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Tetris: The Games People Play Paperback – October 11, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Brown immerses readers in the complicated origins of one of the world's most popular video games, Tetris. Its creator, Alexey Pajitnov, was a computer scientist who became obsessed with how games and puzzles affected human psychology. Before long, Pajitnov became caught up in a prototype he'd designed based on a childhood game and shared it with his friends. Soon all of Moscow was consumed by what would eventually be called "the game that escaped the USSR." The art style is reminiscent of the Cyanide and Happiness comic but whimsical in tone. It also cleverly mimics the structure of Tetris itself: straightforward and engaging, without any extra bells and whistles. With the recent Nintendo release of the hit cell phone game Pokémon Go, this title is a timely explanation of the origins of the gaming world, particularly when it comes to the rivalries among various gaming companies. The story resonates and will appeal to fans of Jim Ottaviani's Feynman and Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. VERDICT This quick, thoughtful read will find an audience among teens interested in pursuing a career in video game design or those who wonder just how video games like Tetris have spread like wildfire.—Chantalle Uzan, New York Public Library
Included in NYPL's "Notable 50 Best Books for Teens" list.
"The story never stops moving until its final pieces are in place."―New York Times
"One of gaming's most intriguing tales...A book to watch." ―Nerdist
"[A] look at the creation of Alexey Pajitnov’s enduring classic and the drama that ensues when people with big bags of money try to cash in the game’s popularity." ―Kotaku
"A rich read that provides valuable context for the rise of video games in the late 20th century." ―A.V. Club
"This is a work about the bittersweet dissonances of artistic creativity and commercial greed and the ephemeral yet crucial joy we get from making things fall into place." ―io9
"Against the backdrop of the Cold War, the saga of Tetris played out like a spy thriller―tragic deaths, corporate conspiracies, the prestige of nations hanging in the balance." ―Boston Globe
"A clean and engaging visual style supports a story that sustains narrative drive, humanizing the characters and making readers care about every development. " ―Kirkus, starred review
"Simply illustrated in a sequential panel format, the charming black-andwhite drawings convey high-concept ideas in a clever, succinct manner." ―Booklist
"Tetris is a remarkably spare work, cleanly and effortlessly introducing countless real-life characters and companies that intersect and tangle together in a game of tug-of-war." ―GQ
"It also cleverly mimics the structure of Tetris itself: straightforward and engaging, without any extra bells and whistles." ―School Library Journal, starred review
"The blocky paneled illustrations are reminiscent of early video game graphics, and the compact text uses dialogue effectively to break up narrative sections and keep the unfolding drama personal rather than historically distant." ―Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
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Top Customer Reviews
In the world of computer games, one game stands out in the minds of all early gamers: Tetris. This perplexingly addictive and habit forming game, was, at least for me, played for the first time on an original Gameboy (which I still own and play… occasionally). This was long after I heard about the cutthroat negotiations, the lawsuits and the PC version. Alexey Pajitnov, since, has become a household name in the gaming industry, even though most of the profit from the game went to the former USSR.
A mathematician and computer scientist, at the Moscow Academy of Science, he was originally charged with creating psychology emulators, like ELIZA so many decades ago, but his love and fascination with the human thought process and games lead him to create one of the arguably, most successful games of all times. Enter Tetris by Box Brown. In the truest form of the medium of graphic novels, Brown takes this thought process to that of art, psychology and games, and the remarkable history behind Tetris.
Written largely in the third person expository style, Tetris tells a story, not about just people, but about governments, businesses and the litigation involved in the corporate structure. It never wavers too far from Pajitnov, but rather dips in and out of his life as the ‘human interest’ aspect of the story. And it is a story to tell. From its humble beginnings in the mind of the artist to the push to publish, through corporate nightmares, to the intervention of the Soviet State, to the back-stabbing deals and loopholes, and corporate lawsuits, all leading back to the author of this humble game, Tetris captures this all and keeps it relevant.
This is a tall order for a graphic novel, but Brown gets around it fine, disclosing the material at an easily digestible rate with little room for speculation. Throughout the novel, we are introduced to new characters in this real life drama that played a key hold in Tetris’ development. All in all, the writing is informative, yet personal at the same time, and is a treasure trove of information about the history behind this famous game. Readers don’t really get into the minds of anyone but Alexey, as characterization is not what is important here. Because the text is focused solely on the tale of the game, so to speak, the graphic novel bypasses character in lieu of content.
Artistically, Tetris is minimalist, with a constant medium shot perspective, that allows you to soak up the information visually, as well as via expository. It very much resembles a documentary, key scenes being drawn, while less important ones left out. The graphic flow is easily read, as the dialogue boxes are tactfully placed, and it basically follows a six panel grid layout. The eye wanders to the action at hand, and never has to search for the appropriate visual cues. It’s a well-drawn piece of work, and should appeal to aficionados of art comics or autobiographical ones. The art well suits the material, which, if I must be honest, is quite dry without it. Together, art and words do a serendipitous job where either one would fail miserably.
Overall, fans of the game or who have an interest in the game should pick this up. It’s well worth it. As a side bonus you also get a history of Nintendo, the former gaming console giant, but the main course is the pure, unadulterated history of one of the world’s most notorious games.
My favorite nonfiction book is Oranges by John McPhee. On its cover McPhee's book has a blurb: " bet you never thought you would read an entire book about oranges!" Same might be said about Tetris: The Games People Play. This is compelling nonfiction, in graphic novel format. The tale is mind boggling in its complexity. I'll admit, even with the pictures I got a bit confused by the contract law and intellectual property details. However, I could have never made it through this truly fascinating story in pure text. Box Brown orchestrates Tetris's global cast of inventors, gamers and investors with extraordinary finesse.
I received an advance copy from the publisher because I blog about illustration and will write a longer review soon.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.
I did not know the game had such an interesting history in getting out there in the world, and its aftermath. I just knew it as a Russian game but with universal appeal – it is a great trainer for spatial reasoning and is instantly learnable but infinitely challenging.
I loved the simplicity and illustrations, what a genius way to tell a story of video games. Reading about the games I grew up playing (as a huge Zelda nerd I was quietly rooting from Nintendo from page 1, and so excited to learn about their history) made for an incredibly quick read.
Looking forward to rereading and more :)!