Experiences that have Tetris-Effect'd me

28 Oct 2018

Tetris Effect: doing certain kinds of really absorbing things will make the activity pevasive in your thoughts when you close your eyes. This isn’t conversing with characters from a book I’m reading in a dream, this is starting to fall asleep and suddenly seeing falling blocks. I’d consider this different from “thinking with portals” where I start to be reminded of a game during waking hours. As I fall asleep, I think of the days activities in terms of this activity. My schoolwork is a form of fitting falling pieces together.

This isn’t something that’s every really bothered me, but I’ve heard and read now about people who don’t like it, particularly when it happens to them with programming.

I was wondering about patterns here so I thought I’d make a list of my personal experiences with this phenomenon.


We’re talking first grade I think, that’s when I got a gameboy from my grandparents with Tetris. I don’t remember dreaming about a videogame being particularly remarkable, I just remember hearing about the Tetris effect years later and thinking, “of course!”

My concrete memory here is explaining to my friend that the reason I didn’t believe what he was telling me about this game having talking trees when he borrowed it on a cartrip was that I often dreamed about this game too, so he had probably just dreamed this. (He was right.)


This happened in college, I played some with other physics majors and then would fall asleep unconciously thinking about it. I remember perceiving someone else speaking as an offensive rush and the imagery (that once grossed me out in middle school) being omnipresent.


Belts, buffers and bottlenecks! This is a popular game for the Tetris Effect:

If I’m looking for patterns this is an interesting example because I can find lots of folks attesting to it. Once again I wish I could effectively poll the world without the reporting bias of who is more likely to post things online, particularly on Reddit.


The most recent instance of this for me. I played a fair number of hours in spurts, but I want to find some kind of pattern beyond “how many hours I spend.”


I’ve coding dreams before but it’s been a while. I think this is because I do so much less coding day to day working as a software engineer than I did at the Recurse Center or in fits of hacking on open source projects. And perhaps the complexity of a single-person project is more immersive somehow?

My most specific memory of this is dreaming about terminal text manipulation algorithms while writing Curtsies.

Universal or singular experience?!?

From twenty minutes of Googling (I won’t let myself fall any farther down this rabbithole) games that came up repeatedly, from most to least, were:

very common

  • Tetris
  • Lumines
  • Guitar Hero
  • Factorio
  • Picross
  • DDR
  • Go (the board game)
  • Chess (the board game)

sort of common

  • programming
  • spreadsheets
  • Starcraft
  • Age of Empires
  • Geometry Wars
  • Infinifactory

common, perhaps only because they are very popular

  • Smash Brothers
  • Minecraft
  • Pokemon
  • shooty games like Halo, COD, etc.

I’m editorializing a bit, leaving out similar effects like stealth games making you think of how to stealthily cross a room or the wonderful “thinking in portals” effect or Tony Hawk making you see urban settings as skate parks. I also tried to account for super popular games being overreported.

I’d list out my sources but besides this thread everything else was from a Google search for tetris effect with site:reddit.com.