REVIEW – Tetris: The Games People Play (Visual Novel) by Box Brown

Falling Into Place

Tetris. Most people have probably played this game at some point in their life. Whether it was on an internet connected PC, a pea-green colored handheld system, a graphing calculator, an illegal version on an 8-bit system, the side of a building, or even on a t-shirt, Tetris is a phenomenon known around the world. Despite the wide popularity, the background story of Tetris is rather shocking and not as well known. But did you know the Tetris that you know today was the result of countless meetings (some secret and rushed), fighting the legalities of communist Russia, millions and millions of dollars, high profile trials, and even murder? The gameplay of Tetris is addicting and entertaining but its history is that of an R rated movie.

Back cover
Back cover

Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown is a creative approach to this complicated story. David Sheff’s Game Over: Press Start To Continue (1993) was the first account I believe to document the amazing story of Tetris but has not been in publication for a couple decades. Unlike the novel David Sheff composed, Box Brown’s take is artistic and easy enough for anyone to read. Why? Because all 253 pages are composed of comic book drawings! Taking this complicated story and turning it into a graphic novel is actually a brilliant idea and only takes an hour or so to read cover to cover.

Each secret meeting was rather aggressive
Each secret meeting was rather aggressive

Each panel is composed of extremely simple drawings and has a high-school doodle-on-the-side-of-your-notebook quality to it. But this is not a knock on the quality of the publication and actually makes the read faster but still with detail. Outside of the blue hue and red outline found on the cover, each panel is composed of only three colors: yellow, white, and black. Combine the trio color scheme with basic 2D pen drawings, this graphic novel feels like a Cartoon Network Adult Swim visual novel. The visuals are not without some flair, however, as there are some recreations of certain items like drawings of consoles and arcade machines, to having a pixelated look on certain game-based tiles. I don’t want to provide spoilers but just know that the visual approach works and works much better than I initially thought.

Alexey Pajitnov is smoking in pretty much every panel
Alexey Pajitnov is smoking in pretty much every panel

The visual presentation might appear to the juvenile but the story is anything but. Although simplified to fit the graphic aesthetic, the narrative transition from panel to panel is what will keep your attention. Perhaps the strongest part of Box Brown’s approach is the constant reminder of who is doing what or where things are going through easy-to-read captions and dialog. This is a comic book after all so the drawings tell the story of what the characters are NOT saying. Whether it’s a look of worry or anger, subtle details of action poses or facial expressions convey the sense or emotion these people felt during this stressful time.

This guy!
This guy!

The beginning section also prepares the reader for what’s to come by explaining a summarized history of Nintendo and even the very first recorded history of games from cave paintings. In a way, the reader could simply read the first third of the book and still walk away with knowledge gained about the general origin point of game design. It’s simple yet informatively powerful.

The origin of all games
The origin of all games

Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown is a must read for any Tetris fan or game enthusiast. Chances are, players have no idea just how dark the Tetris story really is despite spending countless hours in its gameplay. Just like indie developers today, perseverance and a great idea are needed to succeed in today’s competitive gaming landscape. Alexey Pajitnov created something special and his story, the story of Tetris, is something that is memorable and worthwhile. This book brings light to this pivotal point in gaming history in a way all gamers should appreciate and enjoy.

First Second | On sale October 11, 2016
Paperback | Adult | $19.99 | 9781626723153

9/10

Check Out: Tetris on 3DS Virtual Console
Also Try: finding a copy of Game Over
Wait For It: The Satoru Iwata Biography by Box Brown

By: Zachary Gasiorowski, Editor in Chief myGamer.com
Twitter: @ZackGaz

Have you experienced the Tetris effect?
Have you experienced the Tetris effect?

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