The unauthorized biography of matching tile games

A few years ago I hopped into a beat up old Jeep with Scotty Dunlop, who you may remember from such illustrious exploits as “I was the lucky shit who got into the Playboy Mansion,” and we drove out to Denver and then to San Fran. It was a trip for the ages, of the deets I won’t go into hear, but one of the highlights was the Dr. Mario throwdown Scotty had with my buddy Jay Mallo’s fiance.

Scotty claimed he was an amazing player and Carolyn threw down the gauntlet and they battled for what seemed like three straight days. This was huge, epic playing. Both competitors were each other’s equal, playing better, not worried about the lack of food or sweat poring from their brow. Anyway, I was thinking about this moment for a few reasons.

The first, is that while Tetris may get all the recognition in the genre of matching tile games, Dr. Mario is the standard bearer.

The second reason is that I came across this cool anthopological study on the history of the matching tile game. (via: If you’re a fan of Tetris, Dr. Mario, or Bejeweled you should check out this truly great study.

Can we write the history of a game genre? Some anthropological work has been done on game history: Stewart Culin’s 1894 article on Mancala, the National Game of Africa (Culin 1894) discusses the spread of Mancala games geographically and historically, noting differences in rules and materials used to play. Writing the history of matching tiles games is slightly different in that the time span is much shorter (20 years rather than thousands of years), developed mostly commercially and generally attributable to individuals (as opposed to the folk game of Mancala). Matching tile games are arguably a less clearly delimited field than Mancala games, and where the development of Mancala is an integral part of the way the game is distributed, by passing on between people who innovate or misremember the rules of the game, video games are software products that can be distributed globally without being changed, but only used differently.

Keep an eye out for the family tree. Just knowing that Dr. Mario gave birth to a game called Lumines means I’ll want to check that out.

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