Why Play Go: A More Thorough Exploration Than Usual

PT-BR: uma versão em vídeo deste post será colocada no em breve! Enquanto isso, fique com o script de tópicos que eu preparei como ensaio.
Out of the 130+ articles I have on my website, this is likely my most useful one, both to veterans and non-players as well.

Some 5+ years ago, when I was around 5k, I was finally experiencing for the first time a true Go club atmosphere, in Brussels, Belgium. I had already experienced something close to it in Brazil actually, but usually there were no DDKs nor beginners anywhere to be seen, or at least not near me.

With that typical atmosphere comes a lot of beginners and onlookers. Usually I think I would do a decent-to-good job at teaching beginners, or showing something that would convey a hopefully compelling part of its beauty. However, week after week, month after month, the lessons would have to be repeated, in an endless cycle. Slowly, I realized 90%+ of all beginners didn't come back, and those who did would only do so once or twice. Despite slowly improving my teaching skills and trying out new stories and facts, nothing worked to change that statistic.

After pondering and discussing with friends we came to the conclusion that this was an unsolvable problem: interest in Go is inherently subjective, we thought. Just like we, Go players, didn't have much interest in chess, other people weren't keen on learning much about Go, and that was all fair play.

Years went by, and I ended up in South Korea, studying Go and other topics related to it — I wrote about my stay . After clogging my interest in Go with other areas of life, I achieved something very unexpected: I almost outright killed my interest in Go completely.

Shocked by how I managed to turn 5+ years of love into almost complete indifference, I've been revisiting the topic of why play Go time and time again.

Even though interest and motivation are inherently subjective indeed, they are also subject to human psychology, software common us all, so there must be insights somewhere which would help us understand what would drive seemingly sane humans to devote so much time to the game of Go.

And indeed there are many. In fact, there's a whole subfield of psychology dedicated to motivation. Unfortunately, I'm not a psychologist — I'm a software engineer... did you guess it? —, so what I will provide is largely based on my experience, personal reflections, and the little I managed to absorb from accessible books, articles, and videos. Hopefully this will be a spark for a real psychologist, who happens to also be interested in Go, to follow up.

The outline of this article is composed of mainly 3 parts:

  1. Exploring, from the top, the realm of motivation, while incorporating some wisdom I've collected from some other informal sources;
  2. Players' and other notable individuals' takes on this topic, their opinions and reflections;
  3. My own main reason for playing the game, which I've only fully shaped recently.

Lastly, I've also enumerated all of the references I've used to come up with the content within this article. Boy, do I wish I had access to that content when 5+ years ago!

If you're not in the mood to read this article in full, or you just don't have the time and energy, I recommend you at least read the subsection on Dr. K's opinion, or just go watch his video about it.

All the technology in the world, and we still get closer and closer, more than ever, to self-destruction as a species. All due to political, psychological and sociological incompetence and ignorance. Problems like pandemics and climate change continue to creep in, and we've reached the point where they are more threatening — in terms of likelihood at least — than nuclear warfare.

It's 2021 and we still keep repeating all the political mistakes Ancient Greece pointed out, more than 2000 years ago. It's 2021 and we still have mostly utilitarian educational and economic structures which treat humans as axiomatic machines. The major challenge for humanity during this century might be realizing that the human race actually depends on humans, not (only) on physics or math: taking phallic objects into space might represent opportunity cost regression rather than progress.

How the heck has this supposedly Go article digressed into a sociopolitical rant? Let me explain...

As Dan Pink mentions, a lot of our business and educational praxis is based on scientifically disproven concepts. For example, how about one of mainstream's favorite economic axioms: rewarding certain types of behaviors incentivizes them. Is it really true or is it false? Or is reality somewhere in the middle?

Again, that axiom is too math-like. Some economists even go as far as to refer to it as some sort of social-physics law! This exact sciencey treatment of individuals should be an indication it is a rather blunt oversimplification of human behavior. For instance, throughout the last 3-4 decades, consistently and repeatedly, psychology researchers have reproduced results which diverge from that adage — and some many of those studies were sponsored by the US Federal Reserve, not communist propaganda. In the end, what they concluded was stunning: it only holds true for physical, repetitive work, much like for factory workers. However, in these studies still, whenever anything involving even rudimentary thinking, rewards actually were detrimental to completing a task.

Rewards actually serve as focus boosts, we narrow our minds to a target. But, when trying to solve intellectual puzzles, it is often counter-productive to have such narrow focus, because our space of exploration becomes drastically smaller, we need to think outside the box in intellectual challenges.

Think of what has been motivating you in Go for instance, what has been keeping your inner fire of interest alive? Has it been about intrinsic or extrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation comes from, you guessed it, outside the person. Examples could be compensation — money or services —, punishments or other types of rewards. Intrinsic factors, on the other hand, are usually linked to autonomy, mastery and purpose. Studies have shown that intrisically motivated people are more likely to persist on a task, for they are focused on learning; while extrinsically motivated individuals are typically focused on outcomes. Since there isn't a relevant pool of monetary or physical reward in Go, most people keep on practicing it because they are intrinsically motivated. Nevertheless, it is unlikely you've never had to deal with extrinsic factors in Go actually.

Have you ever been mad about your rank being low, or have you ever tried to keep your rank high? That might be the beginnings of extrinsic motivators creeping into your otherwise purely intrinsic activity. Other people's praise or critique might serve as extrinsic motivation or demotivation as well, and, slowly, you will feel the outer world interfere in what you initially treasured as your solitary, personal, intellectual journey.

Nonetheless, most people keep on going, even after having conflicts with other people's opinions and suffering traumatizing, rank-damaging losses. Or at least they do before they realize what studies have shown when you mix both types of motivators together: intrinsic motivation suffers when mixed with extrinsic motivation. You might think you could at some point isolate both worlds, clean everything up and then go back to normalsy with originally purely intrinsic motivation; but research demonstrates that, once extrinsic motivation is mixed in, the allure is never the same again. For example, once hobby chefs begin to be compensated for their work, their intrinsic passion suffers, so much so that some end up quitting outright — this phenomenon is known as the overjustification effect.

The picture I'm painting looks bleak; once Pandora's box is open, there's no coming back apparently. Should we then isolate ourselves and practice Go in a vacuum? I would advise you not to, since loneliness isn't healthy in general, and conquering this psychological challenge might unlock the key to other challenges in life.

Perhaps a helpful nugget of wisdom from Dan Pink might be that money, as an incentive, works best when it is enough to make us forget about monetary issues. So, when trying to minimize the intrusion of extrinsic factors, having just enough of them to make us forget about them might be the optimal solution. In order to achieve just that, I think the key is to surround ourselves with psychologically conscious and supportive people — teach this to others! it's as much a skill as math! —, and discuss openly with them whatever has been annoying you. Don't let these pains pile up, and don't stay in environments overblowing your ego either.

Much like reward, another ill-understood concept is praise.

Praise is a type of reward, so you can apply what was discussed in the previous subsection to your benefit. But it is also a very specific and common type of reward. In an ideal world, I believe both the teacher and the student would be very conscious of how to deal with this psychological tool, all of us will end up on receiving and giving ends anyway, in the near or far future, after all.

Again, I'm not a psychologist, nor a notable kiss ass, but I've had my fair share of high praise and harsh criticism, on both ends. From that experience, much like most introverts I know, I would really rather not receive praise or criticism because most people don't even know how to make them useful — often criticism is useful actually, since the other person usually needs to compare it to what's deemed right, not only confirm something as correct —, so they go for purely emotional takes, positive or negative. Bloating other people's egos can be helpful when it comes to immediate performance, but it can also have negative impact in the long-term.

Even if, much like me, you're still on the avoiding praise/criticism side, it's useful to learn a bit more about this topic, so you can deal with the unavoidable in a better way.

There are usually two main types of subjects of praise: effort and ability. I don't have statistics on which type is more common but I do remember more vividly praise of the shape "you're very good at...", "you have a knack for ...". These latter types of praise incentivize the ability side of your being and, if done consistently, will grow a specific mindset in your mind.

The specific mindset you get from ability praise tends to be more fixed, since it is an argument based on innate characteristics. It does offer a lot of confidence boost to the receiver; however it is a limiting frame, since you supposedly cannot outgrow your innate capabilities. The people who then fall into this category will likely focus on choosing tasks which safely fit their level of cognition, perhaps even falling into infallible tasks, perhaps, ultimately, underachievement or mediocrity.

On the other hand, effort is something we can all put in, no matter how limited or powerful we are — even if you rate yourself bad at math, do you really think you wouldn't get any better if you invested a considerable amount of time and effort into it? No matter who we are, we can all be better, this is the growth mindset. Studies have even shown that students with the growth mindset will challenge themselves more often, and ultimately outperform students of the fixed mindset, even when the latter group did much better initially.

Being aware of what type of praise you're giving or receiving makes you far less likely to fall into unexpected psychological traps in the future. And I also believe it would be far healthier if we all defaulted to the growth mindset type of praise, instead of praising unchangeable features, or randomly choosing whatever comes to mind first. This bias towards effort complements well tasks more suited to a priori non-performant individuals, offering psychological incentives to what we can actively change.

Dr. K is the main contributor to and creator of the HealthyGamerGG YouTube channel. Quite frankly, at first, I thought his channel would be yet another rehash of the cosmic-meditation panacea, pseudo-science many self-proclaimed gurus are plaguing YouTube with. However, he's much deeper and wiser than that. Dr. K is a psychiatrist and consultant, dealing with gaming vices and other mental syndromes. He has also helped many parents understand and educate their children in a healthier manner. All of his wisdom has partially come from his own suffering, and he mentions he still has a lot of trouble focusing and adapting to business environments. Part of his psychological know-how comes from ancient Indian philosophy and practical psychology, which he gathered from studying in India himself.

When it comes to motivation, one of his videos was actually the one that finally triggered me into writing this article. In it, he does the seemingly impossible: he finally offers something I can consider a solid definition of motivation:

Motivation is the ability of holding a thought — usually an interest or goal — in your mind.

Note that there isn't anything even close to mystical or overly scientific in that definition, definition which also, incidentally, comes from an Indian psychiatrist who's also an advocate of meditation.

Even more importantly, note that there is no mention of behaviors either. Motivation is within the mind, it is not externalized nor externalizable, not in terms of behavior at least. The main problem with our culture and education when it comes to motivation is that they just can't seem to grasp the last part of the previous sentence. Saying something like "just do it" is thus the epitome of not understanding motivation at all — completing a task can serve well as a way of boosting confidence and giving a taste of what could be, but it's still only a temporary remedy, there's little to no guarantee the thought will remain in the person's head after a while. In the end, we will have to do something in order to achieve our goals, of course... nonetheless: emulating behavior does not equate to emulating thoughts.

Interestingly, there's also a difference between motivation and desire, at least in the realm of psychology. Desire is a term typically associated with sensory stimulus, which might or might not impart motivation, but is usually instinctive, more associated with something ephemeral, and closely linked to the limbic system.

Another related term is anxiety. When it comes to motivation, anxiety usually refers to the consequences of doing or not doing what you want to accomplish, and it is a powerful way of getting rid of motivation. That's probably why overthinking and analysis paralysis are so closely linked to losing motivation as well.

Dr. K also mentions that goals are actually usually not what motivates people. Most motivated people tend to be focused on the process at hand, either enjoying or going through the moment. For motivated individuals, goals serve typically as checkpoints, as guides and compasses.

Similarly to the clearer concept of motivation explained above, self-discipline is also an emergent property, you cannot emulate a disciplined person's behavior and expect to end up with the same mindset. Self-discipline is the externalized behavior of someone trying to keep a thought in his or her head — discipline implies punishment or something at stake if you don't perform to certain criteria.

All this discussion ties back into what Michael Redmond 9p recommends sometimes to amateurs: people should focus on doing whatever they enjoy the most. Intuitively and from experience, Michael Redmond 9p has reached the same conclusion Dr. K did: in order to be motivated to play Go, you need "only" to keep Go in your mind!

If you want to take a look on the crude notes this whole article comes from, it is here, I just can't guarantee it is anything readable.

This section is a little bit more down to earth and not so much on the meta-meta psycho-philosophical discussion we had in the previous one. Here we discuss topics you could mention directly to a beginner — instead of discussing a random article on the internet for an hour —, such as Go being much like martial arts in terms of self-expression and combat, or Go improving analytical skills, etc.

The reason this part of the article isn't really its core is because I wasn't convinced any of it is something you could exclusively get through Go. I believe there are countless sports which offer the same or most of the same benefits and lessons, so it's actually quite difficult to convince anyone to prefer Go through this line of reasoning. But you may believe otherwise, of course — and the argument could also be applied to someone trying to convince you to practice another sport instead of Go —; at any rate, I expose the only uniquely Go reason I've found in the next section.

Note I'm paraphrasing other people's private feedback and messages, so don't take the text below to the letter.

Lastly, it's worth mentioning the counter-argument that Go is a waste of time still stands. However, it only stands when based on certain definitions of what useful time is. I believe most people use most of their time with activities way more worthless than Go and far less beneficial than anything mentioned below. And, even if they don't, I'm not at all convinced that even the most active and brightest minds on the planet make use of their brains 100% of the time, they all end up doing something to have fun or more leisurely at some point.

The numbered lists below do not reflect any sort of hierarchy, they just make it easier for us to reference each point in the future, if necessary.

Do you have anything to add? If so, do contact me! I would love to get your opinion here, and I believe other players would thank you for it as well.

To those who have already contributed, thank you very much!

  1. Laércio Pereira Júnior
    • A sense of community when reviewing is a very unique part of Go, when compared to many other sports, it seems. It feels like, once the game is over, all players team up to find the optimal plays, regardless of who won or who lost — similar to Zen Go.
  2. Luiz Sato
    • You will end up learning to value and to spend a lot of time with the basics, the fundamentals, and how important they are.
    • Go will be a training ground for mastery, which you can generalize to other areas.
  3. Murugandi (Kim Ouweleen)
    • Go as something that could inspire you, to be more creative and artistic.
    • Learn to not focus too much on winning, as winning isn't an absolute measurement of strength, nor is it the accurate way of probing progress.
    • According to him, desperation to win comes from, among others, 2 factors:
      1. Wanting to apply a breakthrough you had and see where it can get you.
      2. You've hit your limit at your current level and just can't seem to improve no matter what. So you give up on learning and only try to win.
    • You will learn how to summon your inner will power in order to go through the battles and readings in a game.
    • The path to learning is never straight. (It's usually an upwards seesaw pattern.)
  4. gennan (Reddit user)
    • Letting kids and teenagers have fun is very important in terms of convincing and maintaining interest/motivation, since they mostly don't care that much about rational arguments.
      • What is fun in Go? Fun is very social.
    • The social aspect is very important for kids and teenagers as well.
  5. Frederic Schlattner
    • The beauty and the flow of the game are incredibly compelling, and play a huge role on the subconscious of players, despite being difficult to quantify or rationalize.
  6. Thiago Sinji Shimada Ramos
    • Go connects the past to the future, the timeline of human kind in an abstract, simple, elegant game.
  7. kkala (Reddit user)
    • People are competitive, and Go is such a deep game that it is more satisfying to win there than in a common game of dice.
    • Generating a healthy environment that makes learning pleasant can be more important than actually giving reasons as to why play Go. In the end, the person might become more "addicted" to the environment and not really the game.
      • The environment also plays a huge part in each player's improvement path as well.
  8. Psittacula2 (Reddit user)
    • For those who like abstract board games, Go is the ultimate minimalist king. You can always recreate its pieces without too much work, since the necessary materials to a simple set are not hard to find.
  9. Richard Lee
    • Passing the time studying Go is much more rewarding and wholesome than watching TV, playing videogames, or doing other menial tasks.
    • Go can be a great tool for gauging mental acuity.
    • The Go community tends to have more polite people than other communities.
  10. Wang Seng Feng
    • Go, above all, is a great lesson in humility.
  1. Chewjitsu
    • Once you're a black belt — roughly, allegedly equivalent to dan players —, you won't (or you're not expected to need it as much) need the boosts that rank gives beginners and non-players.
  2. Wranglestar
Most people in the West learn Go when they are older, having already learned many core life lessons. Thus they forget or are never aware that Go can be used as a template for learning basically anything in life. Go is, besides a game, a philosophical and psychological simulator, run at whatever speed the player wants.
  1. Go can help people lose indecision, as they develop expertise in it.
    • However, it's worth noting that, in order to use whatever you learn in Go or other sports, you will need to generalize the concepts, otherwise these will forever be only localized to Go, and you will never be aware of the connections to the rest of life.
  2. Go is like interactive art, so we should focus on building together a better experience, it sucks when one of us ruins it psychologically or mathematically.
  3. Go features a lot of the art of abstraction — which is about simplifying, not overcomplicating actually, as many poor teachers might lead you to believe —, used in math, physics and other exact sciences.
  4. Learn to think like a general, not only in terms of battles, but the overall war.
  5. Go can also serve as a way of practicing and socializing when foreign languages, specially Asian ones.
  6. Find out about the simplest game with seemingly endless possibilites, a game so simple in its rule definitions that it's the most likely game to also be played by aliens.
  7. Learn the value of deep analysis — and, by extension, deep work —, and how to execute it.
    • And hopefully also learn that it is often better to just keep it simple and don't overcomplicate it.
  8. Experience the many different levels of mastery by watching different levels of players examine similar sequences.
    • This also ties back into inspecting the path to mastery in any craft.
  9. Examine how a simple game can change a whole culture's philosophical perspective.
  10. Realize that, in order to be victorious, you don't need to destroy your opponent absolutely — which is also risky — you only need to have more than he/she does.
  11. Even when deeply diving into a math problem or research theme I was deeply interested in, I've never experienced anything even close to the mythical zone I get when playing Go. No wonder, even an atomic bomb can't stop it.
  12. Everything human — specially psychologically and philosophically — is there, without the annoying, noisy parts. You can learn about the emotions of fighting — even though not fighting itself — with no need for the body to intervene or serve as a medium.
  13. If your life is monotonous, Go will be the perfect pastime for you. (On the other hand, if your life demands a lot of mental effort, you might find it hard to play Go later in the day.)
  14. No more videogames: this ultimate game might simply dominate your gaming interest if you end up liking it. It's gonna be a lifetime hobby in which you can always improve and learn; few games and hobbies have such depth and longevity.
    • This also goes for board games, albeit at a smaller scale.
  15. Since Go is so obscure/niche, there's special joy and pride in discovering things, because they are difficult to come by. Whenever you do, it's almost like (re)discovering a theorem.
  16. It's like Minecraft, but better, in terms of building your own patterns.
  17. Even though it's not as visually and physically stimulating as Jiu Jitsu or other physical sports, you're gonna be able to enjoy Go pretty much anywhere, like at a bar, at home, with friends, in competition, alone, etc. And physical stamina won't be such a deterrent for practicing it for long periods of time.
  18. Tsumegos are really fun exercises to people who like puzzles.
  19. There is no risk of physical injuries in Go.
  20. The game is aesthetically beautiful.
  21. Much like art and music, you could also simply appreciate it, not necessarily play it, although learning more about it might deepen the sense of appreciation.
  22. You will also learn how to deal better with winning or losing. And, by the way, keep in mind that a 30-40% win rate is the more ideal rate for maintaining interest in a particular activity, task or game.
  23. Go will teach you the power of context, as sequences in a vacuum can differ drastically from sequences in a real game.
  24. The power of fundamentals and basic techniques is very evident in Go, and their proper application is just as important to a beginner as it is to a master. It's part of the fractal process of learning and improving in Go.
  25. Sports where you can only use your brain instead of your physique offer you more emphasis on the ability of developing a stronger mind.
  26. The Go board offers an opportunity to work with other parts of ourselves. For example, if you're a aggressive person, you might be able to exercise your pacifist side in a more isolated fashion.
  27. If you like martial arts and fighting, you're bound to like Go. It's much like mind fighting.
  28. The Go community tends to be of a much more intellectual and polite kind, which results in more positive interactions in general.
  29. Specially in the opening stages, Go feels similarly to drawing, i.e., you will be able to draw and dance around with a lot of freedom before any interaction happens.
  30. Through the process of reviewing, right from the get-go, beginners learn how to teach, which is not common in most sports. In many sports, and even professions, in order to be able to practice teaching, you need to reach a high level at the craft.
  31. Given that none of us — Westerners and late-learners — will likely ever be anyone in the Go world, we end up having to learn how to humble ourselves and better level our expectations — on the upside, this might imply more freedom to ourselves. I believe most amateur players should actually focus on the psychological benefits Go is able to bring us instead.
    • Go has taught me more than university itself, or the sports I had previously practiced.
    • Go is an accelerated, isolated simulation of your inner psyche.
  32. Go is a martial art, it's martial due to the mental combat; it's art because there is usually more than one option for the next move, and the move you choose generally reflects a bit of your personality, i.e., it is self-expression.
  33. Learning something everyday should be the top-most priority when it comes to improving, even to advanced players. This is a lesson you will be able to apply in many other areas of life. And it is also a solid way of getting rid of the anxiety/paranoia of never getting better.
  34. Go's rules are more mathematically elegant than most other board games, like chess for example.
  35. The Game of Life, by mathematician John Conway, demonstrates how complexity arises from the simplest stuff, much like in Go... as it was actually inspired by Go.
    • Go could also be a bridge to understanding modern AI, like AlphaGo, which uses the same type of pattern recognition skilled players do.
  36. I don't know of any other game where local and global positions are so intertwined.
  37. Since this is a mental sport, you can enjoy it for way longer than any other sport, and continue to improve even after your 40s or 50s.
    • No need to hurry on learning either. Everyone has his or her own pace.
  38. Through teaching and learning, you will be able to deal better with your and other peoples' shame, which will generate better social interactions in life in general.
  39. Specially at the beginning, there's so much to learn that you will likely feel overwhelmed. Slowly, hopefully, you will adapt and be able to break the content into categories and hierarchies, much like when learning a new language or subject.
  40. You will realize that you need volume and repetition — and failure: the more you fail, the more likely you are to succeed — in order to learn. Could you become a good tennis player by only looking at others play? No staring into the same thing forever will make you good at anything, even though it is true that you can actually improve through simply watching and visualizing. This is generalizable to other areas of life as well.
  41. Go clubs help players become more social, respectful and friendly, specially when it comes to other people's learning paths.
  42. Go is a motivational door to learning many other topics, such as game theory, (Asian) history, mechanism design, general math, accounting (end game or yose), (Asian) philosophy, psychology.
  43. As extensively discussed throughout this article, Go can be a tool for exploring our psychological landscape.
  44. Hopefully, we will come to realize that our win rate doesn't necessarily reflect our learning paths.
    • More specifically, our learning paths are usually non-linear and full of bumps, with an upwards seesaw shape.
  45. As Simon Sinek mentions in his The Infinite Game book, life is not a zero-sum game, there are no winners or losers in fact, the purpose of the game is to perpetuate itself. Go is a zero-sum game actually, however the learning journey isn't, nor is the community aspect of it.
    • When you're only focused on winning, your cognitive map actually shrinks, meaning you reduce your search space for possibilities to typically safer choices.
  46. Go has more than 10170 — compared to chess' 1050 — plausible games, you will never be done. And you will never repeat a single game either.
  47. It's also important to tell the student how long it takes to get good. For example, struggling for 6 months is basically nothing in the grand scheme of things. Achieving mastery in a craft typically takes 10,000+ hours, usually close to 10 years at 2-3 hours every day.
  48. As a previous Kumon student, I can certainly attest that Go is far better for math than Kumon.
  49. Go will help you learn how to better balance your passion for a game/sport and life.
  50. Go, specially the process of reviewing games, is very analogous to pair programming, a common, good practice in software engineering. For programming, Go can be seen as an outstanding intellectual challenge as well.
    • This also ties into Pair Go, a variation where Go is played in pairs. If played in the right mindset, it shows both players the value of patience, respect and teamwork. I think the player who can most benefit from the experience is actually the stronger one, since she will have to develop patience and respect for her partner's mistakes.
    • There's also a neat little variation where each team is composed of 3 players of different levels. The weakest player always plays by default, and stronger players can overrule the play through a small penalty. This tends to teach the second best player the most, because her moves, though better than the weakest player's, are still worse than the strongest player's.
  51. Go variants could be used to show how minute changes to rules drastically change the game, an important facet to many fields of research nowadays, such as chaos theory, mechanism design and even psychology, but it can also be directly applied to life. For example, changing rules means opportunities for extracting benefits arise elsewhere, so other people or positions will benefit from an otherwise bad situation. This is explored in depth in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers.
  52. Small list of benefits for kids:
    • Problem-solving
    • Focus
    • Humility
    • Patience
    • Persistence
  53. Finding another sport where people so openly, impartially and thoroughly discuss their mistakes is not easy.
  54. Go is interactive art.
    • It's a painting you create with another person. When you play to the best of your abilities, it's basically the same as creating a good drawing. And it also has the properties of mathematical discovery, i.e., the stereotypical a-ha moment.
    • It also taps deeply into the process of creativity, as often you will have to think outside the box, or your comfort zone, in order to solve a problem or get ahead in a game.
  55. Go is notorious for helping relieve people of the sunk cost fallacy. Since sacrificing stones is mandatory to mastery in it, there's no way of truly improving in the game if you don't tackle the problem of continually investing in something that's already doomed.
  56. According to Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Nobel laureaute Daniel Kahneman, active leisure is typically more pleasant than passive leisure.

The following are some random notes I've collected while preparing this article. They are not directly related but might be useful to the reader in the future.

  1. Shut Up and Sit Down — Learn how to teach games before you teach others.
    • Ensure things are set up before the beginner starts.
    • The 3 most important questions:
      1. Who are we?
      2. How do we win?
      3. Why will this be fun?
    • Use examples. And personalize them to the student/beginner.
    • Encourage questions. Make sure you're available during the explanation.
    • Don't interrupt the student too much, offer help much like a flight attendant would.
    • "If you win a game you're teaching, you've already lost."
    • Use dummy, test runs.
    • Start with smaller games.
    • Parallelize the building blocks so they can be learned in a simpler manner.
  2. In a lecture titled Hard Boring Work and Sneaky Tricks, in a teacher's workshop, in 2013, Andrew Jackson discusses some interesting related topics:
    • Bloom's Taxonomy (the first 3 are easy; the others are hard, specially evaluation — in chess, this is simpler, specially for computers: do you have a queen and the other player doesn't?):
      1. Knowledge
      2. Comprehension
      3. Application
      4. Analysis
      5. Synthesis
      6. Evaluation
    • Mentions Malcolm Gladwell's concept of 10,000 hours for success, from the book Outliers: The Story of Success.
    • Key skills to reaching 1 dan:
      1. Read & Visualize
      2. Fundamental shapes
      3. Direction
      4. Rudimentary Strategy
    • Ericson's Deliberate Practice:
      1. Motivation
      2. At (or just above or below) your skill level
      3. Feedback (informative and immediate)
      4. Iteration
    • People who run in front of televisions do worse than those who run focused: paying attention helps you get better.
    • In Go, there's usually a long distance between the mistake and the punishment.
    • Evaluation is also related to the Socratic method: asking rhetorically why they're wrong.
    • Sneaky tricks for doing hard, boring work:
      • Do it in the shower.
      • Fix a schedule.
      • Have a goal.
      • Hang out with interested friends.
    • World class violinists have the same amount of practice as other dedicated practitioners. The difference is that they were harder on themselves and practice never became rote, they were always trying to keep everything tight.
    • One Russian psychologist thought he could teach anyone how to be a grandmaster in chess. So he had 4 daughters and got them all to be grandmasters, using what has been discussed so far. 3 of them stopped playing later on though.
  3. General Motivation Notes from Lumen Courses:
    • Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
    • The Overjustification Effect
    • Tangible rewards (i.e., money, usually) tend to have more negative effects on intrinsic motivation than do intangible rewards (i.e., praise for example)
    • Extrinsic motivation as a surprise doesn't affect intrinsic motivation as much.
    • In educational settings, students are more likely to experience intrinsic motivation to learn when they feel a sense of belonging and respect in the classroom.
      • This internalization can be enhanced if the evaluative aspects of the classroom are de-emphasized, and if students feel they exercise some control over the learning environment.
      • Furthermore, providing students with activities that are challenging, yet doable, along with rationale for engaging in various learning activities can enhance intrinsic motivation for those tasks.
  4. Notes on theories of motivation, again from Lumen Courses:
    • William James (1842–1910) was an important contributor to early research into motivation, and he is often referred to as the father of psychology in the United States. James theorized that behavior was driven by a number of instincts, which aid survival.
    • Another early theory of motivation proposed that the maintenance of homeostasis is particularly important in directing behavior. You may recall from your earlier reading that homeostasis is the tendency to maintain a balance, or optimal level, within a biological system.
    • According to the drive theory of motivation, deviations from homeostasis create physiological needs. These needs result in psychological drive states that direct behavior to meet the need and, ultimately, bring the system back to homeostasis.
    • If we are underaroused, we become bored and will seek out some sort of stimulation. On the other hand, if we are overaroused, we will engage in behaviors to reduce our arousal (Berlyne, 1960).
    • If we are underaroused, we become bored and will seek out some sort of stimulation. On the other hand, if we are overaroused, we will engage in behaviors to reduce our arousal (Berlyne, 1960).
    • Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in her own capability to complete a task, which may include a previous successful completion of the exact task or a similar task.
    • A number of theorists have focused their research on understanding social motives (McAdams & Constantian, 1983; McClelland & Liberman, 1949; Murray et al., 1938). Among the motives they describe are needs for achievement, affiliation, and intimacy. It is the need for achievement that drives accomplishment and performance.
    • Dan Pink — Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us:
      • Interestingly, in the video, the people who were offered the highest reward were the ones who performed the poorest.
      • Use money to be enough reward to eliminate the problem of money.
      • We are purpose maximizers, not profit maximizers.
      • Me: The higher the reward, the higher the risk of losing it, so people will tend to play it safe.
    • Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
    • Rewards narrow our minds to very small sets of possibilities. Whenever we need creativity, it goes awry.
    • Dan Pink:
      • Autonomy
      • Mastery
      • Purpose
    • Praising effort instead of ability makes people want to go for harder problems.
      • Going for effort also means more resilience to failure.
      • Praise for effort: focus on learning; praise for ability: focus on success.
      • This can become a mindset later on, if consistently applied.
  5. Related notes from Dan Pink's Talk at Google When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
    • Also, students who do math in the morning have better GPAs than those who do it in the afternoon.
    • People are much more likely to overcome defaults earlier in the day and after breaks.
  6. There have been studies showing that playing Go can reduce cognitive issues later in life, such as those resulting from Alzheimer's. Even though such studies can be questioned, I do believe an empty/inactive mind degenerates much faster than an active one.

As mentioned in the introduction, the question surrounding this article has been in my mind for ages. And one of the most puzzling factors in answering it was that I couldn't even answer it for myself, let alone motivate other people. It also felt hypocritical to try to convince others when I could barely make sense of my own thoughts.

At first, I tried to trace back what was driving me at the beginning, when I learned Go in 2012, at the age of 20 — I was born in 1992. I first heard of Go in a physics lecture in my Electrical Engineering course, where the professor mentioned Go because it was being used to study phagocytosis in fungi. Much like when surrounding territories in Go, if you stretch yourself too thin, you won't be able to "catch and kill" whatever comes inside if you're a fungus. My initial interest was purely as a foreign curiosity, I wanted to see how complexity and strategy could emerge from very simple rules, and explore a strategy game that wasn't as clunky as chess.

However, tracing Go back to my personal origins didn't help much because my motivation sources slowly changed — and because my first motivation was peculiar, not the norm. As I got better at the game itself, I became more and more focused on learning and improving — surprisingly I've never had any intentions of being super strong or "the best ever", I simply enjoyed learning and getting better. My peak interest at getting better I believe was when I coincidentally was in Europe, studying engineering. Slowly, though, unbeknownst to me, my interests shifted again, I think.

Upon having contact with very strong European players I was finally able to realize the amount of time and effort I would have to invest — and had already invested — in order to reach their levels. It was frustrating but slowly I decided to gradually put Go to the side and focus on other areas of life.

It was then that I started to come up with my claim for the real reason for playing Go: the players. Thinking back on all the people I've met through Go so far — excepting beginners, i.e., those who did not become practitioners —, I don't think I've ever met a single unininteresting person, nothing short of astonishing. I've had a good share of unpleasantness, much like anyone else, but even the unpleasant people were interesting, people you could learn from. And, thankfully, these unpleasant people are the minority, as Go's unfathomable complexity tends to humble players through their journeys. In a good Go club, usually you will find way above average wise and nice people, which also leads to more motivated and psychologically healthy environments.

I mean players in general, but, if you want a short list of illustrious players, here it is:

  • Philip W. Anderson — Nobel laureate physicist
  • Daniel Barry — US astronaut, the first to play Go in space
  • Nolan Bushnell — the founder of the former Atari videogame company
  • Tony Buzan — English author and educational innovator in the fields of learning, memorization and mind games
  • John Conway — outstanding mathematician who contributed to group theory and many other fields, and created the Go-inspired cellular automata simulation Game of Life
  • Albert Einstein — Nobel laureate physicist, mostly for his relativity theory
  • Paul Erdös — most prolific mathematician of all time
  • Bill Gates — founder of Microsoft
  • Demis Hassabis — founder of DeepMind, the company which created AlphaGo
  • Emanuel Lasker — chess world champion and mathematician
  • John Nash — Nobel laureate of economics, founder of game theory, and topology mathematician
  • Alan Turing — creator of modern computers and computer science, and responsible for cracking Nazi's Enigma encryption machine
  • Robin Williams — notable American comedian and actor
  • David Lee Roth — Van Halen's lead singer
  • Ursula Le Guin — fantasy novel writer, Hugo Award recipient
  • Jorge Luis Borges — notable Argentinian literary writer and poet
  • Yasunari Kawabata — Japanese writer, Nobel laureate for literature

In Haskell, a functional programming language in vogue right now, it is common to say that it is impossible to hire a bad Haskell programmer. The rationale is that, in order to learn Haskell, you need to go through so much software practice and many important, difficult math concepts beforehand that, by the time you've reached full Haskell proficiency, you're a top-notch overall programmer — old timers say Python used to be this way as well, but it has now become heavily commodified. Go has a similar feeling to me: in order to become decent at it, you will need to make sense of so much — seemingly unrelated — stuff that you will end up being quite the interesting individual!

It is quite interesting to see my shift in motivation go from being almost purely intrinsic to extrinsic, but I don't think one necessarily excludes the other. I still would like to improve, and that's a big part of why I still love the game, it's just not as big an influence anymore.

Part of the reason I created this blog and article was with the intention of giving back to the community and players who have helped me in the past. It might come across as self-promotion or selfish the way I do it sometimes, but I only do it this way because it is ultimately my opinion.

As an honorary mention, I would like to also list as another very big reason for playing Go the journey to mastery. I do firmly believe Go serves as a more simplified and cleaner way of experiencing how to become a master at something, much more so than many other sports I've practiced. This journey, when properly generalized, will definitely yield huge dividends to the adventurer, since it appears in many other life endeavours. And I'm also of the opinion — as is Ryan Li 3p — that Go is actually simpler than many other facets of life, so experiencing the mastery journey — becoming a world-class player, amateur or pro, is a whole other story... — there will be easier and quicker to achieve than, say, becoming a master artist, engineer, doctor, lawyer, etc.

I'll leave this article simmering on the internet and on social media for a bit, open for useful feedback on improving it. Likely anything extra will appear within this section, while anything which would contribute considerably will have to wait for a new iteration, in a new article.

One thing I forgot to mention is what Garry Tan mentions in one of his videos: the Disney Method. This method involves 3 stages or types of questions:

Those 3 questions are an endless cycle until you finish the project. And, more importantly, they also appear in many other facets of life, including the one we've discussed throughout this post. For example, when it comes to keeping a thought, motivation in our minds (what), we should constantly remind ourselves why we do it, and also how to keep those thoughts there, e.g. through analyzing our sources of anxiety, or simply through reminding ourselves with the 50+ reasons for playing Go.

Now, the final, real feedback I want to receive is this: if you gradually present the content distributed throughout this article to a newcomer, is it sufficient to have him/her give Go a go?

The references below all contributed to my take on this topic, but some might be very indirect. At any rate, I believe they will all enrich your life.

The numbering below is just for referencing purposes, it doesn't impart any hierarchy at all.
  1. Microsociology: Discourse, Emotion, and Social Structure, by Thomas J. Scheff
  2. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, by Erving Goffman
  3. Start with Why, by Simon Sinek
  4. Outside the Board: Diary of a Professional Go Player, by Hajin Lee
  5. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell
  6. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

Some extra books that I haven't actually read, but deem closely related to the overall topic:

  1. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink
  2. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely
  3. The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek
  4. Deep Work, by Cal Newport
  1. My original post on help with this topic, on Reddit
  2. Why Did You Start Go, on Sensei's Library
  3. What you’ll learn to do: explain motivation, how it is influenced, and major theories about motivation, by Lumen Courses
  4. British Go Association — Celebrities who have played Go
  5. Zen Go, on Sensei's Library
  6. The Atomic Bomb Game, on Sensei's Library
  7. Flow or Zone, on Wikipedia
I've created a with all of the videos below.

I've started training in (Brazilian) Jiu Jitsu in the last few months mostly to feel the beginner's mind set again, so I could better understand what goes in the mind of a Go beginner. So far, I'm very much surprised at how similar the paths to mastery are both in Jiu Jitsu and in Go, no wonder they were deemed similar in Japan. Two people who have surprised me a lot in terms of wisdom are John Danaher, currently a living legend in BJJ and MMA; and Nicholas Albin, also known Chewy, from his own YouTube channel Chewjitsu.

Dan Pink and Dan Ariely are two notable contributors to related areas of psychology, and their insights are excellent and comprehensible. Unfortunately, I either wasn't aware of them or couldn't link them to this topic soon enough, their content will have to wait for a future, follow-up article.

I suggest cranking up your browser on 2x+ playback so you can breeze through all these videos. Having the ability of — consistently — watching videos at higher speeds is life-changing.
  1. Dr. K from HealthGamerGG — What People Don't Get About Motivation
  2. John Danaher on Bernardo Faria's BJJ Fanatics — The Importance of BJJ Fundamentals by John Danaher
  3. Chewjitsu — The Win-Rate to Have someone always interested (30-40%)
  4. Chewjitsu — What you will get from competing in Jiu Jitsu
  5. Chewjitsu — Advice for New BJJ Coaches Nervous About Teaching Classes
  6. Chewjitsu — I Changed BJJ Gyms But Training is Still Negative
  7. Chewjitsu — Go is a martial art: it's all about self-expression
  8. ChewJitsu — When you're only focused on winning, your cognitive map shrinks
  9. Garry Tan — The Disney Method and Not Suffering from the "Idea Disease"
  10. Shut Up and Sit Down — Spend some time trying to learn how to teach games before you teach others
  11. Wranglestar — Can A Knife Be Too Sharp?
  12. Andrew Jackson — Hard Boring Work and Sneaky Tricks - Teacher's Workshop 2013
  13. Dan Pink — The surprising truth about what motivates us
  14. Dan Pink — The Puzzle of Motivation
  15. Dan Pink — When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing Talks at Google
  16. Simon Sinek — What game theory teaches us about war
  17. Kolybi Go — History of a Go Player - Michael Redmond
  18. Mark Manson — 15 Paradoxes That Will Change Your Life