I try not to call things “mind-blowing” too often, at least now that I’m no longer a college student who smokes weed every day. But I think “The Tetris Effect” just blew my mind. A third of it is basically a summary of the Fred Savage movie/feature-length Nintendo commercial The Wizard, a third of it is excerpted verbatim from books about hedge-funder/financial crisis catalyst Michael Burry, and a third is a memoir about the author’s life-long relationship with video games. Wolfe threads all these thirds together brilliantly, illuminating each strand in unexpected and eye-opening ways. “The Tetris Effect” certainly doesn’t claim that video games caused the recent economic collapse, but it does underline the similarities between the two, especially when you factor in Asperger’s Syndrome and God mode-cheat codes. A long read (at least by internet standards) but absolutely worth it.
1. Computer Space
When I was in second grade, my teacher sent a note home to my mother. I had recently been skipped ahead from first grade to second grade and the new teacher was worried about me. I was keeping up with the class fine, I was having no problem with that, she said in the note, but she was worried about me because all I would ever write or talk or draw about in class or in my journal or for homework were video games. They seemed to be the only thing that I thought about. She wondered whether maybe there might be something wrong with me for me to be so obsessed with games.
In the opening scene of the film, a boy is wandering along an empty stretch of highway, the frame filled with waves of desert heat. His face is blank and he carries a metal lunchbox in one hand, swinging it back and forth as he goes. He is no older than six or seven. The batteries of the sun are slowly dying; heat waves play with the orange light, bending it into shimmers. As the last credits fade into the skyline, a policeman in an SUV pulls up alongside the boy and asks him where he thinks he’s going. “California,” the boy says. His face is blank, his eyes ciphers. The policeman keeps talking to him, but all the boy will say in response is “California.”
“When [he] was born, in 1971, his steel blue eyes seemed crossed in an unusual way, drawing immediate concern from his parents. A local pediatrician…dismissed [their] worries, ensuring them that the boy had a lazy left eye that would improve with time…. Finally, an ophthalmologist diagnosed retinoblastoma, a dangerous cancer that strikes one in twenty thousand children…. Doctors removed the boy’s left eye, to prevent the tumor from spreading…. Before he turned two, [he] was fitted with a glass prosthesis. It was an approximation of his natural eye, the best they could produce at the time, but it had no movement, making it quite obvious.”