Tetris came out in 1984 in Russia and was introduced to the world soon after. Since then, tons of gorgeously complex games have been developed that we love, and yet Tetris is still engaging in spite of its relative simplicity. How has something so basic continued to hold our interest over the years?
I know I've spent countless hours organizing those colorful blocks into tidy stacks and odds are that you have, too. In fact, Jeffrey Goldsmith wrote an article back in 1994 for Wired discussing whether or not Tetris creator, Alexey Pajitnov, had created a pharmatronic (that's a video game with the strength of an addictive drug). That's quite a claim.
Pajitnov had a different take: "Many people say that that, but my feeling is it's more like music. Playing games is a very specific rhythmic and visual pleasure. For me, Tetris is some song which you sing and sing inside yourself and can't stop." That's a double whammy since the Tetris anthem, Russian folk song "Korobeiniki," is similarly hypnotic.
Now, writing a column for the BBC, Tom Stafford, a lecturer in Psychology and Science at the University of Sheffield in the U.K., is reviving the discussion and considering why Tetris haunts us so. The Zeigarnik Effect, named after Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, describes a phenomenon where unfinished tasks stick in our memories right up until they are completed and then, immediately disappear. This could explain why Tetris is so compelling: It constantly giving us a new job and the moment we finish one, a new one emerges to be accomplished. The resulting satisfaction is similar to the feeling of scratching an itch (over and over again).
It's kind of like the ultimate immediate gratification — if you have a pile of work that's going to take a lot of steps to complete, Tetris can provide a much needed respite. Hey, it's even being used to help people suffering from PTSD.
Way to go, Tetris! You can read Stafford's full column here.