This is Memory Pak, where we’re going to be doing a deep-dive into some of the most memorable moments in gaming – good and bad. Kate takes a trip around the memory block, exploring a formative memory for many of us: our first time playing Tetris, and our first time actually being good at Tetris.
I don’t remember owning a Game Boy, but apparently I did, at some point. I remember the weight in my hands, though. I remember the black-and-white screen. I remember having to play games by the intermittent light of a street lamp as my parents drove down the M1 on our way to my grandparents’ house. And I remember Tetris.
Tetris is etched into my memory, the same way it takes over your brain after you’ve played it for several hours, and everything starts to look like falling tetrominoes. I close my eyes, and I can see blocks-on-blocks on the back of my eyelids, like sun-scorched ghosts, falling down from the top of the screen to stack on top of one another.
I played Tetris a lot, but I only remember it in cars. I don’t remember a tutorial. I just remember the rotating, slotting, disappearing blocks, in those familiar, iconic shapes. Interestingly, I also don’t remember the music at the time, because I always had it turned down to zero – since I was almost always playing it in a car with my parents, who would probably rather have thrown the Game Boy out the window than listen to a beepy-boopy soundtrack for three hours.
Of course, I know the music now. In fact, it’s one of my go-to songs when I’m singing about cooking, or tidying, or doing the laundry. I even have lyrics for when I play Tetris. They go like this:
It’s time for Tet-ris
It’s time to play Tet-ris
It’s time for some Tet-ris
These days, I am not very good at Tetris. I thought I was, but multiple Puyo Puyo Tetris tournaments with my friends have proved me wrong. By the way, a hot tip for you: Puyo Puyo Tetris is best played with four players, all of whom are playing the fried egg-shaped character, whose name is “O”. The voice lines in PPT are annoying at best, but Eggboy can only react to what’s going on on-screen with a series of PI-PI-PI noises that creates absolute chaos if every single player has them. You can even choose the alternate voice pack to have him be really angry all the time. Seriously, try it.
Back in my Tetris-in-the-car days, I would hone my ability one long drive at a time. I would experiment with A MODE, the standard marathon, and B MODE, the “clear 25 lines as quickly as possible” mode. I would see how long I could hold on as the pieces dropped faster and faster, until my hopeless child hands couldn’t keep up with the required dexterity.
After a while, my developing brain finally clicked with Tetris, hard-wiring in the neuron connections required to, like, get it. Those same neuron connections would later help me with things like packing up an apartment, stacking shelves, and finding the most inconvenient shape to position myself in while sharing a bed. And, after hours of car time, I saw the rocket.
The rocket is a short animation that plays when you hit 100,000 points. Now, I don’t doubt that some people in the comments will say things like “I hit 100,000 points in Tetris by farting vaguely in the direction of the game cartridge,” but let’s remember that I was but a hypothetical future person at the time Tetris came out, and dunking on foetuses is not a good look.
The rocket was a thrill. Tetris is one of those games you can just play, forever, with no end screen, no boss to beat, no story ending. To suddenly be interrupted with an animation of a wee missile being launched into the atmosphere is, at first, distressing – did I break the game? – but that distress soon gives way to triumph, as you realise that the missile is firing for you.
I don’t know where the missile was going. Maybe Tetris wiped out a whole city in celebration of my success in making lines go away. I’m not even sure how the two are related. Hold on, is this like the plot of Ender’s Game, where [spoilers for a 35-year-old book] it turns out that video games were secretly doing genocides while children played them? I sure hope not.
Anyway, I like Tetris. I like it even more now, with all the extra modes, and ways to play that are available. I like playing against my friends in the modern era, because back when Tetris came out on the Game Boy, multiplayer meant needing a Link Cable, multiple fully-charged Game Boys, and friends – none of which I had. It’s a timeless classic that has survived decades, as well as a literal war. But nothing will ever replicate that childlike joy of my first rocket, the first time that I realised I’d reached some kind of peak in my gaming ability. That moment will forever be crystallised in me, as part of what started it all.