A graphic narrative that clarifies a complicated series of international negotiations, making the story interesting even for those who don’t care about video games.
An ambitious and accomplished illustrator, Brown (Andre the Giant, 2014, etc.) streamlines a story that encompasses Japanese technology, Russian software development, American licensing, international business practices, and a worldwide obsession sparked by a simple game. He also provides context that traces the creative impulse for designing games back to cave paintings and suggests that, from earliest recorded history, “the player isn’t just having an imaginative experience. They’re practicing analytical and strategic skills.” But most of all, “fun is the motivator for all of this!” Brown’s book is much more fun than most accounts of business deals, as the narrative shows how a puzzle gaming craze began in Russia, a country where copyrights and royalties were foreign concepts and where early Tetris passed from hand to hand. “The idea of selling the game as a product never crossed his mind,” writes the author of Soviet software developer Alexey Pajitnov. Though the game lacked the rich visuals or propensity for violence that would mark other video game sensations, it became globally contagious. “People played so much and so often that they experienced visual hallucinations,” writes the author. “People would continue to see Tetris pieces falling after they’d stopped playing. It became known as the Tetris Effect.” It also became a gold mine and sparked plenty of disputes as foreign rights and emerging technologies led to contentious legal battles. When the “Tetris merry-go-round” stopped, Pajitnov was initially left with “no compensation. Any money that might have gone to him went to the Soviet government….They couldn’t even pay him a bonus.” Ultimately, it ended well for Tetris’ creator, who moved to the United States, where “he was pursuing his true passion in life” and was belatedly rewarded for his efforts.
A clean and engaging visual style supports a story that sustains narrative drive, humanizing the characters and making readers care about every development.