When Life is Like a Game of Tetris

Dull, repetitive, with an immensely irritating soundtrack and yet ridiculously compelling? Well, that’s kind of where I’m going here… I think most parents would agree with the former, because you know, a lot of days kids want to do the same things, in the same order with allotted meal breaks, until you at last get to the end of the day, and they’re asleep and you think “ahhh, that was ok wasn’t it?!”. But in this instance it’s the game I feel most like I’ve been playing since our medical conundrum entered our lives. Let me explain Forrest Gump style. Just exchange the sweet, Southern charm of the melty faced Tom Hanks for a fairly irate and jaded Northener who will pretend to not be as melty faced.

Under ‘normal’ circumstance, viewed through green tinged and maybe slightly most likely short sighted eyes, having a child is like a regular game of Tetris. Again; dull, repetitive but ultimately compelling. There’s a narrow and predictable pattern of shapes coming down, and under the correct guidance (with a bit of handbook tuition at the beginning for guidance) you can put them into place, and they build up and up, clinking off the bottom of the screen, which in this instance could be likened to a milestone being met and passed. You get better at handling them, sometimes they cluster up and kerchink, that’s a whole load of development milestones awarded extra points for. And medically, you may get a couple of dodgy rows, you panic, but slide in a four bar straight one of calpol, and one of those dog legged looking ones for a couple of days of fluids, and you’re back on course. Onwards and upwards. Each game similar but yet still different and loved by players around the world.

I appreciate that this may sound overly simplistic, and more than a little cynical towards those that get the easy games of Tetris, the regular version. Mine feels like it’s been messed with by the original Soviet creators in some weird post Cold War paranoia. Sure, it looks and sounds a lot like the one appropriated by IBM, and I often hide away my screen from others. When I look up from the GameBoy and agree to their general complaints about the game. “Yeah me too… God, yeah, soooo annoying. I’m getting better at it. Mine does that too!!” but then I swallow the rising fear and try and tackle what mine’s throwing at me. A couple of deft hand movements here and there, finding out some free cheats from ‘the others’, the ones in the know. We’ve met in hospital waiting rooms, we spot each other fairly instantly. The ones united by the rise in internet social media and are desperate for tips, desperate to connect, immediately offering comfort to those in ownership of these black market versions.

You see my version sometimes looks so like what everyone else is playing, even I forget. But not at the start. It was immediately more complex. The shapes weren’t in anyway regular. They may have contained four blocks, but they were the wrong size. They wouldn’t turn like they should, no matter what the handbook said. We searched for answers, but weirdly they kept telling me that no, they were normal, regular. Sure they looked odd, but there was nothing that could prove them to be otherwise. Some odd shapes were identified, categorised, but they would still fit in hopefully. And then we started playing at home more, and we joined the legions of parents at beginner’s level. Not too taxing at this level, completed rows seemed a lot more readily available and satisfyingly clunk off the bottom. Smile, check. Pass object between hands, check. Laugh, kerchunk. This beginner’s level was pretty cool… But always there the threat of odd shapes and the odd episode where lots of dodgy rows seems to build up all together, for no reason, and land us using our hall pass at the computer store called Analog & Encryption.

But I started to notice it slowly. The base of my game of Tetris widened, I couldn’t make it go upwards as quickly as others. But it’s OK, I’ve just got a version that was released before all the gremlins were sorted out, and you know, it didn’t start well did it? And still, there were those unidentified complex blocks that Just Won’t Fit. Even the tech help were baffled… Let’s just work with what we know. Work on that wide base, I’m sure we’ll hear the sound of some nice kerchunks of completed rows with time and manipulation. And some times we do, but it’s more of a plink of some part of that row making it look more complete. My blocks don’t fall very quickly and what I try and keep hidden is my worry that sometimes that base widens a bit, it may never plop off the bottom of the screen. I’ve also read that sometimes in this version rows start popping back up from the bottom, go sideways. The glitches get worse, the shapes thrown at you more challenging. Behavioural blocks, medical combinations. And there’s not enough money to research it because these games of Tetris are so unheard of there’s not one answer for all. And there’s not enough help because sometimes they look too much like the regular version you can be made to feel deluded and disheartened.

But black market Tetris is cool. You have to have your wits about you, be up for a challenge. You love a plink on part of a row, you may even cheer and do a funny little dance. You may choke back a tear. And you look at the odd little misshapen rows you’ve completed, and award yourself bonus points. And the soundtrack may be a little quirky, and as intensely irritating as the regular form, but it’s got a certain beat to it. You spend hours trying to find the chosen few players and celebrate and commiserate together, as well as nobble them for cheats. I’d even go as far as to say it’s a little more compelling, but well, I’m biased. You’ll see me, sweatily handling my GameBoy, I may even look like I know what I’m doing. But if you catch my eye over the top of the screen you’ll see a glimmer of green. It’s just the reflection OK?! And if you look and recognise that reflection, you’ll know the real me. Two player anyone?

My GameBoy still in original packaging. Handbook not included.

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