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  • Gayle Certeza

Everything I Learned About Life I Learned While Playing Tetris

Well, not everything. But I learned a good number of life lessons from playing Tetris for hundreds of hours.

I was a late bloomer at computer games. We had a Nintendo at home back in the 80s but since there were seven of us in the family, the waiting time to play was too long. And besides, my brother Charles hogged that Super Mario Bros game for years.

I started playing computer games at work. I began working in the early 90s. At that time computers were not yet widely used. I wrote my advertising copy by hand. In college, I typed my papers on a typewriter.

My first work computer was an early model PC that needed to be booted up using a floppy disk. The next one was a slight upgrade that used a smaller, non-flopping floppy disk. Both were glorified typewriters. Then, in the late 90s, copywriters were issued hand-me-down computers that can run multiple programs, not just word processing. These programs include games. The moment I discovered computer games, I was hooked. I played everything on that old computer - Minesweeper, Solitaire, Mahjong, Snood, and of course, Tetris.

I guess Tetris pinged and dinged my brain. I was hypnotized by the game’s colorful shapeshifting tetrominos. The tinny, discordant music fired up my happy neurons. The triumphant swoosh every time I cleared four lines gave me such a rush. I began to play Tetris during my free time. Soon enough, I even snuck in some game time in between meetings, in the lulls during brainstorming, and doing overtime. On days when I had no sabit or deadline, I played for hours. It got so bad that I sometimes saw Tetris shapes dropping down from the skies while I drove home or behind my husband when we talked or while I watched my son sleeping in his crib.

I wish I could say that after some time I realized the error of my ways and stopped playing. Nope, that did not happen. The gaming gene awakened by Tetris mutated through the years.

But I guess all’s not lost. The hundreds of hours spent on Tetris gave me some unique life lessons. Here goes.

Like in Tetris, life will throw a lot of things at you that do not make sense. The goal is to piece these disparate things together and hopefully achieve something. In Tetris, there are only seven shapes. Of course, life’s much tougher, more indiscriminate, and has a much worse sense of timing than any combination of these seven shapes. It throws in an unexpected pregnancy just as you get promoted. Or a troublesome cyst as you approach your 30th birthday. Or a total and global pandemic just when everything seemed hunky-dory.

Everyone who has played Tetris knows that to score well, one has to painstakingly build layers and wait for the I shape or the hero tetromino to appear to complete the Tetris Move, which is clearing four lines in one fell swoop. In life and in computer games, patience is truly a virtue. Sometimes it worked. A lot of times it did not, which leads us to the lesson on risks.

To get to the top of the player list, one has to decidedly take some risks. Instead of going for just one Tetris Move, you build higher and higher and hope that two or three hero tetrominos appear in time to win the game. Sometimes they appear at opportune times and boom — you score big time! Sometimes you are handed a series of Z blocks, everything goes topsy turvy and you ignominiously lose. It’s the same pattern with life. Like from a posh ad exec job you move to a cushy expat job abroad. Good move! But then you stretch your luck to the limit by migrating to another country where your well-curated CV qualifies you to be a server in the neighborhood KFC. Tough luck, game over. You go home and start over. In living and in gaming, you hit the restart button and try again.

Of course, I did not have to play Tetris to learn all these things. There is also a big chance that I just played a big chunk of my life away. And then realizing that I had already spent hundreds of hours on it, I tried to recoup the lost hours by making the whole experience seem life-changing. Yep, it’s very possible. But I am still not giving up Tetris and its happy descendants - Snood, Bejeweled, Bookworm, Temple Run, Candy Crush, Fishdom, Zuma, Bookworm, Plants vs Zombies, and more!

When the pandemic struck and we were all locked down, I noticed our family’s screen time increased. I felt the need to discuss this important matter with my sons. Before talking to them, I took a step back and tried to look back at my kids’ computer game history. Forewarned is forearmed especially when dealing with youngsters.

So I did a major rewind and looked back at when my eldest was a young kid. When did he start playing video games? In my mind’s eye, I saw him at three years old playing a racing game in the arcade. I turned my gaze to the side and I saw myself beside him racing intently. It seemed that I introduced him to arcade games at three. If my memory serves me right, we played in the arcade every weekend until he turned seven. At that age, he started getting so much better and began beating me at racing. So I stopped playing with him.

What about my second son? How did he get started on video games? I checked my memories and looked back. In my mind’s eye, I saw a three or four-year-old Clyde playing a shooting game in an arcade. I panned to the right and I saw myself shooting ferociously at the screen. I saw my husband behind us, with tokens ready for a refill.

I remember looking down on my son and telling him, “Stop shooting at the heart. The zombies won’t die if you shoot them in the heart. Shoot them on the head!”

To which my son wailed, “But mom I am too small, my bullets can only reach the heart.”

Oh well, such is life when your arcade shooting partner is a toddler.

Since I was clearly the first cause of my family’s gaming streak, I decided to go easy on my sons’ screen time. Instead of mandating, I merely suggested they limit their gaming time. Quietly I also gave myself the same advice.

And like my kids, I too, did not follow my advice. I am now on Level 3,807 of Gardenscapes.


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