Willis Gibson: Oklahoma’s gamebreaking ‘Tetris’ champion - 405 Magazine

Willis Gibson: Oklahoma’s gamebreaking ‘Tetris’ champion

Block Party. Learn how this Stillwater resident earned the title of 'Boy Wonder' in the gaming community.

Willis Gibson

Photo of Willis Gibson.

It was the vibrant landscape of the 1980s, and the pursuit of beating video games was more than just a leisurely pastime — it was a captivating dream that fueled the imaginations of kids across the globe. As the arcade revolution took hold and home gaming systems became increasingly popular, children were enthralled by the mesmerizing worlds that unfolded on their TV screens. Willis Gibson

The challenge of mastering these pixelated realms and emerging victorious was not merely a gaming conquest. It symbolized a quest for glory, a rite of passage, the embodiment of a generation’s collective aspiration. In an era defined by the introduction of iconic titles and the birth of gaming culture, the dream of beating video games was a shared adventure that left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of those who grew up amid the beeping sounds and flashing lights of arcade cabinets and home consoles.

That was then; this is now. In Stillwater, Oklahoma, 13-year-old Willis Gibson achieved what many thought impossible and made headlines on Dec. 21, 2023, when he became the first known person to beat the original Nintendo version of “Tetris,” freezing the game and earning the coveted score of “999999.”

Photo of Willis Gibson.

Created by software engineer Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, “Tetris” has endured as one of the most celebrated video games internationally, featuring falling blocks that players must strategically arrange to form and clear complete lines.

The “Tetris” community had long believed that the game’s limit was Level 29, where the falling blocks reach such speed that it becomes seemingly impossible for a human to keep up. However, a new generation of players has emerged recently. Willis Gibson began playing at age 11 and quickly rose as a “Tetris” prodigy, winning several regional tournaments and earning $3,000 from competitions.

Photo of Willis Gibson.

His exceptional skill and groundbreaking achievement of triggering the game to freeze when clearing a single row of blocks set Gibson apart. This uncharted territory opens new challenges for “Tetris” enthusiasts, prompting them to explore how far the game can be pushed beyond its expected limits.

The significance of Gibson’s accomplishment goes beyond the gaming world. During a Zoom interview with NBC News, he was unexpectedly honored to meet Alexey Pajitnov and Henk Rogers, the company’s founder and chairman. The shy teenager, unable to contain his excitement, exclaimed, “This is so cool. I never thought I would be able to talk to you guys.”

Despite Pajitnov maintaining that the game is unbeatable and that Gibson merely crashed the program, the young “Tetris” prodigy remains beside himself with this crowning achievement. His dedication to the game is evident, and he attributed his success to the support of his late father, who had passed away the previous month.

Gibson, also known as Boy Wonder in the gaming community, is not resting on his laurels. With a third-place finish at the Classic Tetris World Championship and a world record for “Tetris” on Gameboy, he continues redefining what is achievable in the game.

For Gibson, the appeal of “Tetris” lies in its simplicity and difficulty. He employs a rolling technique for faster movements, showcasing a distinctive playing style, and engages in online matchups, livestreams and constant practice.

As “Tetris” celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, Gibson stands as a symbol of the game’s timeless appeal and the limitless possibilities it offers those who dare to push its boundaries. Whether he’s biking to school, enjoying the arcade or immersed in intense competitions, one thing is clear—he won’t stop playing “Tetris” anytime soon. 

Love seeing young people in our community thrive? Check out this feature on Up & Coming OKC’s Young Artists.