According to some, there’s a “condition” called the Tetris Effect where “Tetris” players, after many, many hours of playing the Russian puzzle block game, begin to hallucinate about a never-ending deluge of “Tetris” blocks floating down an imaginary grid. This happens during waking and sleeping hours — those affected dream in L-shape and reverse L-shape blocks and see S-blocks while they eat gyros and while they’re taking showers.

The Tetris Effect generated enough talk that Wired magazine wrote a short piece on it in 1994. However, instead of talking about the strange visual phenomenon attached to the game, the article talked about the addictiveness of “Tetris,” calling the Tetris Effect a “biochemical, reductionistic metaphor, if you will, for curiosity, invention, and creative urge.”

The Tetris Effect can be seen as a cultural metaphor for our want to categorize and organize different, irregular-seeming objects into a cohesive system. It’s here that we can see the interplay between culture and what we create: We create the organization we’d like to see. And, if we look at “Tetris” in a different light, we can see how deeply video games have saturated our culture because the game is everywhere and has become a facet of everyday life. We can find “Tetris” on calculators, iPods, Facebook applications and key chains. And we still play the game to spend our open-ended hours or minutes, even two decades after the game’s creation.

“Tetris” is just one video game that speaks to the ubiquity of gaming culture and the prevalence of 8-bit art aesthetics as they move from the realm of “nerdiness” into pop culture. Although we left behind the 8-bit generation in the 1980s with the pixilated playgrounds of the Nintendo Entertainment System (“Super Mario Bros.”) and the Atari (“Galaga”), the 8-bit art aesthetic still hangs around not only in the form of pop culture (we all know who Mario and Luigi are) but pop art, which takes the form of 8-bit pixel art and chiptune music.

Pixilated art is the norm for the NES, with its unclear, tile-like visuals — think of NES Mario in all of his blocky, tri-colored glory, where his mustache is a series of brown blocks in the middle of a beige-block face. Pixel art is simply blocky. We can see the individual pixels (or smallest units of display on a monitor) as obvious squares that sit next to one another like colored tiles. This seems to be the general premise for the art genre itself.

Pixel art itself may be kind of counter-intuitive since we’ve approached the realm of hyper-realistic video gaming and CGI, where computer-character hot girls look like hot girls (“Soul Calibur IV”) and mulleted bad-ass gaming protagonists look, well, badass (“Metal Gear Solid 4”). But in games like “Space Invaders,” for the 8-bit Atari, you just have to use your imagination to turn the strange shellfish-looking blobs with eyes into ominous-looking aliens.

But there’s something charming about the unclear, block-like characters in these consoles, and contemporary artists are already beginning to make their homages to the Atari using unlikely materials and familiar themes. Guillaume Reymond is one such French-Swiss artist who works with the pixilated art realm in mind, but instead of working with colored pixels, he uses stop-motion video, movie theater seats and people in colored t-shirts.

Reymond’s series “GAME OVER Project” uses stop-motion video to create striking mini-films that emulate the flying pixels of “Space Invaders” or “Tetris.” He uses movie theater seating, in its even 8-by-16 seats, to create a grid-like background while using people in colored t-shirts as pixels. For example, in his “Tetris”-based film, he has people sitting in colored t-shirts in groups of 2-by-2 to create the square block (the “O” block), and people sitting in rows of 1-by-4 to create the long blocks (the “I” block). Using stop-motion photography, people move from seat to seat between takes and, in the final cut, these “blocks” appear to float down the movie seating grid and arrange themselves like pieces in a “Tetris” game. (If the image isn’t that clear for you, you can view Reymond’s GAME OVER Project art series at

To compliment the visual 8-bit homages with auditory ones, there are also relatively new musicians that have begun to use the beeps and blips of 8-bit games to create music. Here you can hear the striking 8-bit “TSEEW!” of a laser beam zap or the “DING!” of coin-catching in a “Mario” game used repeatedly to create jingles or catchy pop tunes. The 8-bit music genre itself has been lovingly named “chiptune” and has gathered an underground following of indie music and video game enthusiasts alike.

One pioneering chiptune artist is Nullsleep, the moniker for Jeremiah Johnson, who attended the Engineering and Applied Science program at Columbia University. An average show of his will showcase the use of augmented Nintendo consoles and hand-held Game Boys to create the twitchy, nostalgia-inducing sounds that coalesce into legitimate musical pieces. The songs themselves consist of complex musical layers that use harmonies, melodies and rhythmic elements to differentiate these pieces from simple one-line “Mary Had a Little Lamb”-type ditties. (Nullsleep’s music is available for free download online at his website,

The 1980s game aesthetics have become a heavy influence in contemporary art. Current pop-art aesthetics have been borrowed from what was heavily influential and ground-breaking two decades ago — video games. There’s an interesting interplay between artists and their artwork that can be see when analyzing pixel art and chiptune music, because culture and art are intimately intertwined. While Warhol was producing silk screen prints of Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo pads (icons that were significant to the emerging consumer society in the 1960s), contemporary artists are harkening back to images that were important and iconic to them — which include images from the pixilated screens of the NES and Atari. It seems like our simple childhood time-passer has become something of a generational and cultural icon.

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