Box Brown’s biography of the computer game Tetris is a fascinating story, beautifully told. The first few pages rattle on about how games are the ancestors of cave paintings and as equally important to human development, but stick with it, because once we get past this slightly unnecessary preaching-to-the-converted, we can get down to Tetris‘s fascinating story, from its creation to the world-dominating, billion-dollar product it became.
Tetris is famous for its Russian roots, which are finely detailed here. The game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov, made up and programmed the game in his spare time while working on artificial intelligence software for the government. As was the way in the non-commercialised USSR at the time, the game started as shareware, though the government soon stepped in and took over the rights to sell it abroad.
A number of other money-men from around the world join the story, including businessmen from Nintendo, Atari and other early players in the games industry – particularly interesting is the involvement of British media mogul Robert Maxwell, latterly most famous for the mystery surrounding his death at sea, and the mess that was left of his company finances, including Mirrorsoft, the games arm, that had its fingers in the Tetris pie.
You might not think that a comic about business deals could be that interesting but this is a surprisingly compelling reading, and provides a fascinating insight into a developing industry that would go on to make millions of dollars for almost everyone, except Tetris‘s creator Pajitnov.