In 1984 while the Cold War raged between the United States and the Soviet Union, the United States experienced unprecedented social and economic growth. The city of Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics, Ghost Busters and Gremlins hit movie theatres and became blockbusters, the highly anticipated Apple Macintosh personal computer was introduced for the first time, and Bruce Springsteen released his most successful record— Born in the USA.
The former Soviet Union, on the other hand, was a stark contrast. The economy was stagnant, the cost of oil declined, the country boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics, Konstantin Chernenko was terminally ill, and most of its citizens were frustrated and broke.
That same summer a computer programmer in the former Soviet Union created a puzzle game that took the videogame industry by storm and broke down the barriers between the two nations.
Alexei Pajitnov was the son of a cinema journalist and a philosopher. Two of the few forms of entertainment that were available to children in the Soviet Union at the time were board games and math puzzles. After Pajitnov’s parents divorced he spent a lot of time playing a math board game he loved that was called Pentamino.
As a young man he obtained a Masters in Applied Mathematics and landed a research position at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Along with a coworker and a teenaged programming prodigy, Pajitnov started brainstorming computer game ideas in the evenings after work.
Inspired by the memory of Pentamino, a game he loved as a child, Pajitnov created a computer version he first named Genetic Engineering. The idea was to arrange the pieces of the puzzle until they fit into a rectangular box. He kept working at it until he created an addictive version of the game. This one he called Tetris, combining the Greek word tetra with the name of his favorite sport, tennis.
He worked along with his two friends to create a version that could be played on any computer. Little did they know that this game would find its way outside the walls of the Soviet Union and into the homes of millions of gamers world wide. Find out how this came to be, now.