So I’m a huge fan of tetris. One of my favorite games, I love it in particular because while it engages my hands and my eyes and my pattern recognition skills, it still leaves my hearing and my consciousness available for other things, like listening to lectures or podcasts. It’s an extremely addicting puzzle game with surprising complexity, and plenty of skill involved. More recently, however, I've come to realize that a lot of my skill in the game boils down to a handful of axioms that I've developed over the years of playing the game, axioms that determine how I react in certain situations.
Above all, the most important thing is sustainability. So long as you can ensure a steady stream of cleared lines, you keep blocks exiting the screen at a similar rate to the speed of their entrance, preventing them from stacking up. When blocks do stack up, it means that your sustainability has been compromised for whatever reason, and you have to then spend excess effort doing everything you can in order to clear them.
Certain blocks are more sustainable than others, namely the most regularly shaped pieces, the I and O tetrominoes. These stack easily with themselves and with others, making them extremely sustainable. The I is the most sustainable, of course, because it has the least offensive profile, enabling it to clear four lines at a time, creating the titular Tetris and providing you with a hefty score bonus. Meanwhile, the least sustainable are the S and Z blocks, which have been proven to be the reason why it’s impossible to play Tetris forever (even were you to remain at the easiest difficulty). (http://wayback.archive.org/web/20061209110731/http://www.math.uic.edu/~burgiel/Tetris/explanation.html) These blocks don’t even stack well even with each other. Meanwhile, the middle ground is occupied by the J, L, and T blocks, all of which stack well with themselves and stack somewhat well with others (J and L stack better with O and I, while T stacks better with S and Z).
Sustainability within the game in practice largely means to make sure that you stack blocks in such a way that the maximum possible number of other pieces will be able to be placed without further decreasing the possibility of piece placement. The exception to this, of course, is when we stack blocks in the attempt to create a tetris, because the game provides us with a high point reward for doing so. Consider, however, the time when you have a hole perfectly shaped for a certain block. Suddenly, that block refuses to appear, and you continue to stack other blocks around this whole in decreasingly sustainable ways. Sooner or later, either the block appears and you now have to work against all the unsustainable blocks around it, or you’re forced to cut your losses and put in another piece that only partially fits. When your sustainability decreases too much, whether by random chance of poor block generation, or by your own failure to place blocks advantageously, blocks stack to the top and you lose the game.
What can this model tell us about life? Well, a lot of things. Tetris is, in a certain way, an analogue for human society. Some societies are more sustainable than others, i.e., they last longer (higher skill in sustainability means the player can play into more extreme difficulty levels without issue). Some go out in a blaze of glory (high point values early on from lots of tetris’, but fail to last into more challenging difficulty levels). Many go through a high point of perfect sustainability only to later decline and bow out as the difficulty of survival increases. Some get lucky, others don’t. But above all, everyone loses sooner or later. No society is perfectly sustainable. We can extend our time as a culture through skill and luck in self-preservation, but sooner or later even the greatest civilizations decline and die out. (Consider the Roman Empire, the British Empire, as examples.)
Sustainability within a society refers to a complex set of numerous variables touching upon all aspects of life: politics, agriculture, entertainment, self-defense, internal relations, medicine, and many more. Catastrophic failure in any one of these areas can cause the entire system to collapse, or deal it a strong blow which forces it to refocus its strategy. Further, each of these variables is comprised of smaller ones (entertainment can be broken into film, television, radio, books, magazines, newspapers, video games, etc.), the failure of any of which can cause serious harm (or potential catastrophic failure) to the greater umbrella under which they belong. Then, of course, there’s always an inherent chance of failure built into the system. The more tightly regimented and ordered it becomes, the more dangerous a small failure can become, amplifying the difficulty of playing the system (akin to the increasing difficulty of the Tetris game).
Further, I would like to stress the possibility of surprising success as well. Just as sometimes one variable can have a surprisingly positive effect on the rest of the societal system, so are there sometimes strange and unique moves which can be performed within Tetris, enabled by less common block placements and perfect synchronization of blocks. Skillful players will place blocks in such a way as to provide maximum sustainability in the present while also paying attention to the future (mentally identifying a place for the next block before the current block has fallen).
In short, sustainability is the single largest virtue that a society can have. All societies are doomed to failure, but sustainability enables that failure to be continually put off to the end. Many people in the modern sector imagine that since they won't have to deal with the consequences of their actions with respect to the environment and the world in which we lie, since they will occur after their own death. But this short term thinking reduces sustainability and amounts only to stupidity. I'm not suggesting that we need to focus on sustainability for the sake of the environment, but for ourselves. When we make the Earth inhospitable, we're either going to lose the game, or, if we're lucky, we'll get another chance. At least in Tetris, having another chance is always a certainty.