The official page of the film says that “Tetris” is a biographical drama, and yes, it is, but when you watch it, it’s more than just a memoir; it’s about the game “Tetris.” When you were a kid, for sure, you played this game, on a handheld game console and got addicted to it, but you never asked how it came about or who its author and developer was. “Tetris” confirms our obsession with games, which for the director Jon S. Baird, is poetry that magically creates synchronicity between art and mathematics to form a perfect amusement and recreation that enslaves us. At the beginning of the movie, you may trip because of the hard-core information that is thrown at you to make you aware of the chronological licensing, or should I say? Tetris-related piracy and plagiarism, but as it progresses, the pace increases, as does your inquisitiveness to know how greed destroys every sphere of life, whether social or political.
When Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov invented the game, there were just falling blocks that were put together with parentheses. He created it for fun while exploring his programming talent. Interestingly, therefore, when players play the game, the concept and the game’s interface are simple and comprehensible to anyone and everyone, making them fall in love with it and its intuitiveness.
George Orwell, a journalist, and critic famous for his novel “1984,” published in 1949, presents a story set in 1984 marked by totalitarianism, 24×7 surveillance by those in power, and the brainwashing of people and the way they behave in the society in which they belong. Orwell imagined how 1984 would be, and although a dystopian thought, the Russia of the time and the year the game was designed by Alexey were no different. When we are shown Moscow, whether while showing Alexey designing the game or when the protagonist Henk Rogers visits the place alone or with his associates, the capital city of Russia is shown with dark, gloomy, cold, and rigid colors. The colors are evocative of the government’s or the politicians’ totalitarian behavior that surveils, curtails, and punishes anything that happens without its knowledge.
A country exhibiting these traits creates not just an interesting game, but a habit-forming one, and this game, when noticed, finds its takers, who gain rights and distribute and resell it for profit as a computer, video, arcade, or board game. What’s provocative is the selling or reselling of the game without getting the license to do so in a particular format. The film gives the audience an experience of how a government body, ELORG (Electronorgtechnica), although willing to sell its product, is confused and perturbed about the complexities and ambiguities of a contract they will sign with the party willing to purchase the license for the game. Henk sarcastically remarks, looking at their state, that they are kings of cliffhangers, and sure they are. The film excellently recounts the passion and risk Henk took to get the license for the game and then later to form the Tetris company with the designer Alexey.
The story of Tetris is told to us through the narrative of Henk, who played the game in 1988 at the Consumer Electronics Show and credited the game with making a lasting impression on him, convincing him that the game would make it big in the worldwide market. By taking on this challenge to get the license and sell the game, he stands to lose everything that he has saved, starting from his family to his own company and even his house. Therefore, when he decides upon something, he knows what is at stake. He doesn’t even worry about visiting a country that doesn’t entertain visitors to its government structures without an invite. He has a comfortable life, no doubt; his company is running at a loss, but that doesn’t matter much to him; Akemi, his wife, reminds him of this fact, but he willingly risks it all to provide a much better life for his family. In all of the interactions Henk has with the officials, you find him sincere and focused on just the game. He doesn’t come across as a spy, a business-minded tycoon, or a deceptive player. He is a parent, husband, friend, and business partner who is passionate about a game, i.e., Tetris. You certainly root for him and want him to succeed or earn a special favor and gain the rights and license for the game. Towards the end, when he purchases the rights and signs the documents at ELORG, you feel a great sense of accomplishment, and then, when he and his associates escape from Valentin Trifonov of the Communist Party, you just want the plane that they have boarded to fly them to freedom. The music that plays in the background also supports your imagination and simulates the viewer’s desire to pace faster as one would while playing the game.
The story actually revolves around these two important, passionate men: one is the designer, Alexey, who, even when after his game is sold and turns famous, has nothing to gain or lose, and the other is Henk, who has jeopardized everything to gain the rights and license for the game to sell it as a video, arcade, board, or handheld game. Henk knows that if he doesn’t give his best, he will lose his family, his company, and his home. Alexey, due to his past experience where his father was retributed when he signed a letter of protest, losing his right to teach and ruining his life, fears striking up a conversation at first with Henk or even later to do anything with the licensing of the game, etc. He prudently accepts Henk’s desire to visit him at his house and then shares the story of the start of the game. But nothing goes hidden from the eyes that follow its citizens all the time. Their friendship is observed carefully, and Alexey is threatened to stay far away from anything related to the game and its licensing. The film throws light on the pure friendship and the authenticity of both of these characters, making them like, support, and stand for each other when an untoward situation arises.
The negotiations among the politicians, the CEOs of companies, and the government are an interesting part of the film. It is a perfect display of chaos as well as an example of how corrupt minds work. The game publishers have their own ideologies to play with as opposed to the Russian politicians and the government, which are running pillar to post and backward and forwards. There is miscommunication and deceptive communication between the game publisher’s father and son duo. While one is a patriotic government official, the other is a selfish, greedy, and misogynist politician.
There is so much drama happening about just a simple game; Henk for sure knows it, but the film represents nerd culture, the history of gaming, and the geeks who risk everything for a game. Every detail shared from the beginning to the end may put you off, but it shows how much one can care about a game. Gaming today has become an important part of our lives. From entertainment to education to economic and political investments, games help create change and are powerful instruments for creativity to thrive. “Tetris” leaves us with a lot of food for thought, especially that good ideas do not remain restricted; they find a home in every heart across boundaries. It also encourages never giving up, with the analogy that a piranha plant may suddenly appear and spew fire on you, but you keep at it no matter what. Given a chance, I would still like to play the game and watch this movie with the same background sounds playing. “Tetris” is certainly a must-watch for a gamer and for those who want to look at games from a different perspective.