The Tetris of Movies

A few years ago, in June, Rami Ismail brought up, and gently made fun of, the idea of the Tetris of movies. This was a joke, because typically, the conversation that compares movies to games goes the other way around. The cliche is The Citizen Kane of Games, and that comparison is deeply annoying for a host of reasons (for example, film started in 1895, and Citizen Kane came along in 1941, suggesting that the first home videogames still have another twenty years to get around to theirs). Rami pressed B on this question, and flipped the narrative around to look at it from the other side.

What movie did what Tetris did?

Now, I think this question is really interesting, not because I have the right answer to it, but because it does something actually interesting about the comparison between the two possible forms of media. When we talk about The Citizen Kane of Games, it often really means something like the game we’ll all eventually see as important, and that’s so stupid, because it doesn’t even really meaningfully identify what Citizen Kane is. It’s a shibboleth, a reference to the idea of ‘the important one.’


This is a form of intertextual examination. It’s not that it’s bad or even silly to do so – we often use media as tools for examining other media all the time, indeed we even invite it when we reference media within media. Think about how many times you’ve heard Shakespeare’s cliches quoted, or references made to the Bible. There’s nothing wrong about using media you know as a reference point to examine other media you know, and it makes everything easier (Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, and I can do that now because I’ve finally seen that show!).

I think, if I was going to describe ‘the tetris of movies,’ it reminds me of a few things. Tetris was Soviet-developed; it was revolutionary in its development of gameplay technology, and every game that came after it was, usually, influenced by someone who had played it, or learned techniques from it. That, then, put me in mind of Battleship Potemkin, which was a soviet-made movie that pioneered what we would wind up referring to as montage.

That, however, is just one comparison – a simple one, even. Point of origin and impact on the medium. You might look at it in terms of the influence of the polynimo – is there something so widespread in media of other forms? What about duration? Is there a movie that’s nearly endless in the same way?

It’s a simple little question, and it’s fun because we can talk about movies the way we talk about games.

The only reason we can’t is because we assign idiotic levels of prestige to movies, and our attempts to emulate that prestige is embarrassing.

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