Tetris. It’s one of the most famous video games of all time. It’s a game that is so simple in premise but can be absolutely addictive if you let it. I’m pretty sure I still have my old Game Boy copy of Tetris sitting around in my personal effects somewhere in my house. Now, I was never that big on Tetris growing up, but even I can appreciate how important this game is in video game history. It’s one of those video games that everyone knows about even when they don’t, and with more video games becoming movies, now seems like the perfect time to do so. The question is, how do you make a movie out of something like Tetris?
Apple TV+ has the answer: you don’t. Instead, you make a movie about the crazy, mostly true story of how Tetris got out of the Soviet Union and became one of the biggest games of all time. This is that movie, and it is one of the best I’ve seen in 2023.
The Game That Dreams Are Made of
The year is 1988, when video games are still in their infancy and companies are struggling to form the food chain. That’s when Tetris starts coming out of the Soviet Union. A Dutch-American game designer named Henk Rogers sees it, sees how much fun it is, and realizes that he has to be the one who shares this with the world. He makes a deal with Nintendo to get the liscencing agreements to the game, and they will package it with the then-upcoming Game Boy. The problem, it turns out, is that the person he originally thought had the rights to license it overseas didn’t have the rights. So Rogers and these other guys all head to Moscow and start trying to negotiate with the Soviets to get the rights to license Tetris overseas. Meanwhile, the game’s creator gets torn between his desire to provide a better life for his family and trying to keep them safe from the KGB’s wrath.
I looked most of the stuff that happens in Tetris up, and, besides the standard dramitization from Hollywood, the whole premise is true. There was this whole insane legal battle between Rogers, this corrupt CEO named Robert Maxwell, and this other corrupt software salesperson over who got to sell Tetris overseas. And from what the movie says, the Soviet government was playing all of them off each other in the hopes of raking in the best deal and making tons of money. Money is the main driving factor of the conflict to all of this.
‘Tetris’ is One of the Best Gaming Movies Ever
By 1988, plenty of people knew that the Soviet Union didn’t have long for this world, including the Soviet government. One of the film’s fictional characters, this KGB agent, admits to Maxwell’s son that the Soviet Union’s dying and that everyone’s trying to loot what they can before that happens. It’s this whole confusing mess that I could barely wrap my head around even as it was being explained in front of me. All I knew is that it was nuts, addictive to watch, and one of those things in life where truth is crazier than fiction.
At the heart of it all, though, underneath the intrigue and the epsionage and underhanded dealing, Tetris is a movie that serves as a love letter to a video game and the lengths people went to in order to make it a success. I especially liked the relationship between Henk Rogers and game creator Alexey Pajitnov. The friendship they forge is both historically accurate, with the real Henk and Alexey becoming friends and business partners after the Soviet Union fell, and touching. They’re the only ones in the room who don’t just see Tetris as a way to make money. They see it as something fun that everyone in the world should get to enjoy. It’s a testament to the power that games can have to bring people of different backgrounds together through a shared love for them. That’s something that is worth fighting for, and I love how Apple captures this.
In short, if you’re a gamer, or just have fond memories of playing it growing up, go watch Tetris. It’s funny, dramatic, and far more entertaining than you’d think.