Jeff Vrabel: Not as good at 'Dr. Mario' as previously thought

Jeff Vrabel

My job here often involves mocking others in a vain and pathetic attempt to increase my underdeveloped sense of self-worth.

So the reader can be forgiven for assuming that I'd begin a column about people who meet regularly to play “Tetris” with a joke, a throwaway funny, something about living in their parents' attics and how one day, with a little gumption, they might in a couple of years make manager down at the Chick-Fil-A.

But mocking others isn't my business today, least of all my Nintendo-obsessed brethren, who, according to a story from Denver, meet once a month in an underground “Tetris” tournament. This regular event brings people together, offers the promise of a little spending money and is, by all accounts, a pretty big deal among those who do this sort of thing. It’s probably more people than you think and no one you can make fun of if you've ever participated in a fantasy football league.

“Tetris,” if you were not around in the late '80s or early '90s, was that Russian-born video game in which players manipulate a series of four-segment pieces called tetrominoes, and by "players" I mean "my Mom," who could be counted on to be absolutely killing the game in my brother's bedroom when he and I got home from school between the years of 1990 and 1992.

This would have been a greater cause for concern among Dave and I if Mom wasn't quite so good, and also when we asked for a turn she often snapped at us until she was done playing, which took, like, hours. Anyway, “Tetris” was unique because you could compete against other players - except my Mom, who would slaughter you in minutes and leave you pleading for mercy - hence the Denver tournament.

I must confess that I never quite got the hang of the “Tetris” - I wasn't bad, but I didn't have the lightning hands required of such a thing. I believe that may be largely because at the time, I was well on my way to becoming the planet's best “Dr. Mario” player ever. Ever. EVER. Yeah, doubt me, haters. I see you, out there in Norwich, shaking your head. Test me. I want you to.

“Dr. Mario” was a “Tetris” knockoff; a similar idea but with pills and much better music. And for whatever reason, in those fleeting and lost days that others spent absorbing skills at a musical instrument or a sport, I got astonishingly, irrationally good at “Dr. Mario.”

So I carried this little arrow in my quiver for years, until last summer, when I casually mentioned to a friend that I was the planet's current best player of “Dr. Mario” (in my circle, these sort of things come up not infrequently).

He responded to the effect of, well, gee, I know a guy who's pretty good too, maybe you two should play. "Bring him to me," I thought, mentally brushing up on the condolence speech I traditionally gave my broken, vanquished foes.

And we sat down to play, and I picked up my controller, and Jeremy picked up his, and within a staggeringly brief amount of time he absolutely destroyed me in a callous and inhumane manner that I have trouble understanding to this day.

I'm not sure how he played like he did, unless he came to this planet from space. It was horrible, humbling, it crushed what was truly one of the only athletic accolades I've ever been able to claim, and I clearly haven't gotten over it yet. So if anyone out there knows of any underground “Dr. Mario” cabals looking for members, seriously, call me.

Jeff Vrabel is a freelance writer whose Mom was also better than him at “Pitfall.” He can be reached at