Best Puzzle Game
Most Engrossing Game
For Michibiku’s fifth anniversary, we’re sharing our favorite pieces from our five years of existence. This was originally posted on 12/21/18.
Graham: I think this is as personal as I’ve gotten in a piece of writing… ever, maybe? I had to stop a few times while writing because I couldn’t see the screen clearly. Tetris means a lot to me. So does this.
Sometimes the world can be truly awful.
Not all the time. Often, and possibly even usually, participating in the chaos of existence that surrounds you can be rewarding and even life-affirming. Occasionally, though, it’s not, and in those moments, it’s helpful to be able to escape. To withdraw. To distract and recuperate and wait until you’re prepared to return. There’s value in this respite, and for some, it can be the difference between getting through the day and… well, not.
Tetris has always been adept at this role. Much has been written about the “Tetris effect” itself, how it grabs you and doesn’t let go even well after you stop playing. But what’s maybe less discussed is the value of this hold, and how pulling you in can save you from the toxicity of what would otherwise be running on loop in your brain.
Yeah, okay, this is about to get personal.
I was a fortunate little kid. I had a full, loving family, and we had more than enough to meet our needs. Truly — rationally — there were no hard times. But my brain just doesn’t work like that. It overreacts and obsesses and doesn’t calm down even for a second, and it doesn’t take much for it to identify the smallest problem and rapidly tangle itself around it, dragging everything else down as it does. This holds me back even now, as an adult with a lot of strategies for countering and mitigating these tendencies, but for the younger me it was devastating. I’d be smiling and laughing one minute and curled up in the corner crying the next. And there wasn’t a lot I could do.
But there was one thing.
Tetris is, at its core, about order. About taking elements thrown at you and creating manageable, understandable, tidy stacks and lines. You can’t do that in your life, as much as you try, but Tetris both provides that for you and detaches you from everything else. All of your life is where it should be when you play Tetris, precisely because of how it takes over your brain and re-routes its functions to something much more accomplishable.
I was three when my brother got a Game Boy for his birthday with three games: Alleyway, F-1 Race and Tetris. Then he left me and his gifts at the table to play with his friends, and I’m honestly not sure he ever really got that Game Boy back. (Sorry, man.) The first two games still hold a place in my heart, but it was Tetris that became a life necessity. It was a running joke with adults around me that I always kept that Game Boy within reach, but for me it wasn’t a joke at all. When I got all tied in mental knots, I could play Tetris and everything would be okay. And the rest of the time, it was a comfort to know that I could the moment things turned south.
I know not everyone works like that, but I think we all have moments when we could use this sort of respite. Especially in the world of 2018, with the injustices and tragedies that surround us, it’s important. Which is why it’s also important that 2018 delivered to us a game that’s better at this task than any before it.
Whether you play in VR or out of it, whether you are an experienced player or a novice, whether you need a high-energy rush to drown out your brain or a low-stress session to calm it… Tetris Effect is built for all of these. It doesn’t offer multiplayer functions or anything truly social, and its leaderboards are designed to, above all else, remind you that you’re not alone. There are other people, and they may get different scores, but it doesn’t focus on these any more than you opt into seeing them. It blocks out everything it can, and uses all the audiovisual techniques it can muster to isolate you and the game you control.
It’s a huge help for me even now, but it makes my heart especially full to think that there’s probably a little kid out there somewhere whose day is going just a little bit better because of it.