The Shortcuts We Take in Life… And Tetris

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Apparently, inspiration can come from anywhere.

I play a lot of Tetris. I’ve got a fan-made version of it pinned to my laptop’s taskbar so that I can bring it up whenever I have a spare moment. In the game mode that I most often play, the goal is to make 40 lines disappear as quickly as possible. I’m not usually so lucid when I play that I can pick out every little mistake I make. Afterall, I only play it when I want to relax or when I want to clear my head. I don’t usually look to improve radically. But tonight was different.

I’m trying to write a story, you see. But naturally, I drifted off the port of productivity and started to amble about the bay called YouTube, near the reef called Pentatonix videos. In an effort to convince myself that I had in fact *not* drifted from the harbour, I told myself I’d be “keeping my eyes open for inspiration.” Out of habit, I started a game of Tetris. I don’t much like to listen to music without something to do.

I soon lost myself in the game, as I always do. It’s usually instinct that drives my fingers when I play, but tonight, I was looking for inspiration.

I was on a streak of particularly rough games. When my towers weren’t full of holes, I found that I was never given the right pieces to keep from topping out. The holes kept me from clearing lines efficiently, but topping out meant that I had to start over again. And in a game mode where I alone control the speed at which the pieces fall, consistently topping out was… a little embarrassing. But instead of giving up and getting back to my music, I decided to pay a little more attention to what was going on. Instinct drove my hands but I could be the foreman. I could change instinct if I so pleased. I just needed to know where instinct was going wrong.

Eyes peeled and fingers at the ready, I let the experiment loose. The faux-retro numbers counted down. I knew the timing, knew the exact moment when the game began. And when it came, instinct burst forth like a race horse. I watched it’s feet, watched it claw at the dirt like it were climbing the face of a mountain. Towers up, towers down. Linger at the bottom as the number of lines required of me dwindled, to keep from building what I didn’t need to destroy. But as I built my final spire, I saw instinct stumble.

See, the basic challenge in a game of Tetris is to make solid shapes using variably shaped blocks. One would do well to avoid leaving gaps and holes in their shape, it’s the complete inverse of success in a game of Tetris. But conflict arrives with the game’s second limitation: You do not choose what shape is made available to you once you dispose of your current piece.

There are many different systems of randomization but, statistically, you should expect to be given each kind of piece once every 7 pieces. Which means that if your shape has holes that call for 2 of the same kind of piece simultaneously, you’re in trouble unless you can “stall” until the piece shows up again. And therein my problem. Whenever I was “blessed” with two gaps that could only be neatly filled with the same kind of piece, I “stalled” for too long. Instinct told me to wait for the perfect opportunity so that I’d have no gaps to fill in the future. While waiting for the perfect piece, I had to dispose of the other pieces by piling them onto spires adjacent to the gaps, so that my problems only became worse. I found that my current paradigm was no longer enough to successfully navigate what my world had become. So I had to propose a new one.

Instead of waiting for the perfect piece, and letting the “imperfect” ones pile up, I could imperfectly fill the hole and save myself from creating more problems. Based on my old perspective, it would be heresy to do such a thing, to intentionally create gaps. But the old ways weren’t working anymore. The old maps no longer pointed me in the right direction. So I drew my own, based on what I experienced myself.

(Digression: This article confirms that I can write 750 words about anything.)

So how does this story relate to writing fiction? Well, it’s shown me an aspect of how people navigate their lives. We use shortcuts. We classify our problems and apply preconceived solutions, because judging every situation individually would take more time and energy. But not every situation is the same; sometimes, our Instant Answers™ (Just Add Water!) don’t influence our lives in the way we actually hope them to. This is how mistakes are made. And I think it’s a little crazy that a few simple games of Tetris taught me this. Or at least, brought it to my attention, and allowed me to piece it together in my brain.

Lol. Piece it together. Into a shape that doesn’t seem to have holes. Notice any? Let me know down bellow.

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