Jason Pook's Games Design Blog

Tetris- Game Theory

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Tetris is a puzzle game originally designed and programmed in Russia by Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, since then this has been a hugely successful game franchise spanning across most platforms.

To apply Game Theory I had to play Tetris and then make an analysis on its features and how you can apply game theory to the game.



Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s theory of flow applies to tetris as the seemingly endless puzzle game requires the player to deal with each incoming block, the blocks vary in shape on a random basis and the goal on the game is to create as many ‘lines’ as possible to gain score and ultimately last longer. As the game progresses the longer you last the harder it gets, the blocks come down with more speed in each level requiring quick reactions and in some cases sacrifices to leave a gap in your lines in order to make a new line. Due to this focus at all times is a must to achieve anything in this game.


Personally I can see Tetris being a game version of the flow diagram, in Csikzentmihalyi’s flow diagram (see above) you are determined in different states whilst playing a game dependent on challenge and skill level. With Tetris it starts really easy and slow so you get a grip of the game (relaxed) then as you progress through the challenge level increases slowly so you will gradually go through control into flow where you are so focused on the game whilst glancing at upcoming pieces to plot your next move. Then as it goes further it will ultimately get too hard for any player and create anxiety to then make the player fail and lose.

Categories of Play:

For Roger Caillois’s ‘categories of play’ Tetris would fall under primarily ‘Agon’. Agon is games of competition, with Tetris you are playing to achieve as many lines as possible which will make you play for longer and have a high score. The replayability to make this a competition with others includes leader boards and also trying to beat your own personal best. An example of Agon would be when we was asked to play free online PC games to later analyse through game theory and in teams of 4 we was to also play against each other for score then rank through score before moving onto the next game.

It also falls under ‘Alea’. Alea is games of chance, with Tetris the randomly generated shapes that the game presents you with is that chance, you could be waiting for a long time stacking up shapes on all sides for that long line piece so you get a combo of lines but it may never come and you ultimately reach the top with shapes and lose. So chance has a part to play with piece randomisation being kind or not to how you set up your blocks.

Bartle Test:

To link this into Bartle’s test which defines you as a player through a series of questions this type of game being puzzle based and score based would appeal more to an ‘achiever’ style of player rather than the others due to the achiever always wants to win, or reach that high score before anyone else so with Tetris and the points systems through collecting lines and survival of rounds will appeal much more to an achiever.

To give a personal experience of Tetris to apply to game theory, I have played Tetris nearly all my life from my Game Boy to on my phone to on my PC at school. Tetris has always been a game that has kept me engaged, switched on and immersed. No matter how well I do on my last play I always want to play again to beat my best score, this game has an addictive nature about it due to the complexity of the puzzles and feeling that “what if” whilst playing, what if that square shape had come down or that line piece I may have beaten my high score due to the line combo score it would have given me. That feature of the game will always have me coming back for more to try out achieve myself.

Tests from Dr Richard Haier suggest that by playing Tetris you are increasing your brain’s efficiency and have a thicker cortex. This research was determined by monitoring brain activity whilst subjects played the game, the images showed improved brain results. Here is the document.

Here is a humorous video titled “The Tetris God” by CollegeHumor claiming that there is an evil tetris god that calls out the shapes into the game to purposely torture players waiting for that one piece to get a high score of lines and progress:

Author: Jason Pook 3D

Current student at Hull School of Art and Design studying Games Design.

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