This year marks the 25th anniversary of Tetris, perhaps the simplest, and most addictive and ubiquitous computer game of all time. Journalists, academics, bloggers and fans of computer gaming, media and pop culture have exploited the celebration with an abundance of coverage and interviews with the gameâ€™s inventor, Russian mathematician Alexey Pajitnov. (You could say I’m guilty as well.)
Why is Tetris so addictive? Players must position blocks to fill a grid without leaving spaces in between. Successfully completed sections disappear. The more sections the player completes without reaching the top, the higher the score. Pajitnov told CNN:
First of all, it’s a very simple game and it has a really strong creative spirit in it. So instead of destroying something, you kind of build up the profile out of those small pieces and enjoy doing it. And that’s probably the very important addictive factor.
One of the most innovative and addictive aspects of Tetris is the perpetual, intensifying stream of bricks the player must align without spaces. In fact, this very element foreshadowed how we now consume most news content and personal status updates on the Web: in reverse chronological streams. Tetrisâ€™s layers of bricks fall with greater speed and complexity as you master the ability to arrange them in straight, crumbling rows. That is not unlike news feeds and status updates that funnel into your desktop and mobile interfaces, intensifying as your ability to sort and digest them increases. Indeed, there are classical elements of game mechanics in both examples.
Similar to Tetris, I wonder if there is a meaningful endgame as the human race’s ability to sort and digest news and status streams improves. I don’t think Tetris has one, but I’m hopeful there will be one with news and status. Like it or not, we’re only at the beginning of a sweeping adoption of data streams.