The conquest of space is full of firsts. The first planet to be seen from a telescope, the first launch, the first lunar trip, the first animal launched by rocket (which, as we know from Mecano, was a dog named Laika)… And, of course, the first video game to ever cross the atmosphere, an honor that goes to, of course, ‘Tetris’.
A tetraminic space
The history of ‘Tetris‘ is already known to all: Alexey Pajitnov programmed it during 1984 in the Soviet Union, using, in the absence of graphics, dots and levels, brackets and spaces representing the pieces. The rights mess that happened later, when the creator wanted to license his game, is more than well dramatized in the movie of the same name that you can see on Apple TV+ and that ended with the tetraminos accompanying the Game Boy at its launch.
Such was the fanaticism for ‘Tetris’ that, when in 1993 the Soyuz TM-17 spacecraft was launched from Russia bound for the MIR, inside was a 49-year-old astronaut who refused to travel without his Game Boy with the game: Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Serebrov retired two years later after completing his mission and spending 196 days in space circling the Earth 3,000 times. In total, the cosmonaut would get to spend almost 372 days in space between all his missions, getting to give ten rides at zero gravity (which seems unimpressive, but at the time it was a record).
Serebrov had been to space three times before and knew that there was always some time to waste between missions. And, instead of doing nothing or eating his head off, he decided to take his favorite pastime with him: a video game. As he himself said in 1994, “Like all cosmonauts, I love sports. My favorites are soccer and swimming. During the flight, in the rare moments of leisure, I enjoyed playing the Game Boy.” Obviously, while he was passing levels and placing pieces, he did not realize that he was setting a record that was immortalized shortly thereafter in the Guinness Book.
Parentheses in space
Serebrov died on November 12, 2013, and before leaving this world for good (and without a return ticket) he decided to auction his beloved console with the game and the manual. It ended up selling for $1,220 (very little, if you ask us) putting an end to the first video game space adventure. It was not the only one.
There is not much data on astronauts playing video games while on missions, but it is known that in 2014 Samantha Cristoforetti played ‘Minecraft’ on a laptop, despite the fact that these are used exclusively for data collection and work. NASA also reported that in 1998 it was usually played as a way to mentally escape from problems, along with other activities such as listening to music or reading fiction. Ah! And in 2016, Tim Peake uploaded from space a photo in which they tested virtual reality… And a game about aliens. Maybe not the best idea to test in space. For this, better a ‘Tetris’ and at least you do not live in fear of UFOs and, as our parents would say, “the little Martians”.
Outside of space, it has been proven that astronauts can improve their skills – and even save their lives in extreme situations – if they are gamers. But there’s a catch, of course, it’s not worth playing ‘Mario Kart‘: Level Ex is a company that creates specialized medical video games, including some for astronauts. Going for a walk in space has never been so much fun.