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Reid’s Reads: ‘Tetris: The Games People Play’ by Box Brown


In 1984 Alexy Pajitnov released a highly addictive game called Tetris, and the uniquely tangled journey the game went from creation to commercialism provides a surprisingly fascinating read. Box Brown’s 2016 graphic novel offers an accessible account of the history of the titular game whilst touching on the deeper themes and nuances of gaming of all kinds.

Having played video games for the last two decades, I reaped much joy out of the gems of wisdom Brown had to offer. Sure, games are fun, but the process behind them never interested me much. Tetris: The Games People Play has a wonderful easy-to-read capability which is factual but chronological, events-based and conversational. Tetris, the game and Pajitnov, the creator, have a complicated story, but the novel graciously doesn’t bombard you with pages of words. The written story is seamlessly integrated with the drawn, the way every good graphic novel should be.

On the topic of the illustrations; they are gorgeous. Using only white, black and yellow, Brown draws an iconic tapestry. Somehow, he gives offices, computer screens and angry businessmen an engaging character. The style is minimalist but even the dot-for-eyes people are individual and recognisable. The exquisite balance of detail and simplicity allows Brown to draw recognisable buildings and objects without clustering the pages with content.

Pajitnov working on Tetris (c) Box Brown (2016)
Pajitnov working on Tetris (c) Box Brown (2016)

As a narrator, the author takes the reader on a journey. Tetris pushes past the pixelated graphics and even the cloud of legal issues surrounding the Russian-made game. The bookend narrative – which  covers Palaeolithic cave art and the ancient Egyptian game senet – rounds off by making the case that videogames are a continuation of artistic expression. “Art remains essential to the human experience” reads one of the closing pages. Tetris, ambitiously touches on the human need and capacity to create.

Verdict – 9.5 Next-Gen

Out of a seemingly innocuous topic, Brown crafts an ode to creativity. Tetris is a fun-filled tale of corporate chaos with rich drawings, and bountiful insight.

Tetris: The Games People Play, Box Brown (2016)

ISBN: 9781626723153

Image sources: Resobox.com, Amazon.co.uk, Downthetubes.net