Video Games Represent Dangerous, Metaphorical Powers In ‘The Tetris Effect’ Short Story

Video Games Represent Dangerous, Metaphorical Powers In ‘The Tetris Effect’ Short Story

The hardest lesson taught by Tetris is that success isn’t infinitely sustainable. Those blocks are going to get unmanageable at some point.

Over at The Awl, video games figure prominently in a new written work by Justin Wolfe. It’s a hypnotic hodgepodge of hero’s-journey structure and pop culture references. Picture a literary, cross-media orgy with The Wizard, Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities and then the credit crisis and economic meltdown show up to grease things up even more. You wind up with a meditation on coping and enduring, succeeding and cheating and how porous the lines between all of those states of being are:

We pressed the Select button at the right time and our weapons hit the boss and we became stronger and we beat the boss and the one that came after and eventually, way past our bedtime, we beat the final bosses that came after him, we beat all of them. We pressed the Select button over and over again and we earned thousands and thousands of points, we beat them, we won.

“By 2003, [he] was managing $US250 million of client money, making $US5 million a year. He and his wife, with two children in tow, found a six-bedroom home in the nearby upscale community of Saratoga. It had sat on the market for more than two years, as the dot-com collapse weighed on local housing. The owners had asked $US5.4 million for the home. [He] offered $US3.8 million, and his bid was accepted. [He] had a growing sense that other parts of the country might have their own housing problems….”

Wolfe creates clever parallels between the quirks and exploits in games like Mega Man, System Shock 2 and Quake and how the financial markets got to where they are. It also fits in with the Occupy Wall Street protests, where the thinking is that the system’s not built for fairness. “The Tetris Effect” is a long, meaty read. But go there anyway. You’ll wind up understanding things you might’ve already known — about life, money and/or games — in a completely different way.

The Tetris Effect [The Awl]


  • This is brilliant. It’s like that essay on Donkey Kong being a thinly veiled story of heroic Capitalism taking back what it owns from the dirty Communist Plot.

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