Every other week, Bonnie Ruberg contributes Playing Dirty, a column on sex and gender in video games:
Watching Alexey Pajitnov receive the First Penquin award at this year's Game Developer's Choice Awards, it occurred to me I'd never really thought about the face behind Tetris. Sure, I'd heard Pajitnov's name plenty of times, but the man himself, and that lovable, Santa-bought-hair-dye beard, those were off the radar. Who knows what I expected of the infamous Russian: someone stiffer, more stand-off ish, a gaming visage for the Cold War itself. Not that Tetris has much to do with politics. In fact, for me, the game has always represented something totally different. I associate Tetris with sex.
At first, the idea sounds absurd. Colored blocks remind you of sex? Deprived gamer alert! But think about it: the point of Tetris is to make things fit together. Blocks float down to fit in the spaces left open by other blocks. When things fit together right, they make a solid line, a happy, unified whole. When they don't fit right, blocks leave ugly, open patches, the gaping black bane of Tetris existence. To win the game, you need to make sure every block finds its hole.
When we talk about Tetris as a metaphor for sex, there are two different ways we can look at it. First, there's the literal level. Just like those blocks, people physically fit together when they have sex. Most often, we insert our different extremities (Let's not limit ourselves to penises here) into our different orifices. Similarly, there are lots of different block groups in Tetris: long, thin block groups, square block groups, block groups shaped like L's, like S's, and like tiny T's. Just like extremities and orifices, each group fits into certain openings, and some better than others. In that way, Tetris is like sex stripped down: no aura, no foreplay, no nothing.
The other way of looking at Tetris is as a metaphor not just for sex, but for sexual orientation. When we play, we're not always fitting together the same kinds of blocks or the same kinds of holes. If we stretch our imaginations a little bit farther, we can consider these different shapes to be different people engaged in sex. We could well imagine, for example, that two square shapes that meet surface to surface are a pair of lesbian lovers. On the other hand, two S shapes, one of which cups the back of the other, might look like two gay men. And the long, thin blocks that find the long, thin holes ... There's room in this game for everyone.
But if there's a lesson to be learned in Tetris (besides how to play a game so long that it haunts your feverish, casual-game ridden dreams), it's not about sex, or even sexual orientation, it's about acceptance. No one block/hole combination in the game is any more important, or normal, than any other. Neither, in the grand scale of things, is any one pairing of body part and orifice, of gendered person with gendered person. In Tetris as in society, it takes all different shapes and kinds to make the game as a whole fit together.
Bonnie Ruberg is a writer, researcher, and all around fangirl with a big crush on games. Find more of her work at Gamasutra, The Onion A. V. Club, or her blog, Heroine Sheik. She can be reached at .