Friday, September 30, 2005

You Can Never Escape the S's and Z's
(another scientific theory)


Now that we've established that I am a leading sociological theorist, I am prepared to offer my next set of conclusions to the world. This theory, vastly different in tone and implication from my last, contends that the popular video game "Tetris" is, in fact, a perfect metaphor for the nature and experience of life itself.

The controlling idea of this metaphor is simple. Life, like Tetris, is a constant and steady manifestation of catalysts and challenges which must be deftly manipulated and fit together before they reach a state of entropy, at which point the game - or life - would no longer be tenable. As one moves through their life, things inevitably happen to them, and as the sum of the remainders of these causalities increase, and the things start happening at an accelerated rate despite your fatigue from having played the game so long, a challenge is guaranteed to every player, which is why Tetris might be the only game ever to fully capture the complexity and compound nature of human existence.

The pieces we are given, like the life situations we are dealt, are completely random and unpredictable. While we can move and rotate these pieces, they are finite and unchanging. The only way we can rid ourselves of the burden of our problems is by fitting them together to create a state of harmony that renders all previous problems obsolete. We must focus on the present while maintaining an awareness of the past and an overall plan for the future.

We have no choice to but to play the game to the best of our abilities, no matter what we are dealt. Some of the pieces we're given, like the rectangular I-shaped ones we all so desperately want, are easier to work with than others, such as the dreaded S and Z-shaped pieces. Just like nobody likes paying their taxes, nobody likes dealing with the S's and Z's in Tetris, but we must embrace these challenges as an inescapable part of reality.

Life, for all of us, essentially begins with a blank screen, with an infinite amount of possibility awaiting us. Granted, some of us, through no fault of our own, are born into situations more difficult than others, like having impoverished or afflicted parents. In Tetris, this would be represented by starting at an advanced level, forced to adapt to the increased velocity at which the pieces are falling, but with no point advantage, thereby putting one at a disadvantage against another player, who also starts with no points, but at a level of easier speed. In this situation, success is still possible, though significantly more difficult to achieve, kind of like every 'rags to riches' story you've ever heard (though Tetris doesn't seem to account for anomalies like Anna Nicole Smith, who somehow used her vagina to warp to a level higher, or at least a higher score, than 99% of us ever reach).

The previous statement begs an interesting question. While the object of Tetris is fairly clear (amassing the highest score possible), the point of life is rather elusive. However, I think these two quantifiers are more similar than they seem. We all want to achieve the highest "score" possible in life, though what that score represents is subjective to each of us. For some it is money. For others, love. For many, spirituality. But I think the smartest people - and the best Tetris players - realize the point is the experience of playing the game.

In life, as in Tetris, one cannot expect to play on forever. When examined from a distance, both Tetris and life seem repetitive, going on infinitely. However, one must realize that even the most skilled Tetris player will sooner or later reach a level where the pieces are falling at a rate higher than that at which they can be moved, therefore practically assuring imminent demise. This is like old age. Also, reckless behavior and careless play practically guarantees a swift conclusion to the game, which countless rock stars and celebrities have shown us also to be true in life. Even randomness and chaos are accounted for by the ever-looming possibility of your stoned buddy tripping over the power cord and ending your game abruptly, like a head on collision that kills you instantly. Nothing is guaranteed. And of course, in both life and in Tetris, suicide is always an option (though the Tetris version of hitting the down button and intentionally stacking blocks seems much less unpleasant).

In a world where the majority of our video games feature hundreds of variations upon the mindless activity of hunting and killing entities that don't even exist, we should be thankful that a young Russian mathematician gave us the gift of Tetris, which might just be the clearest game console manifestation of the mysteries and secrets of life that has ever come into being.

Though, I think there might also be much to learn from the fable of the two plumbers who run madly through a cartoon world, devouring mushrooms and stomping on evil turtles in their quest to save a lame and ungrateful princess.

Behold Zen.

(NOTE: this is a streamlined version of a larger essay I'm working on concerning the same subject.)

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