Saturday, November 5, 2016

Tetris: The Games People Play

Tetris is one of the most addictive video games ever, but who kho knew that the backstory behind  it was so interesting, complex, and convoluted? And who knew it would also involve a pretty dark, grisly murder/suicide? Tetris: The Games People Play covers A LOT of ground. It gets into the origin of games, which harkens back to prehistoric times; a couple of Russian engineers designing a game; the history of the Nintendo company, and a lot of international businesses and legal dealing.

One of the things I enjoyed was how much the book captured the technological context of each time. Seeing the landscape of the 1980s in Russia, no less, lends insight into what computers were like and how programming was practiced. Certainly, I appreciate seeing how things used to be captured, especially in a time where a lot of the technology we use is so polished and removed from its source codes, etc. The simple, boxy, and somewhat clunky artwork in the book, along with the monochromatic coloring also contribute to this retro feel.
I also enjoyed reading about all of the business and legal drama that went on regarding Tetris. There were multiple large corporate interests involved, and lots of arcane legal challenges, as the game was state-owned by a communist country who employed a special operative to negotiate rights and pay rates for an increasing amount of platforms. I feel it would have been easy to get lost in the procedures, but the storytelling here is very clear and straight forward.
Not only was this book fascinating in its content, it was also compelling in its delivery. Its creator Box Brown, the man behind one of my favorite graphic novels of 2014, Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, makes a tale that is both a journalistic documentary and a suspenseful series of twists and turns. Brown has a bevy of comics credits and he also publishes a variety of others' works under the RetroFit imprint. He speaks in a very in-depth way about the Tetris book and his work on it in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book comment positively on the interesting plot and situations, though one of them was more critical of the art than others. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, concluding, "A clean and engaging visual style supports a story that sustains narrative drive, humanizing the characters and making readers care about every development." The School Library Journal also gave it a starred review, and Chantalle Uzan offered the verdict, "This quick, thoughtful read will find an audience among teens interested in pursuing a career in video game design or those who wonder just how video games like Tetris have spread like wildfire." Publishers Weekly commented positively that "Brown’s drawings are simple but highly effective, using a black, white, and yellow color scheme to evoke the limited or nonexistent graphics available to Alexey." James Smart offered a contrary opinion, writing that "the artwork is forgettable and the characters are flat, leaving the book feeling – in contrast to the game – all too putdownable."

Tetris: The Games People Play was published by First Second, and they have a preview and lots of information available here.

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