I didn’t expect to get my weekly philosophy lesson from a game of Tetris…let nobody tell you that 2018 can’t also bring with it good surprises.
Tetris Effect’s development started in 2012. Yes, it’s a Tetris game, centered around clearing lines made from falling blocks called tetrominoes. But it’s also something else, an experience blending audio and visuals together to create something inherently immersive. If you’ve played Tetris in the past, you’ve probably already felt the game’s immersion, seen Tetris pieces falling around in your mind’s eye, or maybe described moving furniture in the house or loading groceries in the car as “playing Tetris.”
Finding connection in Tetris Effect
Those experiences conveyed the game’s namesake: the “Tetris effect” is what happens when our brain gets so caught up on an experience or idea that we see it everywhere we go. This game flips the idea on its head: instead of seeing Tetris all over our worlds, we see our worlds all over in Tetris. (Mind you, you’ll still probably see Tetris blocks at your grocery store after playing anyway.) The game’s 30+ stages vary in theme and musical setting, from underwater landscapes with stingrays and dolphins made of iridescent light to jazz-inspired city streets, volcanoes to starry, ethereal expanses. Each stage’s music changes with the gameplay: rotation and movement of tetrominos trigger correlated sound effects. The result is a unique sonic composition that’s both compelling to play and also to watch. This was all I expected from the game, and it delivered that in overwhelmingly good ways. Then I noticed that it infused a message inside the game.
The game’s reveal trailer included a song called “Connected,” the track used for the game’s first level. Last Sunday, when I played the demo before the full game’s release, I remember being struck by the song’s chorus in particular:
“I’m yours forever, there is no end in sight for us
nothing could measure the kind of strength inside our hearts
it’s all connected, we’re all together in this world
don’t you forget it, we’re all connected in this”
Maybe it’s just a symptom of 2018, but the idea of the world all being connected feels…foreign, alien. Searching for a source of unity in the midst of the US mid-term election seemed like trying to find water in the most arid of deserts, with the only real-world mention of humanity as a singularly-bound group coming at the end of warnings about climate change.
I thought this was a one-off scenario, an upbeat, happy song to get people in the mood for Tetris (whatever that means). Then I heard the lyrics from the next stage:
“Close your eyes so you can see my vision, unite the souls so there’s no division
Lookin’ to the future, we see all seasons, aimin’ for the top, but what’s the reason
Hands to the sky, realize we’re free, we become the legends we were meant to be
Now open your eyes, and you will see; I can lead you home, just follow me”
What’s the reason? It’s not at the top of the ladder.
As a Twitch streamer, “content creator,” “entrepreneur,” and any number of other “creative” taglines looking for views, viewers, money, and the stability that many would have you believe comes with those things, that bolded line almost stopped me in my tracks. It’s something I’ve talked about many times with friends: WHY are people making what they make? What’s their drive in creating the communities, the videos, the emotes? Are we all just players in a game with a gigantic leaderboard, reaching for some mysterious prize that comes with be the #1 _________? This game veers gently away from all of that.
These throughlines of love and unity aren’t just window dressing in Tetris Effect: they’re the game’s heart. Though most of the game’s tracks are instrumental, each of the vocal tracks ties to some sort of positivity, elevation, and potential. The game’s campaign, called Journey Mode, doesn’t just go through a sequence of increasingly-difficult levels: challenge ebbs and flows, and each stage is made of three segments. Some stages are calm while others are blistering and intense…just like life itself. The gameplay mechanics practice what the visuals and music preaches…perhaps that’s why the lyrics to “Connected” feel like more than just some anime theme song.
It’s 2018, and we’re on edge for good reason. Any number of threats seem to surround us on all sides, and the news and social media constantly berates us with new situations to keep us on guard. The messages are dire, and they compel us to keep clicking, keep scrolling, searching for…something.
Tetris Effect tells us to stop scrolling, stop searching. The pieces for our puzzle will come to us, and we need to focus on arranging our boards, tackling challenges as they arise. We don’t need to climb over each other to battle for the top spot; we’re all connected in this world. Nothing could measure the strength inside our hearts.
We can do this together.
“A Note from Josh” is a segment of Intelligame Recap, our weekly newsletter with Intelligame updates, upcoming events, and a special bonus link from outside the world of IG. Check out this week’s full newsletter, and subscribe to get future Recaps direct to your inbox.