Saturday, April 13, 2013
THE VALUE OF TETRIS
I've been playing a lot of Tetris lately, for free, on the Tetris website.
CLICK ON THIS TO SKILLFULLY WASTE TIME
I have loved Tetris ever since I was very little. I cannot remember the first time I played it - I was probably three or four. It is a game that has seemingly been present throughout my existence, its simplistic and immediately recognizable shapes always filling me with happiness (and a little bit of enjoyable dread) when I see them.
Tetris is the embodiment of the human experience in many ways. We are faced with a finite series of circumstances with inherent conflict. Obstacles that we have not anticipated gradually mount, and we must maneuver ourselves, accommodating and adjusting, all in the hopes of creating a nice, tidy world where everything fits perfectly together. But things don't always fit perfectly together. There are flaws, disruptions, and we may be able to fix them, but we will feel the pressure of too many disruptions and potentially crumble under the weight of our circumstances, or we will keep trying again and again to create the best life.
Tetris has had a profound impact on my life - and likely yours if you've played it - that other games have not, because Tetris teaches very practical skills. I cannot pack anything into the trunk of my car without visualizing the colorful shapes and blocks of Tetris.
At a very young age, Tetris taught me some very valuable lessons and practical skills:
1) How to work under pressure - With increasing speed Tetris blocks hurtle toward the bottom of the screen and players must anticipate, adapt, and react to an overwhelming, time-sensitive set of circumstances. Not only does Tetris force you to deal with stress in a comfortable, ultimately safe way, it teaches you how to harness that addrenaline in the pursuit of accomplishing a very practical goal.
2) How to pack - Tetris teaches us the limits of space, that objects inevitably fill up space until there is no more room left. However, Tetris teaches you how to manipulate objects, how shapes that are seemingly at spacial odds can be manipulated to compliment, even complete each other. Tetris is a valuable resource for teaching us, at a young age, how to solve spacial problems and how to adjust & manipulate space to suit our needs.
3) How to judge success and deal with failure - No game of Tetris actually ends well. I have never "won" Tetris. I'm not sure I would even want to. Videogames, and particularly Tetris, because of its emphasis upon real-world geometry, taught me that inevitably there are some problems without a solution and that I can only do the best I can with what I'm given. I can only anticipate and adapt to new information and new circumstances in an increasingly stressful environment so much. Eventually the blocks win in Tetris. And yet, if I've had a particularly successful Tetris-run, I don't feel defeated. Success in Tetris is subtler than winning or losing, which is a valuable lesson to learn as a child. Success and failure, in life, are nuanced and incorporate a series of unpredictable variables outside of one's ability just as much as it incorporates one's own actions. When one sees the Game Over screen, you are likely inspired to pick yourself up and try again, teaching you resilience and strength in the face of defeat.
4) Don't Be Greedy and Don't Be Lazy - Greed is a common vice video games permit players to indulge in. Human beings naturally want more, and one thing they consistently want more of is success. They will risk destruction for continued success, delaying a potentially beneficial solution to a problem if they feel there is a higher-yield solution further in the future. Tetris teaches us that if we put off making a choice, even if that choice is not exactly the thing we want or even the least-flawed choice, we will suffer and that life will move along without our cooperation. Tetris teaches us that hubris, an overconfident belief that we will inevitably be able to overcome any obstacle, leads to suffering. Tetris teaches you the value of compromise and humility, as well as the value of effort, taking action even when you don't want to, with its small, colorful shapes and cute sounds.
5) Foresight - Substitute any one of your deadlines or scheduled dates or meetings or problems with a slowly descending Tetris-block. How will this fit? Where can I put this so that it doesn't ruin everything? Tetris teaches you how to manage the obstacles in your life, how to see them coming from a distance and place them in your life so that they do not drastically unravel or disrupt your daily experience.
These are the useful, practical lessons Tetris teaches us, and it offers up these lessons, gradually increasing the intelligence and resiliency of its players in an entirely fun and entertaining way.
There are deeper, subtler lessons Tetris teaches us, however:
1) Interconnectedness - Tetris reveals to us the potential structure of the universe, that physical objects are inherently complimentary regardless of their differences because they exist in the same reality. A yellow-T-shape might not appear to be related to a blue L-shape, but it is. These shapes can unite to form a more beautiful, complete whole. When these shapes do not learn how to work together, when they do not accept their commonality, death and destruction results.
2) Unity Is Pleasure - There are few things in gaming more pleasurable than a perfectly aligned row of stacked Tetris blocks. We are rewarded with more than just points, we are rewarded with a deep sense of accomplishment for having successfully navigated an obstacle. We feel our solution was unique and innovative. We also experience the rightness of unity. We see how these shapes have come together and formed a more complete whole. This is the same pleasure we feel when we throw the perfect pitch or listen to a good symphony or watch a good movie or pet a good dog or make love. We, in these experiences, are realizing that we are not alone, that things do have their place and are significant, and that the pursuit of connection is one of if not the most valuable pursuit in life, for it profoundly stimulates our souls.
3) Infinity & Inevitability - Tetris seems as though it could go on forever. It also seems destined to end. We move like Tetris blocks ourselves, slowly piling on one another, sometimes fitting well together, sometimes not, all the while hurtling toward our inevitable end. And yet the game goes on without us, new shapes descending, vanishing into oblivion. Human existence is a series of conflicts, pleasures, and realizations where we struggle daily, believing that there is some solution, unable to fully comprehend the finite nature of our own existence, believing that somehow our consciousness will go on forever. We try to sort ourselves out in life, to place ourselves in life so that we may understand our larger significance, our larger role, how we complete this massive picture, all the while attempting to arrange other objects and obstacles in our own lives. We exist in the universe and we are, each of us, microcosms of the universe, our patterns and rhythms in keeping with the patterns and rhythms of the cosmos. The game does come to an end, but that attempt to understand it, to realize it through concepts both basic and abstract, goes on.