Tetris turns 30: The psychological insights that explain our love for this classic puzzler

 

Tetris is 30 years old on Friday. The Soviet puzzle game was designed by Alexey Pajitnov, and shot to international recognition when it was released with the Nintendo Game Boy in 1989.

Since then it has been converted to nearly every gaming platform in existence, downloaded hundreds of millions of times for phones in the last decade, and played to death by generations of puzzle freaks.

Why is Tetris so compelling? Here's my top five reasons:

1. Instant gratification

Tetris demonstrates how immersion in a game isn't due to realism, or high-resolution graphics or surround sound. Immersion comes from the ease with which you can interact with the game world. In Tetris you press the button and get an instant response. No waiting to see what the consequences are, no delay on the reward of dropping your block to complete line. Instant gratification - "Bing!"

Research on Tetris players show that the responsiveness of the game is so good that people prefer to rotate the blocks in the game rather than mentally rotate them to figure out how they fit. The game works because it is easier to think with it than to think about it.

2. Brains love patterns

Our minds exist to find and complete patterns. This is why you see a face in clouds or a man in the moon, and why you know the third word to complete "Bacon and ....". Tetris is a simple pattern world to which you can apply your pattern completing mind. Every successful row is the result of the application of lots of tiny satisfying insights.

Our minds are so ready to be bent to the task of solving patterns that the game has become known for the "The Tetris effect", where images of falling blocks haunt players as they close their eyes and try to sleep after a long session.

3. Unfinished business

Psychologists talk about a phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect, which is that our minds hang on to memories for unfinished tasks, whilst dropping memories to do with completed ones. This is something the writers of soap operas have always taken advantage of with cliff-hanger endings to each episode. The Zeigarnik effect illustrates the power of uncompleted tasks to dominate our thoughts, and Tetris takes full advantage of this - every action we take changes the terrain of the game, so that as new blocks fall from the sky, the game is one perpetually renewing uncompleted task.

4. That music

Based around a 19th- century Russian folk tune called "Korobeiniki". Here's a link in case you forgot what it sounded like.

5. Becoming a master

We like getting better at things. Even though Tetris is completely pointless, you do get better at it was practice, something which is inherently satisfying. My research uses games to try and understand wider lessons about how we can best practice to improve our skills.

So despite its simplicity, Tetris has some important lessons for psychologists. It dramatically shows how the mind is organised around patterns and goals, and can help us understand important aspects of how we learn skills.

Happy Birthday Tetris!

Tom Stafford is a Lecturer in Psychology and Cognitive Science at the University of Sheffield

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer / Front-End Designer - City of London

    £27000 - £33000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End Devel...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Customer Support Technician

    £15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Waterlooville based softwa...

    Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Executive - OTE £30,000

    £16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Salary: £16k - £20k Dependant o...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot