Okay, we're verging into hot take territory here, so forgive me in advance. But I think it's important that we're clear on this. It's important that we draw a little line in the sand.
Tetris is not the best video game of all time.
Time Magazine recently put out a '50 best video games of all time' list.
The list was bad. That's okay! Most lists are bad. Almost all video game lists are bad -- particularly when they attempt to be totemic, all encompassing, 'important' lists. When they attempt to be a document of something. When they attempt to answer all sorts of hokey questions like which game was the most 'influential' or 'important'. When they try to sift and sort through a medium that defies categorisation in just about every possible sense.
At least novels are written on paper, and have between 30 and 200 thousand words. At least albums tend to feature 30 to 60 minutes of music.
Video games are... fuck. Do we even want to broach the idea of what a video game should and shouldn't be? Is that a discussion we even want to have? I certainly don't. It's a black hole that swallows time, light and reason. Avoid at all costs.
But when you make a list like the '50 Best Video Games Of All Time' and you sit Tetris on top of that list you're saying a lot of things about video games and what video games should be. And you're mostly saying something I don't agree with.
To begin with -- Tetris is a boring choice. It's just about the most boring choice a human being can make if asked 'what is the greatest video game of all time'. It's the equivalent of claiming The Godfather is your favourite movie, or Dark Side of the Moon is your favourite album.
It's that canonical choice. The choice where everyone is supposed to just nod in agreement. 'Ah... Tetris'.
Yes. Tetris. Of course. Argument over. No, you can't mess with Tetris.
Tetris. It's perfect.
What do we mean when we say that? That Tetris is 'perfect'.
What we really mean: it's a simple idea -- a genius idea really -- and it's perfectly executed. That it's timeless. That its core loop will never age. That -- as a video game -- it's as perennial as snakes and ladders or chess. That it's easy to understand.
We mean it's trancendent in every possible sense. That it's beyond language. That it spans generations. We've all played Tetris, and we'll be playing Tetris in some shape or form until we're dead in the ground.
Good stuff. Great. No-one is denying the importance of Tetris, or its brilliance in both concept and execution. Tetris is good. It's very good.
But Christ almighty... is that it? Tetris. Is that the game? Is this the end point of this discussion for all of time. Is that the high watermark for video games as a cultural force? I fucking hope not. I certainly don't think so. It's a depressing thought.
Tetris is video games as a distraction. Tetris is video games when you've got five minutes on a train. Tetris is video games as a trivial artifact you can play and forget. Tetris is video games in a neat little box. Tetris is neutered. Tetris puts video games in their place.
No-one ever fell in love with Tetris. Tetris doesn't change lives. Tetris doesn't change the way you walk. Tetris isn't a revolution. It's a 'video game' as the broader world defines it.
Which is why a magazine like Time has to make it its 'Greatest Video Game Of All Time', almost by default. It makes sense. It's really the only choice. The safe choice that puts video games in the cultural corner with a dunce cap on, where it belongs.
What is the best video game of all time? Um... I dunno*.
Is it even a question worth answering? Worth discussing? Probably, for fun. But not in any serious, grand-standing sense. Lists should be personal, and if Tetris is your favourite game of all time then more power to you. But I think you're wrong.
*It's a tie between Dark Souls, Metroid Prime and A Link To The Past