The following document contains mildly explicit material and graphic (but quoted!) language--but nothing that a person could not already find in the local scholarly journal.... Well, except for maybe that obscene e-mail.

SHORTLY after I began The Unofficial Gameboy Tetris Home Page, my website enjoyed a brief period of relatively high traffic. Subject- and content-wise, I had little competition, I was still on the ebb of popularity offered by the Yahoo directory, and resultingly I received a reasonable share of guestbook entries, poll forms, and personal e-mails. It was only a matter of time before I would get genuine e-mail from the local tongue-in-cheek Internet pervert. The e-mail came in April 1997, penned by a fellow from Reed College.

To my rather earnest guestbook question "Where do you come from?," he responded glibly: "everytime i come its from.. uh... huh huh.. uhh..." In my comments field he wrote: "A suggestion for picking your favorite tetrad: which would most <bold> stimulate </bold>you while it's <emphasis> lodged </emphasis> <bold> deep </bold>in your <blink> <fontsize=24> HOT ANUS </font> </blink>." Finally, he added that the straight tetrad gets him all "shivery" with its "phallic overtones".

HTML tricks and toilet humor aside, the last comment actually got me thinking. Perhaps Tetris is not simply just a bold and ironic reflection of the Soviet Union's embrace of capitalism, I thought. Perhaps the game itself appears to perpetuate a paternalist social structure through its numerous instances of aggressive sexual imagery!

Let's take a closer look at the object of the game. One could safely claim that an intense focus on "scoring" Tetrises pervades the eponymous Tetris. The creators of Tetris intended to make high scores, not line counts, the main objective. How does one achieve high scores? By achieving the prestigious Tetris. And what is a Tetris, anyway, and what is needed to score a Tetris?

Fig. 1

A Tetris is the simultaneous elimination of four rows of blocks (or four lines). The only tetrad capable of achieving Tetris is a "straight" tetrad, a piece 4 blocks long and 1 block wide (fig. 1). A typical Tetris would entail one such tetrad dropping through a hole (1 block wide) in a large set of neatly arranged blocks, and making final contact with the ground (fig. 2). One only requires a small moment of abstraction to recognize a phallic connection. Instead of suppressing this otherwise embarrassing imagery, the creators foster the sexual allusion by making the screen flash several times, coupled with a "squeal" from the Gameboy's speaker, while the straight piece is making contact. Bizarrely, all four rows, straight tetrad included, are eliminated immediately afterward.

Fig. 2

Evidently Tetris attempts to create a game centered around male penetration and domination. When one receives extra points for how much "force" he or she places on the straight tetrad as it falls to the ground (using the "drop" function, ref. to The Points Table,) one could assert that the more forceful this penetration is, the better. Essentially the Tetris is a form of rape and excessive violence (shown from its immediate results), with the exception that the Gameboy appears orgiastic at the prospect. The high-pitched "squeal" the Gameboy makes at the point of the male climax resembles a female's voiced ecstasy, ironically from being "raped". Therefore the sound represents a masculine ideal-- it becomes an admission of female consent and submission towards this overwhelmingly male-driven aggression.

Fig. 3

The final "victory" screens only accentuate these implications, with phallic rockets of all different shapes and sizes blasting off. It is not shocking that the more Tetrises one makes in the game, the more likely he or she will get a larger rocket (fig. 3, ref. to The Spoilers.). Tetris becomes a test of manhood, with its basis on paternalist power and violence, and the question of whether "size" matters is answered both in the varying lengths of the rockets, and the direct comparison of tetrad shapes. Which tetrad yields the greater potential for scoring the most points? An L tetrad or a straight tetrad? (ref. to fig. 4)

Fig. 4

However, a counterpoint could be made when placing Tetris in a somewhat broader socio-historical context. Remember that the game was produced in the late '80s, an era dominated by Reagan and Bush, where Americans feared not of the Russians (well, at least to the extent as in the 1960's), but rather, of sexually transmitted diseases. Prompted by the rise in knowledge of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, this collective anxiety prevailed in many aspects of popular culture, provoking a reactionary backlash against such hedonist behavior (1987's Fatal Attraction and the Nightmare on Elm Street series (1984-1992) being two such examples-- one does not have to read too deeply into the Elm Street movies to figure out why the junkie or the coquette gets axed by Freddy Kreuger, whereas the lone female virgin with some semblance of moral code can survive through at least three movies.)

One does not have to preclude Tetris from this conservative trend, Epicurean as the game may be. For example, it comes to little surprise to the player that all four of the lines disappear once a Tetris is achieved. Hence the engaging in sexual coupling (described above) has literally destroyed the tetrads, male and female alike. One can sense a cynical, yet strangely appropriate Catch-22 developing in the game. It appears to tell us: "Hey, if these little tetrads engage in intercourse, they're going to disappear and die. However, if these tetrads just sit there, building up to the top, they're all going to die anyway. So you might as well rack up points in the meantime by scoring Tetrises." What a sardonic, yet oddly libertarian, view that Tetris offers!

FOOTNOTE: Shortly after I finished this essay, yet before I published it on the web, I received a strangely similar e-mail, from "Longazz Diznick", responding to my Tetris Survey:

I liked the long piece the best cuz it's so phallic. Sometimes I imagine that the long piece is making sweet, slow love with the block piece, which is somewhat like a vagina. Then when they are both achieving simultaneous orgasm, the screen flashes and they disappear in a mind-numbing tetris.
Oh, and I want to thank nintendo for teaching me the word 'simultaneous'.


Brian Kobashikawa
Last updated: 6 April 1998