In 1984, which popular video game did Russian computer programmer Alexei Pajitnov invent, as a way to test a new type of computer?

And the answer: Tetris.

Photo credit: Arcadeclassics.net

At the Soviet Academy of Sciences, software engineer Alexei Pajitnov created a simple game to assess how powerful a new computer was. Known as Tetris, the game soon became popular throughout the Soviet Union and, in 1988, became one of the featured games on Nintendo's Game Boy.

Tetris could not have entered the global climate at a more opportune time. In 1984, the Cold War raged between the United States and the Soviet Union. Locked in tension, the quality of life soared in the U.S. while government regulation began to intensify under Communism in Soviet Russia. What neither side expected, however, would be the unsuspecting force that helped break the boundaries between the United States and the Soviet Union: Tetris.

Soviet-born Alexei Pajitnov had always been interested in puzzles. From a young age, his favorite game was Pentominoes: a puzzle game that was won by arranging 12 unique pieces into a rectangle with no gaps (sound familiar?). What's more: young Pajitnov was introduced to the wonders of technology from an early age. The Space Race of the 1960s lead to an outpouring of effort to recruit young adults and adolescents into the field of astrophysics. As a result, Pajitnov experienced his first computer at just 17 years old.

After earning a degree in mathematics, Pajitnov joined the renowned Soviet Academy of Sciences. It was there, after long hours working nearly identical days on archaic technology, that Pajitnov began devising a side project: Pajitnov was convinced he could translate the experience of Pentominoes onto the computer. After several weeks of work, and after necessarily adapting the number of pieces to fit the outdated software, Pajitnov released the first version of what would later become Tetris.

Naturally addictive, and simple enough to not require any sort of tutorial or explanation, Pajitnov became enamored with his new game. After introducing it to his colleagues and peers, Tetris began to spread like wildfire. By 1986, anyone in the Soviet Union that had access to a personal computer could play the game.

However, the Iron Curtain between the Soviet Union and the rest of the Western world inhibited the spread and popularity of Tetris. It wasn't until students at the Institute of Technology in Hungary got ahold of the game that it began its spread to the rest of the world. Once Robert Stein of Andromeda Software caught wind of Tetris, arrangements for selling the game were underway. This marked a monumental step in the changing relations between Communist Soviet Russia and the rest of the world. Eventually, Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi caught word, and Tetris became an official Nintendo license. Today, Tetris is one of two mobile video games to have sold over 100 million copies

To learn more about the extensive history of this global game, check out the video below.


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