Tetris & Psychology: Our Addictive Attachment to the Classic Game

In grade school, the teachers in the computer lab had a standing ban on most flash games/gaming websites—assumedly because they have no educational value. Tetris was one of the few exceptions to this rule. But where within it lays education value? If you’re in the business of packing cars for family trips, it can be helpful, but besides that, what makes this came so universally accepted and appreciated? BBC Future investigated and came to some interesting conclusions.

  1. Tetris is, remarkably, a light pharmatronic. That is, it can have the effects of a drug. There is a widely reported phenomenon called the Tetris Effect, wherein people who have played Tetris for a prolonged period of time begin to think about playing Tetris within real life. They see boxes and buildings and all sorts of other materials, and they imagine how they could fit together. Or, they dream about Tetris shapes. There are, of course, show that Tetris can be both habit forming and hypnagogic. Additionally, BBC Future cites a study that it can help with the therapy for victims of PTSD. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetris_effect
  2. Tetris relates to our brains desire to complete tasks, known as the Zeigarnik Effect. The phenomenon was first found in waiters and waitresses abilities to recall with extreme accuracy a long list of dinner orders up until the point the orders were passed on. Upon this, the waiters couldn’t manage to remember what they had just held together. So generally, incomplete tasks stick out in our mind. Tetris, with its never-ending stream of blocks to organize, is one such task.
  3. Thirdly, Tetris allows us to reach a level of satisfaction while simultaneously frustrating us with the Zeigarnik Effect. We’re rewarded firstly by completing an entire row and seeing it dissolve, partially completing our desire to complete the puzzle. But we’re also rewarded by a constant ability to experiment with the shapes.

    Tetris is a simple visual world, and solutions can immediately be tried out using the five control keys (move left, move right, rotate left, rotate right and drop – of course). Studies of Tetris players show that people prefer to rotate the blocks to see if they’ll fit, rather than think about if they’ll fit. Either method would work, of course, but Tetris creates a world where action is quicker than thought – and this is part of the key to why it is so absorbing. Unlike so much of life, Tetris makes an immediate connection between our insight into how we might solve a problem and the means to begin acting on it.

Altogether Tetris makes for an exciting mental situation, however simplistic its design. In that, then, lies its timelessness. Not to mention the fantastic Tetris song, the power of which is respect by all, even Gucci Mane and 2Chainz.

Play Tetris.


BBC Future

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