When Alexey Pajitnov developed Tetris (Russian: Тетрис) in 1985, it seems unlikely that he knew what, exactly, he would unleash into the world. As he excitedly shared it with his comrades in those early days and sullenly bided his time until the day it would belong to him alone, finally and again (see Kent 2001: 377 – 381), the game, almost effortlessly, became bigger than even itself and threatened to forsake him.
Tetris was, after all, a sensation, a craze, a frenzy – one that flares up occasionally, like wildfire, consuming all in its path. It is the ultimate test of skill, endurance and luck under pressure, of one against the inevitable.
In that, Pajitnov wasn’t alone.
My friend’s father nearly burned down the house BECAUSE OF TETRIS.
His entire family of 8 was home at the time, most of them sleeping upstairs. They were always late risers, but anyway it was the weekend. The stove was on, there was hot oil on a burner and the drapes caught on fire. Soon, the entire kitchen was engulfed in flames.
It’s hard to say what transpired that fateful morning. But picture, if you will, Dad going through his morning routine, half awake but perking up to the idea of a hot breakfast. Bacon today! With some eggs, maybe? But just as he clicks on the burner and begins to pull apart the strips of bacon one by one, placing them in beautiful, unbroken lines on the counter, arranging them just so, something begins to pull at the back of his mind, and before it even registers, he is beckoned from his task by the allure of the computer.
Just one quick game…
What happened next is the stuff of lore, of stories passed from person to person, causally thrown about among friends and strangers and landing, from time to time, just a breath shy of the incredible reality of Urban Legend.
The second oldest daughter came downstairs. She saw the drapes smoke then explode into flames, and she saw her father sandwiched between stairs and the rising fire. She tensed. Took a deep, shuddering breath….
…and promptly ran outside, screaming “FIRE!” as she went…
…while the rest of the family remained inside, upstairs.
Dad kept playing the game – oblivious – in a state of such pure geometric ecstasy that breakfast, fire, home, space and time, all were banished to the realm of the inconvenient and unpalatable.
He was on a roll. The roll of his lifetime…
…until another daughter came downstairs, blinked once at the flames and once at her father, and screamed “FIRE!”…
…while still in the house…
…and roused everybody up before they all ran outside, together.
As a family.
Some say Dad was first to hear her screams, but was last to leave the house.
Some say he lingered, hesitating just long enough at the computer screen to gaze one last time upon his high score – his highest score – and to sear it forever into his memory.
For what it’s worth: Second Oldest Daughter had the wherewithal to call the fire department from a neighbour’s place across the street. They managed to put out the blaze in the kitchen before it truly spread to the rest of the house.
For what it’s worth: She swears she believed, at the time, that they would hear her trailing screams, and rather fancies her actions as a kind heroic multitasking, thank you.
For what it’s worth: to this day, Dad swears it was the best game of his life. In that, he has a kind of undeniable proof.
I was friends with the other daughter.
The good one.
Kent, Steven L. (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games: The Story Behind the Craze that Touched Our Lives and Changed Our Worlds. Three Rivers Press: New York.