Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

'World's Largest Video Game': Time's running out to win a chance to play

Arcade at the (Eakins) Oval is the kick-off event for Philly Tech Week

Tetris on the side of the Cira Centre.
Tetris on the side of the Cira Centre.Read morePhoto: Jamie J. Moon

The opportunity to play one of the world's largest video games doesn't come along every day.

So listen up. As part of the opening festivities of Philly Tech Week, nearly 100 gamers will have a rare shot to play Tetris on a monumental scale Friday on the 29-story Cira Center, a building tall enough to be seen a mile away.

Want a chance to play? You'll have to act quickly. Only winners of a free lottery will be able to get their mitts on a block-dropping controller. Enter here, the deadline to enter is 5 p.m. Tuesday.

"We had about 1,000 entries last year," said Chris Wink, a Philly Tech Week organizer. "So the odds of winning are actually pretty good."

Tetris, a tile-matching puzzle game created by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The game routinely is rated in the top five greatest video games ever created.

The game "console" will be based at Eakins Oval, in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which will be ground zero for Tech Week's kick-off event, dubbed Arcade at the Oval. In addition to the oversized attraction on the Cira Center building, there'll be the chance to play video games created by a dozen local game developers. Ten food trucks and a Yards beer garden will also occupy the Oval as three game-inspired electronic music acts perform.

The event runs from 7 to 10:30 p.m. April 4. Scheduled to speak at 7:45 p.m. are Henk Rogers, a video game pioneer and president of the Tetris Company, and Drexel University's Frank Lee, who dreamed up gaming on skyscrapers. If it rains, the events will be rescheduled for Sunday.

"Right now, we're looking good," Wink said. "There's no rain forecast."

Last year for the opening of the third annual Philly Tech Week, scores of players had the chance to play the Ur game Pong on one side of the Cira. This year, in what could be called Tetris-palooza, they'll be playing on both the north and the south faces of the building.

It's not the first time Tetris has had it's moment on the Cira Center. Drexel's Frank Lee ran a 10 minute demonstration of the game last year on the Cira's facade to test the concept.

"This will be the first time it will be officially played, though," Lee said.

For Lee, the Tetris event is the culmination of a decades long dream.

He was an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley in the late 1990s when he spent a marathon 20 hour session playing the game. Immediately after powering down, Lee went to a meeting in San Francisco.

"I was crossing the Bay Bridge, the sun was setting, and the light was reflecting on the skyline just right. I began to hallucinate seeing Tetris squares falling in the windows," Lee said.

Nearly two decades later, Lee was driving along the Schuylkill Expressway and had a similar vision.

"It was 2008, at dusk, and the lights of the Cira Center were on. And again, I saw little Tetris shapes in my mind's eye," Lee said. "That's basically what led me on a path to play the game on that building."

Convincing the building's ownership, the Brandywine Realty Trust took some doing. During the next four years, Lee said he called everyone he knew with a possible connection to Brandywine. He finally scored a meeting with middle managers.

"The idea wasn't received very well," Lee said. He was turned down. But never stopped trying.

A stroke of good luck led to an audience with Brandywine's CEO, Gerard Sweeney, and Sweeney loved the idea.

"Once the top person says 'yes,' everyone else falls into place," Lee said.

Tech Week will also feature more than 110 other events over the following week. Some of the highlights include an Innovation Tour of city tech hubs, the Philadelphia Robotics Expo, a Shark Tank-style tech startup demonstration event, GPS-tied live dance performances, and the annual Women in Tech Summit. Most of the events are free and open to the public but require an RSVP to attend. See for a full calendar.

This story has been updated to include comments from Dr. Frank Lee.