FAM: Tetris: From Russia With Love

A treat for this, the 16th of April, in the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Ten. Today the FAM presents the 2004 BBC documentary Tetris: From Russia With Love at the risk of offending the beautiful yet cruel Nadya by forcing her to relive the traumatic events that led to the loss of her family and her subsequent immigration to the States. Even now as I sit here writing this, I strain my ears, listening for the tell-tale tapping of her limping gate, the staccato rhythm of cane and wooden leg working in lurching concert upon the stone floors and metal walkways of The Catacombs.

My editor’s sordid past aside, the BBC did a terrific job of examining the story of quite possibly the most addictive videogame ever made. A model of simplicity there are probably few of my generation that don’t remember their experience with Tetris; and I’m willing to bet that more than a few can relate stories of falling asleep and dreaming of falling tetrominoes or of being unable to expunge the home console version’s music from their brains.

The life of Tetris — created deep within Soviet Russia and leaked through the iron curtain, leaving a trail of in-fighting, threats, and questionable copyright law in its wake — is one of the great, epic tales in videogames. It encapsulates a time in the industry when games were just beginning to implant themselves as a cultural force and, in a broader sense, was a portent of things to come, arriving at the same time that the Soviet Union was beginning to dissolve.

In fact it’s easy to take Tetris as metaphor entirely too far. In it’s plainness and restraint it opens itself up to any number of meanings. It is perhaps best then to acknowledge it as a great game and leave it at that, lest one be tempted to sum up the end of the 20th century in terms of falling blocks.

4 Responses to “FAM: Tetris: From Russia With Love”

  1. Nadya Says:

    Ross, why did you post this awful cover-up of the truth? Why make me recall the sight of my own crushed leg in the maw of a Russian bear, backlit by the burning village of my childhood? You fucking ruined my Friday night!!

    I will say, though, that if I ever get the chance to direct a feature film, I would love to do Tetris: The Movie. (Right after my porno Clue remake.) Because it really is a great story. Henk Rodgers is SUCH an American. Evgeni Belikov is SUCH a Soviet. Kevin Maxwell, spoiled rich boy from the UK. Hottie interpreter Alla. Robert Maxwell’s disappearance from the yacht? Holy fucking shit. The coincidence of Maxwell, Rogers and Stein all arriving at ELORG on the same day, with Belikov’s comical attempts to keep them unaware of each other? Drama. And poor, poor Atari. The sadness of the crumbling computer institute. Above all, the good nature of Alexey Pazhitnov.

    I cried, “why has nobody made this movie?” To the Google I turned. And I found… this:

    Which led to my discovery of Minesweeper: The Movie.

    Oh, Internet. I love you so.

  2. Monkey Says:

    As soon as I began reading the post, the Tetris theme song starting playing in my head, my thumbs starting tapping at an invisible controller, and little boxes starting falling before my eyes. It is either memories of my Tetris addiction returning or I am having a stroke.

  3. Zoetica Says:

    This is one of my favorite BBC documentaries of all time, thanks for posting it! The story is just golden.

    Henk’s somewhat naive commentary on how all the color had been sucked out of Moscow because of the lack of advertising always sticks with me, because that was one of my favorite things about the city. Actually, coming back to it 14 years after my departure was much like the commentator’s observation: CAPITALISM HAS ARRIVED. Everything there is filthy with ads now.

    Anyway, yes – long live Pazhitnov! He left Microsoft in 2005, and figuring out what he’s been up to since then, I came across this interview on Joystiq. What a sweetheart.

  4. kimberly ann Says:

    the trailer in the first comment is epic.