Return to Nothingness

Tetris and its Connection to Confucianism

By Angus McCullough


Tetris is a video game about clearing away what is unnecessary in the best possible way, accessible on almost every gaming console imaginable, on cellular phones and for free on the Internet. Perhaps you played it once on an ancient game system in your youth or maybe you play it whenever you're sitting at your desk at work. Alexei Pajitnov, the creator of Tetris, calls it the first “casual game”, meaning that it is timeless in just such a way: it is the same every time you play, without plot or characters to follow. The first time you played it in middle school is the same game that is probably programmed into your phone today. To compare Tetris to any other game is somehow wrong – it is a masterful test of how our brains function while trying to balance instinctual and intellectual challenges in real time. The major difference between Tetris and other games is the simplicity of its construction and complexity of play. Most importantly, it is a game that does not have a goal or end. There is no castle to storm or high score to achieve – the only way to end your game is to lose. The result of this simple and mildly daunting setup is that Tetris affords the user a repetitive task every time he or she picks it up: to play better than the last time. It has also been shown to have beneficial effects outside the game itself, making it a powerful tool for personal development, mirroring certain aspects of Confucian ritual.

Confucian thought originates somewhere in the 5th or 6th century BCE, though debate rages on about exactly when it began. Confucius himself is thought to have been an upper class citizen from the Lu In Province of China. And while his background is contested by a number of scholars (including whether or not he truly existed at all), it is agreed upon that from a young age he threw himself into study and became a teacher by his 30s. The Confucian “way” is a delicate and open-ended guide for living, suggesting ways in which to cultivate and better oneself through study, excellence and ritual. There are many aspects to Confucian thought, but ritual (whether complex or mundane) stands out as a core belief that enables one to transform laborious tasks into care-free instincts. Ritual to a Confucian would include both ceremonial functions and, more importantly, personal routines comprising everyday life. Norms concerning color combinations of clothing, afternoon tea, the pursuit of knowledge, etc. were as important as major functions. The primary passage that comes to mind when speaking about these rituals is 2:4 in the Analects, when the Master says, “At age fifteen I set my heart upon learning…and at age seventy I could follow my heart’s desire without overstepping the bounds of propriety”. The way to become such a Confucian gentleman is through mastery of ritual, training your instinct to work with your mind. To be good at Tetris, one must follow just such a pattern of development.

I have been playing Tetris almost every day for six years or so, and my relationship to it has shifted over time. I initially played to beat high scores (and my friends on the school bus), but after a long hiatus the practice regained my attention as a personal pursuit. Tetris now holds a meaning for me that is unconnected to points other than as a side effect – I play it now as a routine rather than a challenge. I have become instinctively good at Tetris, and have started treating it as a therapeutic and restorative process. It has led me to develop confidence in my instincts and intellectual reflexes, which in turn have helped me find my own opinion on unrelated matters in a consistent way. This, I think, is in keeping with Confucian rituals in the way that they effect and inform emotional selfhood and knowledge co-dependently.

Block Head

To adequately discuss Tetris, a few definitions are needed. First, its name comes from the Greek “tetra” (four) and tennis (the favorite sport of the inventor Pajitnov). To systematically define it, Tetris is a puzzle game played in two dimensions where pieces consisting of four units each called either tetrominoes or tetrads “fall” down the playing board. Each block consists of four units, in different configurations of those four units touching face to face, not excluding mirrored images. These seven tetrominoes are commonly referred to as the letters they resemble: I, J, L, O, S, T and Z (top to bottom in the image above) . All of the pieces are capable of completing two-line clears: if there is a correctly shaped space, they can be inserted two lines deep. The “L” and “J” pieces are capable of three-line clears. The “I” piece is the only one capable of a four line clear, also called a Tetris, that renders the player the highest points of any clear.

It is important to note that all the pieces have their own merits. For example, the “T” shaped block is by far the most flexible in its use, with an ability to be placed in step-shaped gaps in either direction, and spun into place to fit into small gaps. While many players covet the long stalk, other than the Tetris it only has one other configuration that is usually difficult to use. But because of the systematic way all of these blocks are engineered, they have equal value in terms of the points they can render and variety of application. The object of the game is to manipulate these blocks by moving each one sideways and rotating it in 90-degree units to drop into horizontal lines of blocks without gaps. But instead of building up, every time a line is completed it disappears from the board, and any line above will fall into its place.

Points are awarded for each line cleared, with double, triple and four-line clears resulting in higher scores. The game also encourages you to play faster than the falling speed, with points awarded when the player “pushes” the block into place faster than it would fall on its own volition. As a player accumulates points the playing level increases, by way of faster falling speed of each brick. This shifts the focus from carefully considered moves to more instinctual ones. I propose that by playing Tetris repeatedly, these instincts can be informed, trained and educated to make these instantaneous choices both productive and correct. Not only does the game consider the duality of order and chaos but trains and improves your decision-making skills.

A basic counter-example of a game with a simple arc is the original Super Mario Brothers, wherein the player starts on level one and tries to progress Mario through consecutive stages with increasing difficulty. And while Mario restarts every time you play, the conventional structure of levels and bosses differentiates it from a game like Tetris. Any game resembling Mario does not represent a ritual in the way I am defining it; it is merely a task (which, most would say, is an enjoyable one). To access the self-improving ethos of ritual, there must be more than set goals to complete. To play Tetris well, you must figure out new ways to play it, so your advancement in skill is about advancing your own learning.

The sense that Tetris is constantly on the brink of beating you fades over time, and it becomes clear that one false move will not, in fact, send your game into the depths. The easier speeds allow for such mistakes and slips, and it is only the very latest stages of the game that present truly nerve-racking moments. But because of the constantly changing difficulty of the game, the faster falling speed is more about fitting the challenge to the player rather than an attempt to make you lose. This vertiginous quality is not present in the Confucian philosophy because it seems like a gentleman of that kind would lead his life in a relatively contemplative way. But there are clearly moments when immediate action is required of such a person, and it is important in those situations to be sure of one’s true feelings and rational instincts. Tetris trains these, and by playing it over and over, the sense that there is ever present failure at every moment should be relieved by the fact that you can pick up the game and play again. In this way, it is important to keep things in perspective: Tetris may be exemplary of Confucian meaning, but the act of playing is merely a game.

Virtue Rituals

The Confucian conception of ritual is explicated in a number of texts, especially in those of philosophers Mencius and Xunzi. The creation of rituals according to Xunzi was a case of sensitive and wise kings who hated chaos and desired order. Xunzi writes:

If there is chaos then they [the people] will be impoverished. The former kings hated such chaos, and so they established rituals and the standards of righteousness in order to allot things to people, to nurture their desires, and to satisfy their seeking…This is how ritual arose.

The thrill and addiction of playing Tetris comes from a similar desire. Hank Rogers, the man responsible for bringing Tetris to Nintendo and the rest of the world, says of the game “It satisfies a basic human desire, and that is to make order out of chaos.” If this is true – and I would posit that it is – then Tetris accesses a basic human desire that was the genesis of rituals in ancient China. One difference between the Tetris ritual and Xunzi’s philosophy lies in his conception of human nature as inherently bad. The gradual transformation from pettiness through studiousness, in order to become a gentleman and ultimately a sage mirrors the moral progression of Confucius in passage 2:4 of the Analects, but begins in a different place. At the end of the long and arduous road, the state of human eudaimonia is attained when the person has reverence for the Way, and once sagehood is reached, he may follow his desires and fulfill his dispositions because they have been transformed. Xunzi writes,

When one has grasped Virtue, then one can achieve fixity. When one can achieve fixity, then one can respond to things. To be capable both of fixity and of responding to things— such a one is called the perfected person

This fixity is a bolstering against any pull of temptation or obsessions, which distract from true virtue and reinforce human limitations. This, I would say, is expressed in certain methods of playing Tetris: if one is responsive to the natural structure of the game and plays it with a will to learn rather than overcome, Tetris can be a method of personal cultivation. It is a matter of finding one’s balance and then responding instantaneously to a number of stimuli, letting all affect the outcome for the better.

Xunzi is pessimistic about inherent human feelings, but I believe that Tetris is a balanced test of human nature. For example, when someone plays the game for the first time, it is without any conceptions of strategy or technique and because the game is so simple and accessible, it allows any person to simply pick it up and play. I have watched as my mother discovered the game (after my suggesting that she try it), and to see her moving the bricks at first was exhilarating to me simply because it was so true to how one should play the game: without any conceptions of skill or strategy. When confronted with this unknown challenge, I think the human mind will attempt to play Tetris in a way that is respectful to the game, but without skill. This is not completely different to the way in which we should be reverent to other people, the order of things, or when encountering anything greater than ourselves. “Playing to win” is the antithesis of this in the game, and the ambition that leads us to fend for ourselves over others is expressly the wrong way to live if one wants to enjoy life. Perhaps Xunzi is harsh in his assessment of human nature, and we simply need to be encouraged to follow our instinctual respect towards challenges, but additionally taught skills in which to rediscover that naiveté in a productive manner.

Such an open innocence is reflected in the way Mencius writes about human virtues and their cultivation. In the philosophy presented in his Inner Chapters (2nd C. BCE), he sees all virtues as present in a person as small traits of character and inklings, like little sprouts that must be nurtured if they are to grow. In this way, he sees virtues as inherent to humans and that is it foolish to try and impart a virtue that is not already present in the self. If Tetris is a kind of ritual such as this, the sprout it nurtures is organization, surely, but also a similar balance and clarity between reason and instinct that is key to the conception of ritual. In addition, Tetris is about repeatable, consistent improvisational problem solving, not about having that one lucky shot or burst of successes. Mencius talks about his flood-like ch’i (one of his cultivated sprouts that imparts a flowing sense of energy and purity) in this way, saying,

Nourish it with integrity and place no obstacle in its path and it will fill the space between heaven and earth. It is a ch’i which unites rightness and the Way…It is born of accumulated rightness and cannot be appropriated by anyone through a sporadic show of rightness

This is merely an example of one of Mencius’ sprouts, but this quote shows that its cultivation is a result of accumulating rightness rather than practicing at flooding his ch’i. This is part of how I conceive of Tetris, in that it teaches you how to play and your skill improves, but it shows something more, a hidden structure through which one can access a higher sense of things.

To exist in such a state where one would have flood-like ch’i would take quite a bit of practice to hone the rituals necessary to attain that openness and sensitivity to the Way. Playing Tetris functions in the same sense, as it takes a while to build up the skills necessary to play without any tension or pressure. It turns from an intense game into a pursuit more akin to cultivation of skills and the investigation of the reasons behind them. Xunzi explains the relationship between the Way and the emotions, saying that to find the Way, you must feel it. He writes, “How do people know the Way? I say: It is with the heart. How does the heart know the Way? I say: It is through emptiness, single-mindedness, and stillness.” So the skills learned with ritual and practice are there to merely calm and clarify one’s view to what is already there emotionally, a kind of nothingness that allows one to see what lies below shallow life. Xunzi goes on, saying, “Those who are murky understand only the external manifestations, but those who are clear understand the internal manifestations…The benevolent person ponders it with reverence, and the sage ponders it with joy.” This runs parallel to what Confucius says in the Analects about reaching a state when he can simply respond to his desires and know that he will act virtuously and things will turn out well. This is how playing Tetris over time will affect one’s sense of decision-making and pattern recognition. With practice, you can simply put the pieces where you desire, and be sure that they are filling in the right spaces.

Ritual in the Analects is mentioned in the least concrete fashion of all the Confucian philosophers, but the outline of them is both open and delicate. The effects of ritual are talked about more than the specific practices, which is in fact a more effective way of finding out exactly how these rituals work and their underlying causes. Playing Tetris in the right way leads to a sense of harmony with underlying principles, but because of the randomness of the game, it is impossible to conform to a set of goals. Other games allow players to simply fill out specific tasks in the same way over and over again, but Tetris is open in its construction, so it allows something like what Confucius outlines, saying, “The gentleman is harmonious but not conformist. The little man is conformist but not harmonious”. Finding the harmony between your speed and the skill level of the game is how to find the Way of Tetris, which is hidden just below the surface of normal play.

Return to Nothingness

There are many ways to play Tetris, but they can be organized into two categories: to try to win or try and play well. I define the attempt to win as trying to get as many points as possible, which also implies a desire to overcome the basic structure of the game. The method for this ambitious perspective on the game is to orchestrate multiple-line clears rather than single lines at a time. This is how most beginners approach the game at first. There are many misguided ways to go about it, but for our purposes here, I will skip to the most effective style of “winning.” As I have mentioned, the highest scoring clear is the 4 line Tetris with the stalk. In order to make a Tetris occur, the player must fill the board in a gapless block except a single line of bricks missing in one vertical avenue. It is a neat and organized playing style that requires definite skill, but creates a few problems. One: the player is inherently valuing one piece over the others, causing devaluation of the other pieces. Two: to bank on this one piece appearing at some point before the board fills up makes the player pass up opportunities to place other blocks in effective positions. More importantly, in order to play in this fashion, you must conceive of a future moment in time instead of the present one in which you are playing – the moment the stalk appears. Because of the random nature of the game and the fact that the stalk has no pair (like the L and J or S and Z), what invariably happens is that you get caught without a stalk and end up losing prematurely. To think about playing Tetris respectfully, we must start at the opening screen.

The first frame of Tetris is completely empty, with your brick almost floating at the top. This is both your starting point and the goal you are trying to reach at every moment of the game. You see your current piece, the next one, and nothing more. The first move is to place the first brick as a counterpoint to the second; in this way it is the perfect move, as it has no intentions other than a connection between these two pieces in the best possible way. In many ways, the ideal of Tetris is to continually return to this first frame, where the simplicity of the game is truly represented; a scenario where all the pieces are weighted absolutely equally, no matter who is playing the game or in what manner. To have a piece interact with the board purely is the most elegant aspect of Tetris, and this is where personal choice comes in. If you have an empty space, where do you place the block? Anywhere you like, of course, and in any manner you want. No matter what you decide, you can work other pieces around and on top of it. This is another reason why the “winning” perspective does not reveal the nature of the game: you are ambitiously building up when the point of the game is to return to nothingness. The fact that emptiness is the goal, both in the sense that you are removing bricks and returning to the first screen, connects with Xunzi’s saying about clearing away murkiness to be able to see.

The opening screen is the always the goal, to exist in the exact moment as when you started. Because this is a strange ritual compared to those of the ancient Chinese, it is important to compare the properties of the rituals and their consonance rather than their external aspects. The closest resemblance in Confucian rituals are the ideas of benevolence and rightness, because being in the moment requires having little to do with profit. In fact, this duality is what begins the Inner Chapters, with Mencius talking to King Hui of Liang, who asks what is the best way to profit his people. Mencius responds, saying, “What is the point of mentioning the word ‘profit’? All that matters is that there should be benevolence and rightness.” But a sense of returning to nothingness other than the moment is not quite aligned with this. It has almost more to do with Daoist beliefs, and can be linked to elements of Chaung-tzu’s philosophy.

One story presented in the Chapters is an encounter between Mencius and Hui and a local cook named Ting. Cook Ting presents a perfect analogy to the Tetris player who is constantly seeking new methods for playing the game and honing one’s craft. In the passage wherein Ting lays out the nature of his specialty, he is cutting up an ox for his lord. His movements are deft, without any real hacking or scraping of the meat. His explanation for why he is so good is that he actively trains himself in the craft, and is only interested in bettering his technique.

Cook Ting…replied, ‘What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now— now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants… I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint…there are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room –more than enough for the blade to play about’

This explanation prompts the lord to say that he has been edified on how to live his life. Tetris offers a similar framework for “finding spaces” when the flow of the game might “tell” you to go. At every moment, the Cook is finding a new way to increase his skill so that he can cut with artistry and respect both the ox he is preparing and his knife. This is an example of how Tetris has begun to teach me.
To use each block in the best way for that specific moment is the method I am currently investigating, but it is difficult to maintain. I can reach it in short bursts, but once I become aware of myself I lose the complete skill I possessed just a second before. While I have certainly gotten much better at staying in this state than I could have done years ago, the calm exhilaration that accompanies the mindset is still a treat to me. In such a state, everything seems to fall into place, making every single block “lucky” or meant to work in the space I find for it. Tetris is like singing along to a song, while making up the words. You need to sing in tune and tempo, but however you reach the meaning of the song is up to you.

Chemical reactions

I am far from the first Tetris addict. The first anecdotal evidence that Tetris provided lasting effects came soon after its inception into pop culture and was called the “Tetris Effect.” Gamers would report seeing falling blocks after playing, or obsessions with trying to organizse everyday objects into small spaces like little blocks. Since then, there have been a number of psychological studies linking Tetris to brain development, some even claiming positive results when used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This has something to do with both the visual aspect of Tetris and the way its game-play is dealt with in the brain, making it visual stimulation like a painting that requires cerebral action in order to make it visible. It is “an intrusive image-based memory” as one study calls it, or memorable iconography created by a functional action in our brain – a memory-creating memory.

In a study done in April of 2009 (MRI assessment…of a Visual-spatial Task), Tetris was tested as a brain developing challenge for teenage girls. In the test, the thickness of the cerebral cortex was measured, along with the consumption of glucose from solving problems. 26 girls were charted playing Tetris over a three-month period, with brain MRIs serving as the methods of documentation. The results of the tests showed that subjects who played on a regular basis gained both chemical efficiency as well as physical brain growth. For every subject who played consistently, the cerebral cortex increased in thickness, and challenging visual tasks required less glucose than before the test. The findings state:

After three months of practice, compared to the structural scans of controls, the group with Tetris practice showed thicker cortex. The Tetris group showed cortical activations throughout the brain while playing Tetris, but significant decreases, mostly in frontal areas, were observed after practice

Because of this evidence, it is clear that Tetris has a direct effect on the use of our brains when played over a period of time. And with this development, it is important to note that all of them may not have been playing the style I have presented. Unfortunately, there have been no scientific studies testing methods of game-play (not yet, anyway), but these initial findings point to powerful advancement through simply playing the game.

Another test conducted at Oxford was set up with more focused goals: to ascertain whether playing Tetris could help calm Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Forty adults watched a 12-minute film containing graphic scenes from surgeries, car accidents and other violence that would normally produce mild flashbacks if viewed individually. Then, one group was asked to sit quietly for 10 minutes after viewing, while another was asked to play Tetris. Both groups reported on how they felt immediately after and for a week following the test. The group that played Tetris reported 42% fewer flashbacks than the group who had no visual stimulation after the film. The researchers have deemed that Tetris falls under a category of intrusive memory when applied in this way, and helps to understand how our short term and long term memory function in regards to this kind of visual stimulation:

The capacity of visual memory is both limited and vulnerable to proactive interference, i.e. interruption of memory for presented stimuli by the presentation of similar, but different stimuli after a time delay. Thus ‘‘Tetris’’ provides a promising candidate

Tetris is a “cognitive vaccine” as Emily Holmes, one of the lead researchers on the project, calls it, and could lead to more discoveries about this type of brain function. Tetris is so simple and ubiquitous that it is becoming part of scientific study, even more evidence to its importance in modern society. This project, in kind, was mentioned in the New York Times Magazine 2009 Year in Ideas issue. Its practice, either intrusive or otherwise, has been shown to provide lasting effects on the brain’s ability to function visually – a key subject in a society more and more reliant on non-verbal communication. Because it has positive effects in both of these cases, it could be said that it aids in experiencing the customs of contemporary culture, and is perfectly fitted to help the player live a full life, especially after playing.

“Water can flow, or it can crash. Be like water, my friend” – Bruce Lee

Mihály Csikszentmihalyi, the renowned psychologist responsible for bringing forward the theory of “flow” talks at length in various books about his desire to move away from psychology obsessed with instinct and drives, saying instead that we are more about focus than desires. Tetris is a perfect example of such focused attention, much like the scenario of Cook Ting, and I think that I’ve been able to let both instinct and intellect cohabitate in my mind while I play, and have learned intellectually from repeated instinctual playing scenarios. In this way, it influences both at the same time. I would even posit that this dichotomy is in fact misinformed, and that to truly learn anything at all, both of these “sides” must be prodded and stimulated. This is exactly what Csikszentmihalyi defines as flow, saying

The state of flow is induced when a good fit results from the interactions between two lists of instructions: those contained in the rules of a cultural “game” (a tennis match, a religious ritual, a professional activity) and the list of intrasomatic instructions – based on biological predispositions – which constitutes the actor’s skills

When these two lists combine in a situation to find a balance between challenge and skill, this is the state of flow. It makes an activity joyful for the sake of doing it, and creates the basis of self-knowledge or “information in consciousness”.

Csikszentmihalyi uses this defintion to help explain how flow can lead to a more productive and fulfilling life, completely removed from any sense of well-being derived from ideas of self-worth. He instead uses this matched challenge as a method to find immersive ways to go about life, saying that it is important to find activities that fulfill this slot, because we only have so much experience to use in our lifetimes. He lists the extent to our possibilities for thought and interaction with life in terms of bits of information, coming up with a large sum. He writes, “185 billion bits of information. This number defines the limit of individual experience…it seems like a large number, but in actuality most people find it tragically insufficient.” Because Tetris in fact makes our brains more efficient at processing information, and thickens the cerebral cortex, the time and information spent processing the game results in a net gain for productive thought. All of our actions require a large amount of our processing power, and Tetris might in fact allow us to think more with less energy. “When a person’s skill is just right to cope with the demands of a situation – and when compared to the entirety of everyday life the demands are above average – the quality of experience improves noticeably”. The interesting part of Tetris is that the goal is to play it well, and it constantly gets harder to match the skill of the player, so by playing the game to it’s fullest potential (and your own), you are not only enjoying it, but also laying down foundations for fuller enjoyment next time. This is perfectly parallel to Confucius’ explanation of the importance of ritual.

It is worth noting that Csikszentmihalyi’s definitions of the challenges are cultural in nature, which at first glance discounts Tetris as a simple game, not a fitting challenge. But because of the extensive visual stimulation that modern society requires to function, Tetris can be thought of as a social ritual. Virtue ethics, as a whole, is concerned with such interactions, as a major part of morality has to do with our interactions with others. And while Tetris – as an act – is not about playing with others, the shared experience of playing is international (with over 125 million copies sold) and completely non-verbal, making it a kind of shared cultural dream. So while it may be an escape from talking to your boss in the office, he surely plays it as well. What other ritual can be understood all over the world? But beyond the ubiquity of the game, it is possible to impart lessons learned in solitude to others, only to find that they have reached similar conclusions. Cook Ting’s ritual is a personal process, but the teachings he learns are applicable to the experiences of others, and such learning is easy to translate. This is perhaps true of most learning: once the student finds a higher level in a particular field of study, the lessons can be applied to other subjects. Or, if not, they interact with other higher-level lessons in a sort of pantheon of lessons. For example, two people interested in architecture or public speaking can discuss the appreciation of delicate asymmetry from two different perspectives, but bring about conversation and interaction.


There are definite connections to be made between my mindset while playing the game and my score, which leads me to treat the act of playing it in a ritualistic manner. Because I play it so much, I often find myself doing it without thinking about the game at all – musing on dreams, personal interactions, and ways of thinking about them. It is therapy, in a way. And not only does it allow me to reflect, my level of clarity is directly connected with my progress in the game. If I have a calm and levelheaded approach to my life, I can attain a calm instinctive playing style. The pieces seem to come at just the right moments, making the game an affirmation of my reasoning and feelings about my life. Conversely, when I am anxious or undecided, my disconnect with the game seems complete, and I have no luck with blocks, and often make mistakes. It is a fulcrum around which both subconscious and conscious thought can pivot to find a level with each other. There is something very satisfying about figuring out just how I truly feel about a given subject, which otherwise might be clouded by over-thinking or hidden under anxiety. While I do not take my only counsel with the tetrominoes, Tetris often gives me a moment of eureka that is full of resolution – an experience difficult to replicate by other means. I think that it may very well be the greatest electronic ritual for finding one's true level.

This might all be due to the fact that Tetris, in its highest and purest form, is about learning how to fail. Even if you spend your whole life working at the game and playing at a high level, you will inevitably reach a moment of failure in every single game. This is, I think, the greatest lesson that the game can impart. And even though you can simply play again, I have recently begun playing only one game at a time, to fully savor every moment of the process: the moment of loss may be the moment where I have lost my grip on my game, but it offers much more learning than resentment. This intellectual workout has helped me let go of many needless pursuits towards meaningless goals, to focus my attention on the best and most important ones. If Tetris is a virtual ritual, then I am better for it – and I am surely better for it. And while I do not claim to be anything close to a master of the game, nobody else can either. That is the benefit of this inevitability: there is no champion, only students for finding out how to better their game next time. And after every game, one feels very much like Cook Ting:

‘I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.’ ‘Excellent!’ said Lord Wen-hui. ‘I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!’


E. Bruce Brooks and A. Taeko Brooks. The Original Analects: Sayings of Confucius and his Successors
Isabella Selega Csikszentmihalyi, and Mihály Csikszentmihalyi. Optimal experience: psychological studies of flow in consciousness.

Trans. D.C. Lau. Mencius: The Inner Chapters.
Philip J. Ivanhoe and Brian W. Van Norden. Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy.

Richard J Haier, Sherif Karama, Leonard Leyba, and Rex E. Jung. MRI assessment of cortical thickness and functional activity changes in adolescent girls following three months of practice on a visual-spatial task. BioMed online database, September 2009.

Emily A. Holmes, Ella L. James, Thomas Coode-Bate, Catherine Deeprose. Can Playing the Computer Game ‘‘Tetris’’ Reduce the Build-Up of Flashbacks for Trauma? A Proposal from Cognitive Science. Oxford: Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, January 2009. audio interview: Hank Rogers and Alexei Pajitnov. June 10th, 2009.

Burton Watson. Chuang-tzu: Basic Writings.

Special Thanks
Stephen Angle, who taught me everything I know about Confucianism, and without whose guidance and encouragement these ideas could not have coalesced.

Further Research

Free Tetris