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A 13-year-old in Oklahoma may have just become the 1st person to ever beat Tetris

Willis Gibson at the 2023 Classic Tetris World Championship
David "aGameScout" McDonald
Willis Gibson at the 2023 Classic Tetris World Championship

In certain video games, usually the game beats the player and not the other way around. But last month, 13-year-old Willis Gibson of Oklahoma became the first person believed to ever beat the original Nintendo version of Tetris.

Thirty-four years after Tetris was first released, Gibson ended up advancing so far that the game itself could not keep up with him. At level 157, he reached the notorious "kill screen" — the point in the game where it becomes unplayable because of limitations with the game's original programming. It took him less than 39 minutes.

"What happens is you get so far that programmers that made the game, they never expected you to make it that far. And so the game starts breaking down and eventually it just stops," said Gibson.

How rare was his accomplishment? Before this, only artificial intelligence had been attributed with reaching the kill screen.

In a video posted to his YouTube channel, under the name "Blue Scuti," Gibson can be seen saying "just please crash" as the Tetris stacks fall faster and faster. Moments later, the screen freezes and he collapses in triumph.

"Oh my god, yes! I'm going to pass out," he says in pure shock, his score on the screen reading the maxed out figure of 999999. (Gibson says his actual final score was 6.8 million.)

In classic Tetris, players stack differently shaped blocks as they fall. Players can rotate the blocks in different directions, and the goal is to form them into solid lines. When the blocks form a solid line, they then disappear. If the uncleared pieces reach the top of the screen, the game ends. Over time, the blocks fall faster and faster, making the game more difficult.

"[What drew me to Tetris] was mainly its simplicity. It's easy to start playing it and understand it, but it's very difficult to master it," said Gibson.

Gibson has been playing in tournaments since 2021. In October, he was the youngest person to make it to the Classic Tetris World Championship, where he placed third.

According to the Tetris Company, over 520 million units of Tetris have been sold worldwide, making it one of the top selling games of all time. Soviet software engineer Alexey Pajitnov created Tetris in 1985. It was released by Nintendo Entertainment System four years later.

Gibson said he's been playing since he was 11 years old and typically plays for three to five hours per day.

He dedicated the record-setting win to his father, Adam Gibson, who died last month.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.