Who's the Best Tetris Player in the World?

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In the new documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, we get to see the top Tetris players in the world duke it out, to discover who is truly the master of the game. It's a fun, engaging, and moderately geeky documentary -- my favorite kind. Full disclosure: I know director Adam Cornelius from college, and I did a small bit of writing work on the film in postproduction. So this is, in a sense, shameless friend-promotion, with a little self-promotion thrown in. With that said, here's the trailer:

EOO follows Robin Mihara, a Portland-based gamer who came in third at the Nintendo World Championships in 1990 (remember The Wizard?). Twenty years after the NWC tournament, Mihara is obsessed with finding the best Tetris players in the world -- and this film shows how he tracks them down, brings them to a tournament in California, and reveals a series of surprises about each player and the world of competitive Tetris along the way. There is also a fascinating thread within the film about Thor Aackerlund, the player who took first place at the NWC, beating Mihara back in 1990 using his famous "vibrating thumb" technique. Thor is basically the god of Tetris, but no one has seen him in years. The central questions become: what happened to Thor?, and is Thor really as good as everyone remembers?

Because this documentary is about a tournament (which dominates the last third of the film -- after we've met all the competitors and established how high-level Tetris play works), portions of it have a sports vibe. Seeing it in the theater, audiences at the screenings I attended gasped when Tetris players were caught in tricky situations, and finally got a "long block" to finish a Tetris. I'm telling you: people were viscerally excited about a video game they were not playing. That's how well-made this movie is. The competition truly shows the best players in the world -- these are mathletes dunking on each other, in front of a crowd of screaming fans -- it's intense and awesome.

At the same time, Tetris (at least the NES Tetris they concentrate on for the tournament) is inherently non-competitive, so each player is really confronting him or herself. Only by combining all these self-competitions do we see what it means to be a Tetris master. It is an inwardly-focused game turned outward.

EOO was released yesterday on all the big Video-on-Demand services: iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, CinemaNow, Xbox 360/Zune, and the Playstation Network. It's also out on DVD (Amazon), with a slew of extras.

You can read more about the film on its website. If you think you might be a Tetris master, come to the Classic Tetris World Championship (the competition shown in the film) this year in Portland. I'll be there. Wouldn't you like to beat me at Tetris?

One last thing: director Adam Cornelius is doing an Ask Me Anything on Reddit today, regarding the movie.

Blogger disclosure: while, as I said above, I did some some writing for this movie, I don't have any financial stake in it. It's a movie that I love, and I want more people to see it. And hey, if you like my writing about video games, I really think you will dig this.

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August 28, 2012 - 7:39am
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