Recommended Sanderwich: Read this post with a Club Sanderwich on white bread, with everything thinly sliced. Cut into at least four tessellating triangles.
A week ago I downloaded the Tetris app. As a kid, it was one of the few computer games I enjoyed, and played endlessly. Since I downloaded it, I’ve been playing it at every opportunity I get: in the canteen during my lunch-break, on tubes and trains to and from work, and in bed before I go to sleep at night. At work, I’ve ignored colleagues. On the tube, I’ve very nearly missed my stop on several occasions. Late at night when I get home, I change into my pyjamas, slip under the duvet in my cold, lonely bed. Already exhausted from work/football/rehearsals, I get out my phone and start playing. A game can take up to fifty minutes. When I finally put down my phone and close my eyes, I see shapes. In good dreams, they all fit together, but nightmares are interminable hours where nothing will tessellate.
I’ve started to see those shapes, or tetrominos, to call them by their official term, even during the day. Conversing with someone, I’ll realise that I’ve stopped listening to what they’re saying, and all I can see is the rotating shapes. I can feel them moving in space, slotting them in just in time. I’ve realised I’m playing it my mindbrain while I’m doing my work as well. Tetris is eternal.
In real life, I want to make objects and people and everything tessellate neatly. This is so common, it’s known as the ‘Tetris Effect’ or ‘Tetris Syndrome’. This describes a syndrome in which a certain activity begins to pattern a person’s thoughts, mental images, and dreams because of the amount of time and level of attention lavished on it. Tetris has also been described as a pharmatronic – an electronic drug. It has been shown to lessen the effect of traumatic memories, so if ever find yourself in a hurricane, or a car crash, get out your gameboy. Tetris is so addictive, the inventor of the game, Alexey Pajitnov was delayed in finishing the prototype because he was too busy playing it. I think I’ve made my point.
While Tetris might have a very catchy theme tune, it’s an incredibly simple game, and yet it has consumed me, eyes, fingers, and soul. I am Tetris! I am Tetris! My theory is that Tetris taps into a deep-seated human desire, instinct even. This is the desire for order, control, and for things to fit just-so.
I’m a naturally untidy person, my room is often messy (read: always). When I’m in my room, I don’t enjoy the mess, it infuriates me. I wish it were beautifully ordered, I wish I had secret storage compartments, a colour co-ordinated bookshelf, and a sense of minimalism. Instead, I have knickers on the floor. It’s not that I don’t want for things to be ordered, it’s that I’ve failed to put in place a good and reliable system for order. Also, I bloody hate tidying.
I love to build a sandwich. There are many reasons for this, and one of them is because I feel like an architect, making component parts fit together, tessellating neatly into a delicious temple. It’s so delightfully convenient. It’s not just physical spaces we want to find order in. When we tell a story, we impose an order on events and characters. Don’t we just love it when all the strands are neatly tied together, and somehow at the end we find ourselves at the beginning again. And what are themes, if not reoccurring shapes throughout a narrative, a pattern, which pleases our brain, and helps it to process the story.
There is a human desire to want people to ‘fit’ as well – we want them to ‘fit in’ or be ‘the right fit’, whether it’s in the workplace or in a social group. When we look for love, we want somebody who fits with us, somebody who has the same interests and habits. Or at least somebody whose neuroses are conveniently the inverse of our own: “I’m shy, but he’s very outgoing”, “She’s always upbeat, which balances out my eternal pessimism”, “I’m an angry, control freak, but it’s ok, because my wife is very easy going and does everything the way I want” etc. etc. In Plato’s Symposium Aristophanes tells a story in which every human is one half of what was once an original whole. I imagine this is a story based on taking the phrase ‘my other half’ very literally. Yes, it was an Ancient Greek phrase. Anyway, there were three kinds of whole human: your basic hetero couple man/woman, then the lesbians and gays, woman/woman and man/man. In the story, I believe Aristophanes claims they’re joined back to back, forming a circle, and they roll around. With such a mighty fine design, they were too much for the gods:
‘Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great’.
So instead of destroying them, the gods split them in half. And for the rest of time humans were doomed to roam the earth in search of finding their other half. And lo, internet dating was born.
Sex is the ultimate tessellation. I’m going to get a little raunchy here, but I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that some parts seem to be made to fit into other parts. The next time I’m having sex in my shambolic room, I will let my orgasmic cry ring loud: “TESSELLATION!!!”. It can’t be any more embarrassing than the time I shouted out the answer to a question on 15 to 1 during coitus.