Why Tetris isn't a puzzle game

It's weird how bad people are at looking even a tiny bit below the surface. All you have to do is quietly mention in passing somewhere that Tetris, Columns, Bejeweled or any of their millions of clones and derivatives aren't actually "puzzle games", and all hell breaks loose.

Even nowadays, with a resurgence in indie games making abstract graphics (relatively) popular again, most gamers angrily insist that if something doesn't look like a traditional spaceship, it can't be a spaceship.

(And no, Tetris ISN'T a puzzle. It's an arcade action game that happens to have abstract graphics. Stuff falls down the screen and you have to quickly react to it by manipulating left, right and fire controls. It's primarily about threat prioritisation and hand-eye co-ordination rather than the application of reasoning or logic. If it's a puzzle game, then so is Space Invaders.)

Obviously the mislabelling of videogame genres doesn't matter in the context of world hunger or anything, but there's no point in having words at all if they have no reliable communicative meaning.

Anyway, a while back I explored this concept at some length for Retro Gamer, and then expanded on it even further for WoS subscribers, culminating in a tremendously perceptive and insightful section where I explain why veteran Boulder Dash lookalike The Pit (pictured below) is in fact an ancestor of Gran Turismo 5, and in which I'm not even joking.

Now the full extended version of the piece is available to all.


11 Responses to “Why Tetris isn't a puzzle game”

  1. A very good, thought-provoking article. Ona side note 'The Typing of The Dead' is astonishingly good (it's the reason why I'm now a reasonably adept typist) and, as stated, possibly the funniest game ever made. Cheers!

  2. The funny thing is that early dev versions of Tetris were of course puzzle games, but as soon as Pajitnov added the falling pieces and especially line removal (only done because he was narked at how short the games where), it became something else.
    I agree that Tetris isn't a puzzle game per se and that it's an arcade game, but it does retain puzzle components (from its tetromino roots), making it more puzzle-like than Space Invaders. To me, Tetris is a never-ending time-attack game of tetrominos, and so I'm usually happy with terms like 'action puzzler' or 'arcade puzzler' to group similar games.

  3. Oh my – I apparently fired up the typo-tron. Dang this lack of comment editing.

  4. This is the kind of stuff I'm interested in.
    I agree that the difficulty of Tetris is mostly connected to its arcade aspect, but like Craig says it has strong elements of a puzzler, it just gives you very little time to plan what is the best way to use the falling pieces.

    On a related note, while Braid is often considered a puzzle game with almost flawless logic behind its puzzles, at least half of them belong to the adventure game genre style of gameplay rather than to the puzzle genre.

  5. Irish Al Says:

    In a way the first Splinter Cell is more of a puzzle game (each room being a puzzle) than Tetris I suppose.
    Wasn't The Pit developed by two of the founders of Ultimate ? Or am I totally high.

  6. asdasdasd Says:

    Not sure I agree with the commenters above. The game I most liken it to from my own connection is Nintendo's Tennis, in that I could play both for hours while applying essentially no rational thought or attention to either at all; after a certain point of familiarity with the mechanics the games effectively play themselves in communion with that weird reflexive part of the brain.
    Not that that's a criticism as such; it's a perfect distraction for the fidgety parts of the body while the brain can do more useful things like thinking or listening to music. But you can't listen to The Road on audio tape while ploughing through Professor Layton and the Contemptible Sidekick, so the distinction is really beyond contention.
    Igor Hardy gets a D- for nicking that comment – admittedly, relevant – about Braid from the hardy adventurer blog or somewhere else linked to recently on RPS.

  7. asdasdasd Says:

    I meant collection, not connection. Hungover.
    Speaking of things recently linked to on RPS, have you played Desktop Dungeons, WoSblog? It's a puzzle game through and through, although not an 'information-complete' one, which really rubs the wrong way with the kind people they are somehow entitled to success. It's also quite possibly the best thing ever.

  8. @asdasdasd Well, the blog you mention is my favorite site for nicking comments from 😉

    btw, it seems to me that after a certain point of familiarity with the mechanics anything based purely on logic and simple observation will be possible to play quite mindlessly.

  9. […] Why Tetris Isn’t a Puzzle Game – seems like most players are so dumb that they don’t know what kind of game they’re playing […]

  10. […] Why Tetris Isn’t a Puzzle Game – seems like most players are so dumb that they don’t know what kind of game they’re playing […]

  11. […] Why Tetris Isn’t a Puzzle Game – seems like most players are so dumb that they don’t know what kind of game they’re playing […]

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