Unlike most things that come out of my mouth, THIS IS A TRUE STORY.
I live out my days as the only female in a group of gamers. Despite the sheer number of hours we devote to gaming, we are by no means impressive, yet we each have our "thing" – our one game that makes us the best.
My game was Tetris.
Perhaps I flaunted my high score too frequently. Perhaps I was a sore winner. Maybe Russia just has it out for me. I don't know, but exactly one month ago, I was violently dethroned as Tetris Master by my friend and now nemesis, Kenny.
Kenny is the worst Tetris player I've ever seen. Watching him play is like watching a nearsighted, inebriated chimp assemble Lincoln Logs. I've decided the only way witnessing his erratic block-stacking behavior could be more painful is if Tetriminoes literally jumped off the screen and started kicking me in the shins.
And that's the kid who beat my high score.
Everyone has experienced that white-hot feeling of rage after being bested at something – especially when it comes to video games. It's not enough just to beat Left4Dead with a friend; it's about having the most kills after every level. Who cares how proficiently you beat COD4 if your friend has the Mile High Club achievement and you don't? And remember: You're only as good as your last Mario Kart race.
With these feelings in full effect, I was determined to win back my title as Lisa, Destroyer of Lines and Manipulator of Falling Blocks. I started "training" for a few hours every day… and soon, my determination turned into full-blown obsession.
After about a month of this clearly unproductive lifestyle, I not only experienced sore forearms and cramped thumbs, but began severely suffering from Tetris Effect.
Tetris Effect: A form of ‘repetitive stress syndrome' which occurs when people devote so much time and attention to Tetris that it begins to overshadow their thoughts, mental images, and dreams.
1. You lose sleep due to your brain involuntarily producing Tetris combinations and falling shapes.
2. You discover an irrepressible love for stacking square items, such as cereal boxes and 9-volt batteries.
3. Bathroom tiles? Skyscrapers? The 2010 Nissan Cube? Yeah, spot those and you'll be fitting them together in your head for a while.
4. Most of all, you switch off your Tetris game and retain a strong feeling that you still have some pending business. The game needs you.
Play enough daily games of Tetris, and you TOO can be a freak!
The Tetris Effect is the result of Muscle Memory, caused by our brains processing the consistent manual repetition of fitting blocks together as a candidate for optimization. In other words, your brain wants you to do Tetris gooder. As a result, you experience post-game imagery. If played enough, this syndrome can happen with other "repetitive action" games, too, such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
To put this idea into scientific example, a 2000 study by a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist tested the procedural memory sparked by Tetris on people with anterograde amnesia (unable to form new memories). The study found that the test subjects dreamed of falling shapes after playing Tetris, yet had no memory of actually playing the game.
The bizarre wonders of Tetris don't stop there.
It's no secret that exercising your brain with games like Tetris can lead to more efficient cerebral (and truck-packing) activity, but a study by Oxford University in 2009 found that volunteers playing Tetris soon after viewing traumatic material in the lab reduced the number of flashbacks to those scenes in the following week. Just think – Tetris could potentially reduce flashbacks for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Crazy!
But back to my embarrassing addiction.
Four-block imagery and a desire to create order out of chaos haunted me during my Tetris fetish – even more so than when I worked long hours as a graphic designer and fantasized to undo, or "Control + Z" everything that went wrong in my life. (Or "Command + Z" for Mac users, but they never actually make mistakes, right? Am I right, folks?)
On a Sunday night, it happened: I took a Hammer of Dawn to Kenny's high score in a T.K.O. Thankfully, he was there to witness the event, complete with me tying a towel around my neck and running around my condo to the Rocky theme.
I've remained an addict to a degree since my victory. Even while writing this article I've taken exactly five Tetris breaks. However, I don't think any kind of intervention will be necessary until I start hiding in darkened rooms rearranging Kleenex boxes. That was a Howard Hughes reference. But now I've ruined the joke by explaining it. (Editor's note: We don't require our columnists to make Howard Hughes references, but we are on a roll.)
Excuse me, I need to go fit blocks together.
Lisa Foiles is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon's award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as a graphic designer and writes for her game site, Save Point. For more info, visit Lisa's official website.