Tetris is a video gaming phenomenon which known the world over and played by hundreds of millions of people on pretty much every device from smartphones to calculators. It was one of the first games that crossed generations and cultural boundaries, being one of the first computer games to be on permanent display at MOMA in America. In the 80's it allowed the world to glimpse what was behind the iron curtain at the height of the Cold War.
Tetris was created in 1984 by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov as a side project whilst he was working on artificial intelligence and voice recognition software. It was initially passed hand to hand by floppy disk before gaining worldwide acclaim and fame through very convoluted means.
Box Brown looks at the birth, rise and the behind the scene legal issues surrounding the game. The detailed legalese and business negotiations which make up most of the graphic novel may not appeal to everyone but Tetris’ story is full of surprising twists and turns so it is well worth exploring the issues about chip shortages, copyright infringement and the carve-up of markets in several different confusing contracts. As well as detailing all the players and the complexities that followed Brown provides a philosophical and anthropological view of humanity’s relationship to games and play, which appealed to me as I studied Anthropology in university.
Brown has a distinctive art style and whilst it may not appeal to everyone I thought the simple yellow, black and white palette was clear and uncluttered allowing me to focus on the complex legal maneuverings of the individuals; in this graphic novel narrative is king although the art style is distinctive.
Tetris: The Games People Play succeeds in being an informative documentary about the chequered history of the game but is less successful with the biographical aspects of Pajitnov's life, apart from cursory drop-ins on his life we see little about his family or his personal circumstances. However for the uninitiated this graphic novel is engaging and informative without being too obtuse with the legal aspects. A solid graphic novel well worth a read but not as accessible as his other work Andre the Giant: Life and Legend which was a more straightforward biography.