Tetris was invented in 1984 by Alexey Pazhitnov, a researcher at the Computer Centre of the USSR Academy of scientists in Moscow and programmed with the assistance of Vadim Gerasimov, a 16-year-old intern at the Soviet Academy.
The game, first available in the Soviet Union, appeared in the West in 1986 when it was published by Spectrum Holobyte. It became the first commercial computer program to reach the West from the Soviet Union.
A tall empty rectangle in the centre of the screen represents what might be considered a pit or a well. Into this space fall, one at a time, an assortment of seven brightly coloured abstract shapes, all derived from four small squares (like Lego bricks).
The object is to pack the well tightly, leaving as few blank spaces as possible. The bricks can be rotated to fit gaps in the rows, but players cannot control which bricks are dropped randomly from the sky. Once a row is finished, it disappears, but every gap has to be filled. The bricks fall faster and faster as the levels increase, and if they reach the top of the screen, the game is over.
Teris was quite possibly the most addictive thing ever to hit the personal computer. Sensing a big thing in the making, Atari released an arcade version in 1988.
The game was a major success on the PC and in arcades, but the revolution really came in 1989 when Nintendo’s portable Game Boy arrived in stores, with Tetris as its default game. That mutually-beneficial relationship turned both the game and the system into legends.
In addition to being great fun, the game is also instructive: to succeed, the player must learn to plan ahead under pressure, to know where best to place any of the seven shapes at any given time, quickly rotating them to fit.
Psychologists have related Tetris to the “Zeigarnik Effect”, which explains why the game is addictive. This phenomenon focuses on the idea that something has a magnetic effect on people to keep them returning for more – essentially, players see Tetris as a series of unfinished tasks.
The more incomplete a row or column is on the Tetris board, the more we are compelled to solve it, making us return time and again.