Why We Play

If you dream, as I do, of a world with tens of millions of Weiqi players. Then it is only a matter of time before you will start to plan and scheme of ways to get the word out and introduce others to our beloved passion. But this is the wrong next step. Because you see, before we can convince others to join us, we must first examine why it is we ourselves are so drawn to this life.

To start my search I decided to investigate analogous sports such as chess and draughts. But my investigation was (mostly) a dead end and I wasn't able to unearth anything interesting. I kept digging, but over time I let the question go. Perhaps it was too grand and audacious a discovery to make.

A Clue

So here I am, I've moved on, and I am now researching how to grow and support BadukClub when quite by accident I come across the podcast Akimbo by Seth Godin.

In it Seth talks about whatever is on his mind that week and I can promise you, every single episode is interesting. And as I listened I noticed something. In his show he weaves a compelling narrative about the invisible forces underlying human nature and how they drive each us. This is where I had my insight.

To know Go, Study Nature

The question is not, why do people play Baduk? It is not even, why do people engage in intellectually challenging sports? The best question is simply “why do we do anything?”

In the end, it is all about the stories we tell ourselves. For example, some Go players are proud to play one of the oldest and most difficult games in the world. But this is actually a signal to ourselves. A signal saying, “hey, look at how smart we are! Look at how cultured we are!”

Many of us also enjoy the beauty and aesthetics of the game. And we enjoy the meditative focus it brings out in us. And we enjoy the logical challenges baduk presents. But these things still tie into the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. They too are a signals saying “I can be successful when faced with challenges. I value beauty and serenity.”

And as we climb the ladder of ranks in Go, our inherent nature to improve and learn emerges. Thanks to evolution, we get bursts of dopamine when we win or when we figure out a Go problem. And we enjoy seeing our perceived social status increase with our comparative strength.

Seth Godin also has some insights on why we play games in general.

  1. To think that we are smart, or physically talented, or have some sort of attribute that makes us feel good about ourselves.
  2. We want to feel lucky.
  3. We want to feel connected, part of something bigger than ourselves. Like a team where we can be the hero.
  4. To feel powerful, to feel like we defeated the other, to feel like we won.

He also has some insights about why people who try Baduk do not continue to play the game.

“What our culture has done, is taught people two things at the same time. One, that you're super special and really smart and probably smarter than everyone. And two, that you're a fraud. That when it comes right down to it, lots of people are smarter than you. So given the choice of investing in a game where you have to show you're the smartest, or investing in a game where you can rely on luck or hustle. Most people want the second kind. Most people want the thrill of imagining that they're going to win without the reality of discovering that someone is better than them.” —Akimbo, Games Matter, Seth Godin

Our most fundamental human trait

If you've read the popular book Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, then you will again see the power of how stories shape societies. He writes about how it was our power as storytellers that allowed us to group together in the ways that we have done. But there is another key element to humans seen here other than simply our love for stories and the power they hold.

More innate in us than the stories themselves is the underlying desire that the story telling supports: connection. Humans are social animals and we have always gathered together in tribes since the dawn of time. This is true even for the most introverted among us (and of those there are a decent amount in our community).

So you see, we are but a tribe of like minded individuals enjoying our shared interest together. We form national identities, we form regional packs, and we exist within local tribes we like to call Baduk Clubs. For many, it is the connection to this tribe that keeps them playing the game.

And that is why I've created Baduk.Club. To focus on this games most fundamental reason for existing... to bring us together.

At the end of the day, it takes two to play Go.