Evolution of the tetromino-stacking game: An historical design study of Tertris

By Will Jordan.

I’ll need to get his notes and references for the Digital Game Canon, amazingly in depth – 20 minutes wasn’t enough by far.


The title is a little different – removed authology – not going to talk about the Russian philosophical angles.

Is this Tetris? Showed a lot of representations; a version of the game, real-life tetris with crates, tetris with busicuits, the original Nintendo NES Tetris box, official Tetris 3D sliding puzzle game, official Tetris scatch cards…

How do we understand what Tetris is? We have people describing removing narrative elements as making game studies “Tetris Studies”.

There is no clear definition – no fixed, essential “Tetris-ness” or clear-cut definition possible. Related to the ontology issue. Question might be Rather than asking “what” tetris is, you ask “how” you can add to the cultural knowledge of it.

You get to Tetris as…a broad amount of Tetris titles, unofficial ones, probably unpublished ones, mostly but not only code – like the board versions, lottery ticket, human Tetris…

Tetris as protected object of inteellectal proerpty – trademark, copyright, and transferred from Russia and United States – as well as licence agreements.

Tetris as also a powerful and successful commercial enttiy – the Tetris Company. Big deal.

Tetris as also popular culture – Tetrominoes – the folk song Korobeiniki – public domain song, and stacking the blocks is “Tetris”.

The goal is to have a sense of the game’s diversity and historical evolution that has been overlooked by most passing mentions of Tetris.

Tetris was invented week of June 6th 1984, python, Alexey Pazhitnov, PDP bclone. Polyominoes had 5 blocks, down to 4 for the computer systems. Add conversion to DOS – tried to sell, didn’t work – for many possible reasons, including Russia didn’t have commercial IP, or any market. Distributed it for free. Can say it is popular because of the simplicity of the design and platform support.

Licences to the USA. The production out of that had the game story attached to the opening screen, made very Russian. Ported to consoles – mass success. The main thing missed out is the trademark, copyright and patents that could be controlled and distributed. Tetris empire by 1996.

Two distinctly separate styles of Tetris play – normal and casual play and competitive – and where you fight against each other, are distinctly different.

That has gone on further for the IP side. Game as trademarks as a gneral entity can be considered generic since it is represented as a generic instance of the game. If the primary way of using the trademark is to describe the game, is it really a trademark any more? Tetris is suing Blockles – where they are going to court. Be interesting to see where it goes. These types of controversies can have quite a large impact on the future of Tetris.


Q – Briefly, why did the designers call it Tetris?

Term invented by Alexey – Tennis and Tetra combination perhaps.

Q – Choice of the colours are interesting – any pattern.

From a simple standpoint is being distinguished. There are official standards of Tetris for set colours for official implementations.

Q – Are there any ways to just protect the rules of a game like Tetris in IP law?

Mainly be covered by Patent law. If one was registered anyway it would have existed 5 years ago.

Q – Perhaps since you have described the things that are Tetris you have escaped the question of what is Tetris?

One way out of that is Trade law. Public perceptions on it is also part of it, in law. That is a very specific view point.

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