In a moment of weakness, I installed a Tetris clone called Quinn onto my Mac. Although it’s very nicely put together, there’s nothing particularly special about Quinn. That’s ok, though, because if there was ever a game that didn’t need to be messed with, it’s Tetris: it often seems kind of silly to declare one title the Best Game Ever, but if you ask me, I’ll choose Tetris every time.

Although the game’s roots go back to 1985 or so, most people seem to have gotten to know Tetris through the insanely popular GameBoy version. My own early memories of the game revolve around the Atari arcade version I blew many hours on at the Chuck E. Cheese near my high school (I had a friend who worked there and kept me supplied with tokens). I also fondly remember the lovely black-and-white Mac port by Spectrum Holobyte, which I still have lying around on one of the old PowerBooks in my closet.

One of the interesting things about playing a game that has continued to engage me on and off for nearly fifteen years (as opposed to most old games, which I mostly only play for nostalgia’s sake) is that over time, my strategies have changed. When I was young and unruly and kind of dumb, I played greedy, simply dropping pieces in the first reasonable spot, with no purpose or plan. I was just going along for the ride, hoping to play long enough to justify the quarter I spent.

After a while, the rational, modernist, anal-retentive side of me — the computer-scientist, software-engineering side — kicked in, and I became determined to score only tetrises, no matter what the cost; even if it cost me the game, I refused to put anything but an ‘I’ piece in the last column, and I refused to put an ‘I’ piece anywhere but in the last column. Anything less than this was an aberration, a hack, a failure to maintain the orderliness of the playing field. Needless to say, it was during this time that I began to avoid Tetris variants that started out with junk on the screen.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve mellowed a bit, and learned that a dogmatic, all-or-nothing approach isn’t always the most effective one. I’ve learned to plan ahead and compromise a bit, occasionally even making moves that seem like a step backwards, in the interest of achieving my long-term goals. If I can get tetrises, that’s great; if I can’t, I don’t let it bother me. If I don’t get the pieces I need, or if a couple of gaps creep into the board, I don’t get angry and slam on the “Quit” key, like I might have in the past. Now, I take the pieces I’m given and try to make everything fit as well as I can, thinking ahead so that the moves I make now don’t cut off future possibilities.

As I’ve begun to play this way, I’ve come to realize that when I lose at Tetris, it isn’t because the game deals me crappy pieces that are “impossible” to work with. The flow of the game is really up to me, dependent on the paths I choose to open and close, the structures I build up around myself. Now that I understand this, the game is a lot easier to play, and even more enjoyable.