Tetris has long been one of the most recognizable and popular games in existence. Versions of the game are available for practically every device capable of running it. I doubt the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov, could have ever imagined the success in 1984, when the game was first released in what was then Soviet Russia. Pajitnov also probably never imagined his game would be the subject of debate within the psychology community. Well, it is, even nearly 30 years after its initial release.

Tom Stafford, a Lecturer in Psychology and Cognitive Science for the University of Sheffield in the UK wrote on this subject for the BBC. In his column, Stafford explains why a game like Tetris is so compelling to so many people. He claims it has to do with our “deep-seated psychological drive to tidy up”. He applies this to conventional games as well, referencing pool, a game in which one player breaks a group of balls with a cue stick and the players then “tidy up” the mess by hitting the balls into pockets.

Stafford goes on to explain that Tetris holds our attention by constantly creating new tasks that need completing. If you’ve played Tetris, you’ll know what that is. Once you’ve placed one block, another will appear immediately, and thus is the game. Completing a task in the game, whether that be placing a block perfectly or finishing a row gives a satisfaction that Stafford compares to scratching an itch. In the end though, he claims Tetris takes advantage of the mind by “frustrating us until it is satisfied”.

I would say frustration until satisfaction holds true for many games, especially retro games like Tetris. Then again, I’d say most people are frustrated about most everything until satisfaction is finally achieved, only to be frustrated by something new immediately after. I suppose that means life is just one big game of Tetris.

If you’re interested in learning more, read Stafford’s full column, “The Psychology of Tetris“.

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