you put them. After the lines are drawn, all things disappear. Everything is transitory.

About Dunebat

Sole specimen: Desmodus desertus. Judeo-Christian anchorite/scribe/scribbler. Lover of nerds, Goths, creatives, & outcasts.

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