I am for sure not the only one wishing Tetris a happy 25 year old birthday, but still, the game has deserved it. Its addicting, fun, and indeed: with no purpose in itself. Sounds familiar?
It's also a wonderful piece of living media archaeology, especially now in the midst of the boom concerning "casual games". That's of course what mobile entertainment was/is supposed to be, but also all those small, simple games that you can just pick up / log into, and end as casually as you started them. Like mobile games, they are meant to kill the couple of minutes between chores, the tube trip to work place, or back, or the time while waiting for your date who is late.
Casual. Does not demand much attention, but enough to keep the game going. Addictive, but to a degree that it can be indeed left alone for a while. Part of the fragmented everyday routine, so that it can add an extra scale of fragmentation and hence act as a "training ground" for the crucial skills of contemporary work sphere: flexibity, readyness for changes, quickly shifting temporalities, etc.
I would be actually tempted to exaggerate that Tetris was the first phase of this training -- not only the senso-motorial skills that it and a bunch of other early games imposed on the user; but also in terms of its place as part of the everyday media sphere. I think Friedrich Kittler referred somewhere to discos as the training ground for future wars (the ability to react to impulses, maneuver in spaces defined by quick paced sonic and visual rhythms, etc.), but perhaps Tetris and other early games were the crucial training for our computerized post-Fordist sphere. That's actually what I quite often find lacking in some of the even brilliant Italian and Italian inspired writers of post-Fordism: a meticulous and accurate analysis of the network and computer society that contributes and frames those themes that Virno, Lazzarato, Negri, Hardt, etc. are offering. I know Bifo gets closer to this topic, but I feel that on this front, there is a huge amount to be done.
As a bonus, click here for 5 classic Tetris adverts! Hilarious stuff.
See also the Guardian story on the topic.