8 Ways Tetris Taught Me to Be a Better Dad
By Erik Missio
Illustration by Trev Murphy, Kids' CBC Staff
Sep 13, 2016
Tetris, the ridiculously addictive Russian video game where you rotate falling pieces to make lines, is experiencing a weird renaissance as of late. The game never really went away, of course — since Alexey Pajitnov’s launch in the mid-1980s, it has consistently been near the top of every ‘greatest game’ list and has set app records (almost a half-billion in paid downloads?!). Still, just when its puzzle perfection seemed to be overshadowed by angry birds and candy crushes, this year sees the release of Tetris comics and books, along with news of a big-budget movie trilogy entering production (!).
For more than a few parents, there is something about the game’s simplicity and flexibility (short two-minute blitzes or seemingly endless matches) that make it ideal for not only a de-stressing, almost-meditative escape, but also to pass the time at three in the morning when you’re sitting in your daughter’s room because you’re not yet sure if she’s asleep and you need to stay awake a little longer before attempting an escape. Some studies suggest the game boosts “critical thinking, reasoning, language and processing” and increases cerebral cortex thickness — all I know is it simultaneously makes me alert and calm while I execute T-spins and wall kicks to rack up points.
All I know is it simultaneously makes me alert and calm while I execute T-spins and wall kicks to rack up points.
With Tetris, winning the game is more than just hand-eye co-ordination, spatial literacy, and dumb luck. It’s also strategies and philosophies that can apply to, yes, parenting.
1. Life isn’t always about having a plan — sometimes, it’s just reacting calmly when everything starts falling down around you.
Tetris can feel like a metaphor for parenthood at its most hectic. Success is achieved by quickly and coolly dealing with challenges before they pile up and overcome you. The game occasionally rewards long-term planning, but it often becomes a matter of how well you deal with something unexpected. Your decisions won’t always be perfect, but sometimes it’s enough to just be able to keep moving forward.
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2. You need to be flexible.
Sometimes, you’ll have everything meticulously set up for that one vertical line, and it just never comes. As your stack of Tetriminos piles up ever-perilously to the top of the screen, you need to know how long to wait, and when to switch tactics and opt for a Plan B before it’s too late. Tetris is about reaction time, but it’s also about judgement and adaptability.
Your decisions won’t always be perfect, but sometimes it’s enough to just be able to keep moving forward.
3. Break down your problems into familiar components.
Squares, Ts, Zs—Tetris pieces are always the same four squares, just oriented in different shapes. By breaking complex things down into their base parts, you can sometimes find answers you would otherwise miss. Realizing a lot of our challenges have commonalities (even when they appear different) is a great way to come up with a solution for your little one’s problem and/or snag that triple-line clear.
4. People achieve their high scores in different ways.
Never ever watch other people play Tetris. Even if they’re just as good as you, you’ll get frustrated watching them opt for moves different from your own. There are lots of ways to win, and various styles work best for various types of players. Don’t unfairly judge someone else’s methods and trust in your own choices — but be ready to steal a move or two for yourself if you think it works.
Don’t unfairly judge someone else’s methods and trust in your own choices.
5. Practice doesn’t make ‘perfect,’ but it can make ‘better.’
I’m better at Tetris now than when I was 12 and using a Gameboy, but I’ll still get frustrated and defeated by one L-shape too many. No matter your amount of experience, you’ll always have bad days, silly mistakes, or a few rounds of unbelievably awful luck. The more you keep at it, though, the calmer and more mentally prepared you will be.
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6. Some details change, but the important core tenets remain the same.
Despite all the new options, modes, bonuses and power-ups of the last 30 years, Tetris’ basic gameplay remains unchanged. It’s the same with parenting. From cyber-bullying and screen time to over-scheduled kids, many challenges we face feel ‘new,’ but the overall goal (i.e. help your kid develop the skills to become a well-rounded, happy, independent adult) is timeless. Whenever things feel tough, remember generations of parents have gone through variations of the same thing, and you’ll get through this too.
Whenever things feel tough, remember generations of parents have gone through variations of the same thing, and you’ll get through this too.
7. When you devote a lot of time to something, it affects your brain.
Lucid Tetris-based dreams might be reserved only for the most hardcore of players, but a lot of people have experienced weird hypnagogic imagery — the mental images of falling shapes as you try to fall asleep — when doing one game too many. Similarly, parenting has a way of not only taking over your waking moments, but also creeping into your daydreams and nightmares.
8. Yes, you CAN get all that into your vehicle for the family road trip.
Packing a million things into the car for a day-long adventure? Just hum “Korobeiniki”, enter a Zen-like state, and start stacking and rotating luggage until everything fits.
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