Play Tetris to Achieve Your Dreams

A little known fact about me: I hold the high score on 5 Tetris arcade machines.

“Why would Colin waste his time with games, when the game of life is the only one worth playing?” you’re likely asking yourself at this moment. “And aren’t video games for geeks and Wii-bowlers?” Two very good questions. The answer to the latter question is a resounding ‘No.’ The answer to the first question is a bit more involved. Let me lead into it with some interesting facts about Tetris.

Tetris is one of those rare creatures that refuses to stay sequestered within its primary niche. Sure, it’s a video game – a very popular game (the only one that has been translated onto almost every video game system, graphing calculators, and the sides of buildings all over the world) – but it has many properties help it distinguish itself from the rank-and-file Mario flicks of the world.

First, Tetris has been shown to increase brain efficiency in players. The more you play, the more efficient your brain becomes, using less and less glucose to perform the same calculations.

Second, Tetris can help ease the pain of a difficult day at work or a particularly traumatic event. Though the study that was conducted didn’t indicate exactly why this is the case, it’s thought that the stimulating (though repetitive) visuals and calculating game play keep a lot of the stressful flash-back worthy snippets from sticking around in your long term memory.

Third, Tetris increases hand-eye-coordination. Many (if not most) video games are said to do this to a certain extent, but because of the nature of Tetris’ game play, it tends to be even more effective.

Not bad for a game created in 1984 (speaking of which, happy 25 birthday, Tetris)!

I’ve always enjoyed Tetris for the game play, but I have definitely noticed the other benefits from playing it (I get a kick out of activities that are fun and productive at the same time).

All that in mind, Tetris is not the only practical game you could be playing. Here are a few other examples:

Civilization

The whole Civilization series is fantastic, though number 4 took things to a whole new level. This so-called ‘god game’ puts you in controls of a tribe that slowly evolves into a space-faring civilization. You decide where to build settlements, what technologies to research, what religion (if any) your people will adhere to, how to deal with money, governmental structure, how to interact with your neighbors, etc etc etc. I can’t think of any game that is as complex as Civ 4, and each game is a lot different than the last (there are always new strategies to try out and different ways to win the game). The skills that get the most exercise when I play this game are my resource management chops. Learning to micromanage and accumulate wealth and knowledge in a game (and having the opportunity to fail over and over with no real-world consequences) is VERY helpful when you try to do the same in your everyday life.

Risk

This isn’t strictly a video game, and in fact I usually learn more when I play the tangible, board game version of it. The idea behind Risk is that every player has a smattering of armies that they place on a board (usually an image of Earth, with national borders present) and use to make a play at global domination. Because combat is calculated by a handful of dice, it’s easy to have your fortune change quite suddenly, which is part of why the game is so much fun. The real value of Risk, though, is that you can hone your interpersonal skills throughout the entire game. Alliances are made and broken and it’s not unusual for feelings to be hurt and girlfriends to storm off, swearing they’ll never play a board game again (VERY possible). If you play frequently enough, however, you’ll be able to quickly find the right balance between competition, encouragement, sportsmanship and commiseration in any situation.

Final Fantasy

If you’ve ever played a game from the Final Fantasy series (I haven’t been keeping up, but I’m pretty sure there are over a dozen of them now), you know that it’s a fairly standard role-playing game (RPG). The basic game play in the FF series isn’t very complicated: you move your character around a fantastic world and every so often you are drawn into a battle with bad guys of different flavors. The really addictive (and learny) component of this game series is that as you fight more monsters and complete more objectives you gain levels which in turn give you attribute points to distribute, additional spells to cast or special attacks to perform. Your characters grow as people as they work harder and smarter. This is an excellent metaphor for the real world, and in fact I find myself looking at my own education and work history in the same way sometimes. This makes it easier to see what I can do more of to get the skills and attributes I want more of (full disclosure: I may have played a lot of RPGs as a kid…you won’t necessarily geek out the same way).

The bottom line is this: if you are looking to improve yourself in any way, it’s likely there are some video games out there that can help you achieve your goals. They will do so subtly, and you will have to put effort into them like you would anything else, but in most cases they will be a welcome break from the other, less Nintendo-ish components of your personal development routine.

Don’t agree? Totally agree, but think I left some important games off my list? Let me know by leaving a comment!

21 comments

  1. I completely agree. Video and board games are great for practicing and improving analytical and creative thinking.

    One great game you left off your list is Diplomacy. Actually, I think it can replace Risk (oh, how I despise Risk). Diplomacy is a 7 player game in WW1 Europe. It is very similar to Risk but there are no dice and no ridiculous army cards. The armies are small so you are forced to make and break alliances in order to win the game. It is a huge mental exercise in figuring out tactics for moving pieces as well as figuring out which players to trust and which are lying to you.

    Diplomacy is my favorite game and it is almost like a religion. We have a joke that once you play Diplomacy, you realize that any game can be boiled down to Diplomacy by making alliances. Even when the structure of the game doesn’t support it!

  2. I completely agree. Video and board games are great for practicing and improving analytical and creative thinking.

    One great game you left off your list is Diplomacy. Actually, I think it can replace Risk (oh, how I despise Risk). Diplomacy is a 7 player game in WW1 Europe. It is very similar to Risk but there are no dice and no ridiculous army cards. The armies are small so you are forced to make and break alliances in order to win the game. It is a huge mental exercise in figuring out tactics for moving pieces as well as figuring out which players to trust and which are lying to you.

    Diplomacy is my favorite game and it is almost like a religion. We have a joke that once you play Diplomacy, you realize that any game can be boiled down to Diplomacy by making alliances. Even when the structure of the game doesn’t support it!

  3. @Graham: I haven’t played Diplomacy, but it sounds like a ball! I’ll have to try and snag a copy when I get to Buenos Aires (would be a shame to buy it here and then have to sell it right away). Think it will be a good way to make friends (or would it be a better way to make international enemies)?

    @Pramila Mathew: I checked out your blog, and I’ll be following along with you as well. Seems like you’ve got a good niche there, as more people need to start being concerned about whether or not they are happy with their lives, regardless of the path they decide to take to get there. Good stuff!

  4. @Graham: I haven’t played Diplomacy, but it sounds like a ball! I’ll have to try and snag a copy when I get to Buenos Aires (would be a shame to buy it here and then have to sell it right away). Think it will be a good way to make friends (or would it be a better way to make international enemies)?

    @Pramila Mathew: I checked out your blog, and I’ll be following along with you as well. Seems like you’ve got a good niche there, as more people need to start being concerned about whether or not they are happy with their lives, regardless of the path they decide to take to get there. Good stuff!

  5. I would say a real time strategy (RTS) such as command and conquer can be great way to learn. Its pretty much the same with you said in the civilization where you need to learn more technologies so that you can defeat your enemies, and you also need to be build your forces fast because you don’t want to have your enemy built their momentum to squash you.

    Just like in real life, learn more technologies is the same principle as learning new skills and knowledge in order to compete in the real world. You also need to act fast you don’t want your dream to be taken by other people right?

    Great post by the way, I always think that games is a great way to learn.

  6. I would say a real time strategy (RTS) such as command and conquer can be great way to learn. Its pretty much the same with you said in the civilization where you need to learn more technologies so that you can defeat your enemies, and you also need to be build your forces fast because you don’t want to have your enemy built their momentum to squash you.

    Just like in real life, learn more technologies is the same principle as learning new skills and knowledge in order to compete in the real world. You also need to act fast you don’t want your dream to be taken by other people right?

    Great post by the way, I always think that games is a great way to learn.

  7. @Yuro:

    I totally agree. Managing a tech tree and the physical requirements of waging war (or peace) is a great exercise for the real world (hopefully you won’t be waging any wars, but the management of resources, no matter what those resources happen to be, comes in VERY handy in many situations).

    You hit on a great point with the skills=technologies statement, as well. Being able to work your way up to a more enlightened self is a lot like developing through different technological stages, and requires just as much effort, ambition, creativity and thought.

    Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  8. @Yuro:

    I totally agree. Managing a tech tree and the physical requirements of waging war (or peace) is a great exercise for the real world (hopefully you won’t be waging any wars, but the management of resources, no matter what those resources happen to be, comes in VERY handy in many situations).

    You hit on a great point with the skills=technologies statement, as well. Being able to work your way up to a more enlightened self is a lot like developing through different technological stages, and requires just as much effort, ambition, creativity and thought.

    Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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  10. i adore games and think they have much to teach us – one of the simple board/computer games is Othello/Reversi. The basic strategy is deeply counter-intuitive. Don’t play to win until late in the game and observe lines of force as they develop and follow them.

    http://www.online-game.tv/play/reversi
    or check the boards on yahoo

    but when it comes to games I must refer one important source…a book which I think is definitive to the macro point you are making Colin. James Carse wrote the unique and in my mind seminal book “Finite and Infinite Games” which starts with a very simple premise that there are two types of games – finite and infinite. Finite games are played to be won and infinite games are played to be played. He opens this up to look at the range of human endeavors in terms of their finiteness or infiniteness. The book is full of beautiful arguments and is hardly a book of sayings but here are a few examples:

    The rules of the finite game may not change; the rules of an infinite game must change.
    Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.
    Finite players are serious; infinite games are playful.
    A finite player plays to be powerful; an infinite player plays with strength.
    A finite player consumes time; an infinite player generates time.
    The finite player aims for eternal life; the infinite player aims for eternal birth.

    the book and the man are breathtaking.

  11. i adore games and think they have much to teach us – one of the simple board/computer games is Othello/Reversi. The basic strategy is deeply counter-intuitive. Don’t play to win until late in the game and observe lines of force as they develop and follow them.

    http://www.online-game.tv/play/reversi
    or check the boards on yahoo

    but when it comes to games I must refer one important source…a book which I think is definitive to the macro point you are making Colin. James Carse wrote the unique and in my mind seminal book “Finite and Infinite Games” which starts with a very simple premise that there are two types of games – finite and infinite. Finite games are played to be won and infinite games are played to be played. He opens this up to look at the range of human endeavors in terms of their finiteness or infiniteness. The book is full of beautiful arguments and is hardly a book of sayings but here are a few examples:

    The rules of the finite game may not change; the rules of an infinite game must change.
    Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.
    Finite players are serious; infinite games are playful.
    A finite player plays to be powerful; an infinite player plays with strength.
    A finite player consumes time; an infinite player generates time.
    The finite player aims for eternal life; the infinite player aims for eternal birth.

    the book and the man are breathtaking.

  12. This post is the definition of why I was so excited to be able to download Red Alert for iPad, to play multiplayer… it’s amazing! (oh the memories..)

  13. This post is the definition of why I was so excited to be able to download Red Alert for iPad, to play multiplayer… it’s amazing! (oh the memories..)

  14. Colin, you make a lot of great points here. People write off video games too easily. It’s a shame, because there is a lot to be learned. Even with a simple game like Tetris, which I was never any good at.

    Might I recommend a book to you, as no one else has. You might know it, know of it, or have it, but it might be interesting to you. It’s Stephen Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You: How Popular Culture is Making Us Smarter.

    It’s a pretty mindblowing thesis on how video games, popular TV shows and movies are actually helping humans to develop intellectually.

    In the interest of full disclosure, that is an affiliate link, and I will make a small commission on any sale. I appreciate the support, and don’t hate me. It’s a great book, you’ll appreciate it!

  15. I still enjoy the occasional game of Starcraft 2 myself. However, I think this post would be incomplete if you don’t mention video games can make you scattered.

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