The Philosophy of Falling Blocks


For the first time in several months, I played Tetris. I’ve been an on-again, off-again fan of the game since Alexey Pajitnov‘s brainchild first hit the original Nintendo Game Boy back in 1989, but I hadn’t picked up the game in some time because I spend most of my spare time playing cellphone games, and EA’s recent Android and iPhone offerings in the Tetris franchise — while still exceptional puzzle games — have nevertheless fallen prey to EA’s typical shenanigans. Rather than begrudgingly hand more of my hard-earned money to EA for the privilege of reliving my misspent puzzle-gaming youth, I tried out one of the plentiful Tetris knock-offs in the Microsoft app store on my PC.

As I relaxed and let the tetrominoes fall where they may, I had the following epiphanies, and I thought I would share them here.1

  • Tetris isn’t merely a test of spatial reasoning and problem-solving skills. With the added factor of time, Tetris becomes a test of a player’s crisis management skills that far outweighs its value as a test of anything else.
    • Unsurprisingly, this above all else clearly illustrates Tetris’s Russian origins. Why did Communism fail in Russia? Her leaders never truly developed their crisis management skills beyond what was required to keep their government in control of their populace on a day-to-day basis.
  • The decision to build a tower of tetrominoes in the game is an easy one to make, but it is almost always fatal. You get a piece that doesn’t fit where you planned, you need to put it somewhere. You get another of the same piece, you think, “I’ll put it on top of that first one,” and unless you break that line of reasoning the next time you get the same piece, then it’s already too late for you. Your tower will grow. Your tetrominoes will fall faster and faster. You will lose control. Tower-building almost inevitably leads to a player’s downfall.
    • The moral? Ignore the drive to establish an empire and remain on the move instead. Mobility is flexibility. 
    • Why do people build towers (like skyscrapers) in real life? Typically to conserve space — the same reason people build towers of same or similar pieces in Tetris. Unfortunately, building a tower in Tetris is like building a tower in an unstable seismic zone: the smallest thing — an unplanned block falling at just the wrong time or at far too quick a speed — will obliterate your entire control strategy and cost you the game.
    • The only time tower-building works in Tetris is if a player builds a tower on either the extreme left or extreme right edges of the screen; even then, it’s only a temporary solution to an ongoing problem, and circumstances can rapidly defeat such a strategy. Stability for typically unstable structures or schema is only found on the fringes of existence.
  • The best-laid plans of the average Tetris player are always ruined by that one stupid block you didn’t plan for.
  • Ultimately, it’s not how many points you score, how many levels you attain, or even how many lines you make. In Tetris, as it is with life, it’s all about how long you can stay in the game.
  • Take care of any and all problems quickly and efficiently. Never let too much pile up on you all at once.
  • Chaos theory lies at the heart of Tetris: “Here are some random, irregular-shaped blocks. You have five minutes to make a perfectly straight line from them. Now, do the same thing again with far more random blocks and far less time.”
  • If Tetris has taught me anything, it’s that any piece can fit anywhere if you’re committed enough to find a place for it, and that the best things in life can sometimes be built atop the seemingly most unstable foundations.
  • As with life, we begin the game with all the time we think we’ll ever need. We players progress through levels as we living beings progress through years, though, and time begins to pass more rapidly as we speed toward the game’s end.
  • Sometimes, God speaks to us through the strangest of medium. I could read the same passage in Scripture again and again, yet receive only the most straightforward interpretation of that passage, attaining little spiritual sustenance from it than I’ve already received before or finding fewer important philosophical truths hidden within its letters than I’ve found in readings past. Yet, I could play five minutes’ of Tetris and find the wisdom of Solomon and the secret meaning of the omniverse in just a few falling blocks.
  • At game’s end, it doesn’t matter what pieces you got or where you put them. After the lines are drawn, all things disappear. Everything is transitory. Every game eventually ends.



This post was originally written on 31 March 2019.


  1. HA! I bet you thought you were getting a review of the game! You fool!

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