The battle over the licensing rights to Tetris, the resulting reverberations the game caused in the world of video games and popular culture, and even geopolitical relations between the USSR and the West come together in Dan Ackerman’s book The Tetris Effect ... The machinations of international software-company negotiations is tricky material for a mass-market technology book, but Ackerman rises to the challenge ... it takes informed accounts, such as Ackerman’s book, to properly untangle and reward the authorship of creators like Pajitnov. The Tetris Effect is the narrative Pajitnov and his timeless game deserve.
While tales of ineffectual bureaucracy, contractual confusion, and commercial hoodwinking over computerized configurations of squares stuck together may not sound like a page-turner, Ackerman doles out intrigue worthy of Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy. It’s a behind-the-Iron Curtain nail-biter ... there are moments in The Tetris Effect when the certainty of the author’s knowledge seems suspect. These are not histories, exactly, but dramatized recreations of history. Ackerman’s writing is serviceable if occasionally crude, but the simplicity of the prose only makes the book read even more like a supermarket thriller, which suits it.
When Ackerman evokes this clunkier era ruled by DOS, IBM PCs and Soviet bureaucrats clueless about property rights, the story shines. But when this rich setting is abandoned, the narrative falters (unless you’re excited by endless minutiae about licensing negotiations). Oddly, despite interviewing many of the major players who shaped the destiny of Tetris, Ackerman includes almost none of their direct quotes or reflections. Further, Ackerman’s main story is broken up by 'Bonus Level' chapters that distractingly detail, for example, clinical uses of Tetris to study PTSD ... These deficits aside, at least he makes clear what was groundbreaking about Pajitnov’s creation.