Recommended for ages 12+
If you spent the better part of the early ’90s glued to your keyboard/gaming console/handheld, immersed in the video game Tetris, you’re not alone. I have logged many hours in front of my NES, rotating those little blocks to achieve the perfect fit. Box Brown’s graphic novel tells the story behind Tetris: the men who created it, and the game developers that almost went to war over bringing it to the masses.
We meet Alexey Pajitnov and his colleague, Vlad Pokhilko, computer scientists at the Moscow Academy of Science. In 1984, Alexey created Tetris in his spare time; it began life as freeware, being passed from friend to friend, coworker to coworker. This game was a phenomenon waiting to happen: it was addicting from the start; people were mesmerized. One story in the book illustrates a manager providing copies to his workplace colleagues, only to take the discs back and destroy them when office productivity declined.
We see the struggle between game developers and the tangled weave of rights for the game: Nintendo, Atari, and Sega all wanted it, and rights 0wnership was downright sketchy, with miscommunication and under the table deals leading to lawsuits. The story reads like an international thriller in parts, with all the trips to Moscow, international dealings, and theft and intrigue.
The story unfolds in two-color art, with game screen renderings and simple character drawings keeping readers focused on the story and the complexity of the game itself. In the story of Tetris, Box Brown also gives us the story of gaming: the pursuit of fun, and the role of gaming in art, culture, commerce, and intellect. From Lascaux cave paintings, which depict games, to artifacts of gaming pieces rendered in bone, to Senet, an Ancient Egyptian board game, to dice games, and finally, to smartphone gaming (where Tetris still lives on), the pursuit of fun, the joy of gaming, is part of human history.
This will go over well with gamers and history fans, graphic novel fans and anyone interested in business. There’s some good advice for businesses in the story of Tetris, especially for anyone interested in international licenses. Box Brown’s graphic novel is multilayered and well-rounded, with an abundance of information presented in an interesting and easy to digest format.
Box Brown is a New York Times–bestselling author. He wrote the best-selling graphic biography, Andre the Giant: Life and Legend. Take a look at some more of Tetris here, and head over to Box Brown’s author webpage and see more of his illustration work.
And now, you can’t get the Tetris music out of your head, either. You’re welcome.