US teenager (13) becomes first player to beat Tetris

Willis Gibson forced the classic Nintendo puzzle-pieces video game into a ‘kill screen’ after he reached level 157

A 13-year-old American is the first person to beat Tetris, forcing the more than three-decade-old classic Nintendo video game into a “kill screen”.

On December 21st, Willis Gibson put his hands to his head and rocked back and forth in an office chair in his bedroom in Stillwater, Oklahoma, unable to believe what he had just accomplished.

His screen had frozen, and his Tetris score read “999999”.

“Oh my god,” Willis repeats in a high pitch, in video of his triumph that he uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday, as he collapses into his chair. “I can’t feel my fingers.”


Willis had just become the first person to advance so far in the original Nintendo version of the puzzle game Tetris that the game froze, achieving a feat previously credited only to artificial intelligence.

Released on the original Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989, Tetris is among the most enduring and celebrated video games ever.

Theoretically, the game can go on forever if a player is good enough. For years, however, the limit was thought to be Level 29, when the blocks start falling so quickly that it seems as if it would be impossible for a human to keep up.

Willis got to Level 157, reaching Tetris’s “kill screen,” the point where a video game becomes unplayable because of limitations in its coding. (In the video, the screen reads that Willis had made it to Level 18. That’s because the code wasn’t designed to advance so high.)

Willis, who has played Tetris competitively since 2021 under the name Blue Scuti, said Tuesday that he was “just extremely excited.”

His Tetris journey started when he came across YouTube videos of the game, and he began gathering the equipment necessary to play an old version of it.

“It’s easy to start off yet it’s really hard to master it,” he said.

For decades, gamers “beat” Tetris by hacking into the game’s software. But Willis is thought to be the first to do it on the original hardware.

“It’s never been done by a human before,” said Vince Clemente, president of the Classic Tetris World Championship, adding, “It’s basically something that everyone thought was impossible until a couple of years ago.”

Willis has won several regional tournaments, and his goal is to win the Classic Tetris World Championship, in which he placed third overall in October.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.