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“Why do you keep playing that game? Shouldn’t you be doing some real work?”

I ponder this. I look at my work, look at the game of Tetris on my computer, now back to my work, now back to Tetris. Sadly, my work is not Tetris. But why does that mean my countless hours of playing multiplayer Tetris games are unproductive? To the untrained eye, I have wasted precious time rotating colorful boxes in order to make them fit together; however, after playing more than 2,500 games of Tetris since January (and no, I’m not exaggerating), I realize that I’ve actually learned some valuable lessons from the game.

Perfection is unnecessary

“Crap!” Anyone who has ever been around me while I play Tetris would say that I come down with a bad case of sailor’s mouth whenever I accidentally put a piece in the wrong place or orientation. In the beginning of my Tetris addiction, my level of frustration and annoyance could be modeled by an exponential function, growing as I frantically attempted to correct my error while simultaneously trying to beat the suckers playing against me. As can be predicted, I would spend so much time fixated on this one mistake that my competitors would far surpass me, leading to my ultimate defeat. This sort of pattern continued for quite some time until one day I decided, “Who cares?” If I could just accept the mistake and keep going on, it wouldn’t matter if my playing field didn’t look perfect. Why couldn’t I just keep moving forward? From that day forth, whenever I would make a minor mistake, my level of frustration and annoyance looked more like a delta function — instantaneously there, instantaneously gone, and with an infinite magnitude.

Creativity trumps wishful thinking

For someone who is new to the game of Tetris, using a legendary linear blue piece to clear lines is the equivalent of a using a matrix to solve a system of equations: it takes a huge, cluttered mess and reduces it down to a manageable form. But with more experience, the elation once felt at the arrival of the blue piece — like the coming of the Tetris savior — transforms into a more humdrum, “Oh, that’s convenient” feeling. As I played and experimented with configurations of the pieces, I learned that there is so much more that can be done to clear lines in Tetris than to just wait for the blue piece. Instead of just pining away, staring longingly at the array of “Next Piece” waiting for the blue piece to show up, I started to utilize the other pieces to their full potential, thereby eliminating the unknown crutch that the blue piece had become. Using imagination and innovation, better strategies and combinations could be made, giving an edge over those who just wait for Big Blue.

Remember your sanity

There have been many times that I’ve played Tetris when I’ve experienced a sinusoidal wave of performance. There’s the warm-up when I’m not doing horribly but I’m not doing great either. Then, there’s the peak performance when I’m functioning at the natural frequency of the game, perfectly in sync with the rhythm of Tetris, winning each round with ease. Finally, I have a massive decline in performance, undoing all that I accomplished during the height of my game. I sit at my computer thinking, “Crap, my displacement is zero.”

Feeling discontent with this zero, I would push myself harder, continue playing some more, and hope to regain a shrivel of star status performance. Alas, Tetris does not work that way, and my game would worsen with the extra effort — similar to how a Chinese finger trap works. Due to my stubbornness, I had to go through multiple cycles of this before I realized that I should take a break from playing Tetris. Even though this sounds like a paradox, applied in daily life, it’s helped me to realize that taking a break from something does not mean that defeat has been accepted — rather, it allows for recuperation and the chance to start the fight again in prime condition.

The next time people scold me about playing Tetris, I will proudly proclaim the life lessons I have learned. I will look them in the eye and tell them, without blinking, how Tetris has taught me not to sweat the small stuff, about the importance of creativity, and how to pick my battles. I will then delve into a soliloquy about the trials and tribulations suffered during my Tetris battles, relating each disappointment, each victory, and each awesome combo made. They will be made to regret the day that they decided to question the validity of Tetris.

Or, I’ll just look at them with an apathetic look on my face and go back to playing my game. Not all people can be made to understand the intricacies of Tetris.