I wanted to take this week to write another of my five posts on materials in the Media Archaeology Lab. This week I have chosen to write about Tetris. Most know it as the greatest video game ever made—those who don’t might consider reassessing. The original Tetris game was released in 1984, yet the game did not make it to the USA until 1988, that is because it was an export of the USSR, and was finally ported to the C64 for export at that time. Sold with the tagline, “From Russia With Fun,” this structured, tile-matching puzzle game aligns Soviet bloc styled Soviet blocks in grids, for fun! More than this, the game functions within the constructs of a defined grid. Although (in most proper adaptations) the grid is invisible, it is the blocks (or Tetriminos) that create the grid when inserted into the digital space. As a user, what I can’t help but think about is control. Although it seems that the blocks need to be aligned vertically and horizontally to achieve success, the control here is not distributed, rather quite centralized. Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker, as we have read previously, talk in depth about vertical versus horizontal control systems. As much as I want Tetris to resemble horizontally distributed control systems, it cannot be—the tetriminos are distributed by the sole individual in power over the game. Literally, all of the control rests in one individual’s hands (in the NES controller in this case). Really, it’s no surprise to see the love-affair America has with Tetris, with control, and with the obsession of a game that depends upon maintaining centralized power. Maybe, it comes as no bombshell to witness the fall of the USSR under Gorbachev produce such a control-centric game.
Just today, we were been privileged to watch “the largest Tetris game in the world” played on the side of a skyscraper in Philadelphia. (New York Times Article). But really, is it any wonder that a great, $180 million skyscraper that is host to the office space of multiple private equity firms, a large hedge fund, and (wait for it) a major digital forensics company, would have a vested interest in perpetuating control? And that it might, to the awe of onlookers across the city of Philadelphia, project the largest Tetris game ever, the most popular game of control, across the
“City of Brotherly Love” or “The Birthplace of America”?