By Box Brown
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Scott
In the world of computer games, one game stands out in the minds of all early gamers: Tetris. This perplexingly addictive and habit forming game, was, at least for me, played for the first time on an original Gameboy (which I still own and play… occasionally). This was long after I heard about the cutthroat negotiations, the lawsuits and the PC version. Alexey Pajitnov, since, has become a household name in the gaming industry, even though most of the profit from the game went to the former USSR.
A mathematician and computer scientist, at the Moscow Academy of Science, he was originally charged with creating psychology emulators, like ELIZA so many decades ago, but his love and fascination with the human thought process and games lead him to create one of the arguably, most successful games of all times. Enter Tetris by Box Brown. In the truest form of the medium of graphic novels, Brown takes this thought process to that of art, psychology and games, and the remarkable history behind Tetris.
Written largely in the third person expository style, Tetris tells a story, not about just people, but about governments, businesses and the litigation involved in the corporate structure. It never wavers too far from Pajitnov, but rather dips in and out of his life as the ‘human interest’ aspect of the story. And it is a story to tell. From its humble beginnings in the mind of the artist to the push to publish, through corporate nightmares, to the intervention of the Soviet State, to the back-stabbing deals and loopholes, and corporate lawsuits, all leading back to the author of this humble game, Tetris captures this all and keeps it relevant.
This is a tall order for a graphic novel, but Brown gets around it fine, disclosing the material at an easily digestible rate with little room for speculation. Throughout the novel, we are introduced to new characters in this real life drama that played a key hold in Tetris’ development. All in all, the writing is informative, yet personal at the same time, and is a treasure trove of information about the history behind this famous game. Readers don’t really get into the minds of anyone but Alexey, as characterization is not what is important here. Because the text is focused solely on the tale of the game, so to speak, the graphic novel bypasses character in lieu of content.
Artistically, Tetris is minimalist, with a constant medium shot perspective, that allows you to soak up the information visually, as well as via expository. It very much resembles a documentary, key scenes being drawn, while less important ones left out. The graphic flow is easily read, as the dialogue boxes are tactfully placed, and it basically follows a six panel grid layout. The eye wanders to the action at hand, and never has to search for the appropriate visual cues. It’s a well-drawn piece of work, and should appeal to aficionados of art comics or autobiographical ones. The art well suits the material, which, if I must be honest, is quite dry without it. Together, art and words do a serendipitous job where either one would fail miserably.
Overall, fans of the game or who have an interest in the game should pick this up. It’s well worth it. As a side bonus you also get a history of Nintendo, the former gaming console giant, but the main course is the pure, unadulterated history of one of the world’s most notorious games.