Tetris History: The Soviet Mind Game
Tetris History: The Soviet Mind Game

Tetris History: The Soviet Mind Game

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
The history of Tetris is inextricably linked to the Cold War: as it raged on in the Soviet Union, Russian engineer Alexey Pajitnov worked feverishly at the Computer Center in Moscow to create what later became one of the most popular video games of all time. Tetris quickly spread outside of the USSR and into Hungary, where it was discovered by western businesses. From then on it was a tangle of legal battles between the West and the Russians – who owned the rights to the game since Pajitnov was working for the government at the time of the game’s invention. Things were eventually solved, and Tetris went on to have huge popularity and pop culture impact all over the world. In this video, learns more about the history of Tetris.

The History of Tetris

It’s the Soviet mind game. Welcome to, and today we’ll be learning more about the history of Tetris.

The Cold War

The story of this popular video game began as the Cold War raged in the USSR. During this period, Russian engineer Alexey Pajitnov was working at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow, and it was there that he tried to bring his favorite game to the computer screen in 1984.

Basic Computer Game

Tetrominoes involved fitting different geometric shapes into a rectangle without any spaces. With help from colleague Dmitry Pavlovsky, Pajitnov developed a simple computer game using basic graphics and no sound on an Elektronika 60.


Pajitnov’s game took the principles involved in Tetrominoes and added the challenge of gravity. The blocks in his game were comprised of four squares that formed different shapes, and they would fall at increasingly higher speeds as the levels passed. The aim was to make full horizontal lines, which would then disappear. If a gap was left in the line, that line would remain until the player was able to fill the hole.

The Birth of Tetris

All the game needed was a name: Pajitnov took his inspiration, Tetrominoes, added his favorite sport, tennis, and Tetris was born. Pajitnov’s colleague Vadim Gerasimov soon ported the game to the IBM PC.

Tetris Spreads

It wasn’t long before co-workers at the Computer Center were all addicted to Tetris. In the summer of 1985, a color version was created and it was this edition that quickly spread through Moscow. Eventually, Tetris made its way to Budapest, Hungary where a British software company came across it.

Rights Battle

Because Pajitnov worked for the Soviet government, his intellectual property was owned by the state. For this reason, it took him years to claim any money from his creation. Tetris soon became the subject of a rights war between the Soviet government’s foreign trade organization Elorg, and a number of western companies.

Tetris in the U.S.

In the midst of these legal battles, a questionably official PC version of Tetris hit the United States market in 1986.

Popularity in America

Tetris was the first Soviet game to make it to U.S. audiences, and it was marketed as a piece of culture from behind the Iron Curtain. It was vastly different from everything else on the U.S. market at the time: instead of shooting, guns and chases, it was a game of order and thought. Like everyone who had played the game before them, the American public became addicted to Tetris and the Soviet mind game was a huge hit.

Tetris on the Game Boy

But still, no one officially had the rights to the game. Finally, after years of back-and-forths between numerous companies including video game giant Atari, Henk Rogers and Nintendo emerged as winners of the Tetris rights in 1989. Nintendo decided to bundle Tetris with their popular home console, the NES, as well as their new handheld terminal, the Game Boy, in the hope that the game would help their products appeal to a wider audience.

Original Game

The original Game Boy version featured greyscale graphics and iconic theme music, and was similar to Pajitnov’s original creation.

Pajitnov Gets His Due

In 1996, Pajitnov finally began receiving royalties when rights to the game reverted from Russia to him. That year he and Henk Rogers started the Tetris Company to manage licensing in the U.S. Pajitnov also began working for Microsoft in 1996, after moving to the States five years earlier.

The Tetris Effect

Following years of popularity on the market, the game was the subject of scientific study. It was found that prolonged play caused users to see the real world as a game of Tetris, in terms of how things fit together. This was officially categorized as a form of hallucination, and was nicknamed the Tetris Effect.

Effect on PTSD

It 2012, it was also suggested that the game could help prevent symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Tetris’ Legacy

Since its creation, Tetris has become a phenomenon that spans cultures and races, and appeals to the gamer in everyone. It has spawned sequels, imitators and improvements, is available on numerous devices and continues to sell millions of copies as one of history’s most popular video games. Experts claim Tetris can never be won – but it sure is fun to try.