Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 148

Tetris: The Games People Play

by Box Brown
Genre notes: videogame history, IP rights, Cold War
256 pages
ISBN: 162672315X (Amazon)

A bit of inside baseball to start us up. Back in 1989 I was a whippersnapper. And I was getting my first tastes of IP law and sticking it to the man. I mean, not me personally, but I read about the stuff vicariously in gaming magazines. (Probably either Electronic Game Player or what it transitioned into, Electronic Gaming Monthly.) I had been a fan of Nintendo and the NES for a while, but the chip shortages at the time (whether real or imagined) made me as a gamer simmer at the idea that Nintendo required a proprietary chip when other chips could do just fine. When Tengen (owned by Atari) started producing their black plastic NES cartridges with their own chip instead of Nintendo's, I saw it as a heroic move (because I was 15 and dumb). It was the little guy (has-been Atari) striking out at the monopolist Nintendo. Yay little guy! And Tengen had this cool new game for the NES called Tetris. But then Nintendo pulled shenanigans and banned Tengen's Tetris and released their own. So as any principled wee teenager whose heart pumped with a fuel born of ignorance and naivete would do, I refused to play Nintendo's rip-off version of the game. I played Tetris at the arcade but never at home. So I largely missed the Tetris craze and never did really find out all what ended up happening for realsies. So Box Brown's Tetris is a nice primer on the whole story.

Brown's reiteration of the history and impact of Tetris is terse and makes a nice introduction to the game and its history and the far-more-complicated-than-I'd-imagined legal issues surrounded its journey to the West. He hits a lot of nostalgia notes for me and probably many readers aged 35 or older. It's an interesting story populated by greedy corporate types, inept bureaucrats, and game-building dreamers. It's even got a somewhat happy ending.

My only quibble was that I wanted more. I wanted it to slow down. I wished book's dimensions could have been larger so we could get more details, more development, and more human interest onto those pages. But I had the same issue with Brown's Andre The Giant biography, so maybe that's just the style he's comfortable with.

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