The former Microsoft executive wrote a blog post about Gabrielle Zevin’s book Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, whose title says it all: “This novel about video games felt personal to me.”
First, we quote what Bill Gates writes and then explain the parts: “I never thought I’d relate to a book about gaming, but I loved Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. Am I a gamer? I would have said no for a long time because I don’t spend hundreds of hours going deep on one game. But when I was younger, I loved arcade games and got very good at Tetris. And in recent years, I have started playing a lot of online bridge and games like Spelling Bee and a bunch of the Wordle variants. The definition of a gamer is becoming broader, and it might be fair to start calling me one. Although plenty of video games are mentioned in the book—Oregon Trail is a recurring theme—I’d describe it more as a story about partnership and collaboration.
An early chapter describing how Sam and Sadie worked until sunrise in a dingy apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, could have just as easily been about Paul and me coming up with the idea for Microsoft. Like Sam and Sadie, we worked together every day for years. Paul’s vision and contributions to the company were critical to its success, and then he moved on. We had a great relationship, but not without some of the complexities that success brings. I know what Sadie means: Paul and I were fortunate regarding our timing with Microsoft. We got in when chips were just starting to become powerful before other people had created established companies. If Paul and I were Sam and Sadie, Steve Ballmer was our Marx.
Steve [Ballmer] didn’t write code, but the success of Microsoft was highly dependent on him. Like Marx, Steve made sure we hired the right people and had the tools we needed for the company to take off. The comparison isn’t perfect: We always appreciated Steve’s value, but Sam resents Marx and downplays his contributions in the book. (And, of course, Steve became Microsoft’s CEO, a position that Marx never reached at Unfair Games.) But Zevin understands that dreamers alone can’t turn big ideas into reality—you need doers, too,” Gates wrote.
Tetris is a favorite of a member of our editorial team, so we can understand if Gates is also a fan of Alexey Pajitnov’s work. Microsoft set a score for Minesweeper (after Gates got his hands on the game) that he couldn’t beat, and an ex-Microsoft employee shared this story. Sam and Sadie become friends over Super Mario Bros. before developing games together. A successful game from them, Ichigo, is born, but problems arise in their relationship, and they both start to go their separate ways. That’s why Gates says a creative partnership can be remarkable and complicated.
Paul Allen was a childhood friend of Gates. Thanks to him, Gates gave up his studies at Harvard University to found Microsoft and even coined the name Microsoft (microcomputer + software). After their initial success, their relationship soured, and they later reconciled, but Allen died in 2018. In the book, Marx is not a creative mind but a business genius. Ballmer joined Microsoft as its 30th employee in 1980 and met Gates at Harvard, becoming CEO in 2000 and holding the post until 2014. They have since parted ways.
Gates concluded by quoting from the book, “To allow yourself to play with another person is no small risk. It means allowing yourself to be open, exposed, and hurt. To play requires trust and love.” That’s why he sees gaming as a metaphor for human connection, and that’s not a bad idea.