A 13-Year-Old Just Became the First Person to Ever Conquer ‘Tetris’

Willis Gibson has done the impossible: He made ‘Tetris’ give up.
‘Tetris’ has met its match.
‘Tetris’ has met its match. / Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader,

Packed in with the Nintendo Game Boy in 1989, Alexey Pajitnov’s Tetris remains one of the ultimate digital addictions. But it’s a game essentially without end: Players typically persist until the falling pieces (dubbed Tetriminos) descend too quickly to maneuver. “Beating” it is an ethereal concept.

Until now.

Popular Science reports that a 13-year-old named Willis Gibson is believed to be the first gamer to ever bring the 1988 NES cartridge version of the game to a conclusion, essentially forcing the software to quit when he reached the 157th level.

Playing Tetris is difficult at best beyond level 29, when the game becomes too sped-up for players to react. While AI could push the game to its limits, humans could not. In recent years, though, some professional gamers developed a controller technique that allowed them to keep up.

“There’s a little D-pad on the controller that you can press down, and it will go left or right,” Gibson told the Stillwater News Press. “Instead of manually just tapping each piece every single time, what you do is you hover your finger over the button just barely so it doesn’t cause an input left or right, and then you roll your fingers on the back of the controller. So each finger causes an input.”

Because the software wasn’t written to accommodate players who could handle level 29 speeds, Tetris begins to exhibit anomalies as the levels progress. The color palette can dim, making the pieces hard to see.

Gibson was apparently undaunted. Using the speedrunning controller approach, Gibson reached level 157 in December 2023, forcing a coding error that essentially crashes the game. In other words, Tetris gave up before Gibson did.

Gibson, who is from Stillwater, Oklahoma, picked up Tetris two years ago. In October, he placed third in the Classic Tetris World Championship, pocketing $1500. That contest was points-based.

Now that gaming’s version of the 4-minute mile has been broken, there will likely be other Tetris achievements to come. Tetris experts believe the game can theoretically be played to level 255, at which point it returns to level 0.