Tetris has attained Monopoly-esque status as a standard bearer within the videogame canon, universally known by grandmas and disrespecting, Gameboy-ignorant youths alike. But the history of how the game escaped a Russian psychology-focused computing center via questionable legal channels and landed in a three-way corporate rights battle is anything but standard. The “illegal” black Tengen Tetris cartridges from that legal conflict between Atari, Nintendo and Mirrorsoft were a puzzle to nine-year-old Box Brown, who resolved to map their unconventional history in an unconventional format—a narrative, graphic novel charting how Tetris formed in the mind of creator Alexey Pajitnov and stormed American minds for decades.
The result is his 2016 book Tetris: The Games People Play. It captures a concise and beautiful episode of the ongoing history of how games have shaped our culture for centuries, in our moments of triumph and our darkest hours.
Tone Madison’s Mark Riechers met up with Box during his visit to Madison this October for the 2016 Wisconsin Book Festival and Wisconsin Science Festival’s Science Arcade. They spoke about the changing notion of videogames as cultural artifacts and why illustrating a boardroom showdown can still be exciting.