Why Do We Play Baduk?

I wrote a blog post with a few of my thoughts on the underlying reasons why we play Go.
I’d love to hear theories from other people as well!


edit: My post dives a lot deeper than people seem to be expecting and totally skips all the terrific and wonderful surface level reasons why we (tell ourselves we) play Go. So heads up.

That being said, I think it would still be cool to hear those “surface level” reasons if you want to post about what it is that you like about the game!


To be fair, the article is about the underlying reasons that we play Games. Go doesn’t get much coverage here. It is the mechanism by which you make a completely different point: that humans are moved by stories and that we are social creatures. I agree that Seth Godin is an interesting man :nerd_face:.

I play Go because I love puzzles. I shy away from the competitive elements as much as I can. However, I do love the social aspect of studying Go with other players. I find study games to be fun and educational. I absolutely love learning and there is so much to learn about in the wide world of Go.

Whether you track players like athletes, follow the major tournaments, throw yourself into theory, learn a new subset of language (go terms in various tongues), read Go literature, study the authors behind Go literature and their journeys (I’m a big fan of John Tromp and Robert Jasiek), memorize patterns, geek out trying to become an armchair general of Go strategies and tactics, collect Go equipment, take joy in introducing as many people as you can to the hobby, find analyzing endless variations akin to playing solitaire while relaxing in a personal sanctuary, as a way to test yourself, as a way to grow, as a fun conduit for drawing parallels between lessons that Go teaches us that are also equally relevant or reflective of living life, etc…

The list can go on and on and on, because Go is truly a deep and rewarding hobby. Much like book nerds and reading, you’ll find no end of Go enthusiasts talking poetically about their beloved hobby and the opportunities that it presents them and others. Go has expanded my mind, brought me joy, taught me lessons, shown me ugly and beautiful parts of myself, helped me make friends, given me a community, helped me travel the entire spectrum of human emotion, and given me a way to quickly leave an angry mindset, because I find the exercise of playing to calm my soul. Go is a blessing and I am eternally grateful to have found it :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:


To me, the aesthetics and the sound effects of a game is just as enjoyable as a thrilling middle game slaughter. I think there’s certainly some spirital zen stuff going on there :wink:


Personally I’m a big fan of how deep it goes.
The more you learn the more you can build on that, and the deeper it appears.

That and I am definitely into the competitive aspect, but the community generally makes that competition feel nicer.


I found the blog post to be extremely “ego-centric”. It is concerned about feelings of self-worth and how others see us.

For many Go players, we are proud to play one of the oldest and most difficult games in the world. This is actually a signal to ourselves. A signal saying, “hey, look at how smart we are! Look at how cultured we are!”

This does not resonate with me at all.

The rest of the article does touch lightly on the reasons that “resonate”, but is dominated by apparent self-esteem issues as the primary motivator.

I resonate much more with the reasons given in this thread than with the original article.


A slight revision
I agree that many of the commentators in this thread offer more pleasing answers. I also find myself deeply resonating with many of the poetic and beauty based reasons we all love the game.

And perhaps I need to edit my initial blog post, because it isn’t about how others see us (although that plays a role). It is much more about how we see ourselves and what internally motivates us.

Okay, but why does everyone quit?
The reason why it matters to me what the fundamental underlying ego-centric reasons for playing the game are, is because I want to know why so few people play this game in the western world!

All the beautiful and poetic reason that we play the game still exist for new players to experience as well… and yet they don’t seem to experience them. Or if they do, those things seem to have little value to those people and they move on. Why?!

I have literally taught hundreds of people this game and only a few of them have actually kept playing. Now maybe that is more of a commentary on my ability to teach, haha, but I think it has to be something deeper because new player retention seems to be low for all of the go players I’ve ever talked to.

This is what drives me to want to dig deeper into the human psyche.

Final Thought
To be clear, I don’t mind if people want to list what it is that particularly draws them into the game. Actually, I think that’d be super cool and interesting to hear as well! :slight_smile:


Beautifully written! I too, find go to be deeply meaningful, satisfying, and “soul deepening.” Thank you for sharing :slight_smile:

As an experiment, if you’re open to it, I’d love to prod you to dig deeper. Why do you love learning? And to save myself time, after you answer, what is underlying the reason you love learning?

To be clear, I’m not trying to challenge you or refute your first answer, I just really want to dig deep with people and explore the underlying reasons why we play!

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Well, according to Richard Garfield’s “Characteristics of Games”, Go is considered hard because it has none of what they call “Beginner Heuristics” (either directional or positional), so even though it has really nice intermediate and advanced heuristics, the steep beginning bothers people.

So, to break down what I mean by beginner heuristics, I should start with what heuristics even are. A heuristic (according to the book mentioned above) is a “rule of thumb” that informs strategy. These come in two types: Positional and Directional.

A positional heuristic is one that tells you “who is winning, and by how much?” In a race, the primary heuristic is whoever’s up front, while in Mario Kart, this is often modified slightly to take blue shells in account. In go this is often counting and evaluation of thickness/influence.

A directional heuristic is one that takes a game state and tells you what is the most likely path to increasing that positional heuristic. In a race, the primary one is “just go forward as fast as possible”, although some races include other secondary ones like drafting and pit stops. In go, it’s a bit harder to describe, but this is where a majority of our proverbs come from.

So why are these heuristics so bad for beginners in go?

Well, first off is positional: territory. It should come as no surprise to many that territory seems to baffle many people, primarily in the question of “how do I make territory if they can just place a stone inside of my walls?” And it’s a bit of a joke that DDKs can’t count to tell who’s actually ahead (which might not be false)

then comes directional: how do I get the territory? It’s no surprise that a beginner looks at a go board and thinks “where in the world do I get the territory”, at which point we explain “corner-side-center” but then how far from the edge is that? and then we explain “third line is territory, fourth is influence” and they ask “why would I ever play on the fourth line if I can get territory this way?” and then “how far apart should I space these stones?” “why would I play on the other side of the board if I can just grow my territory here?”

Once you get past this hump, then the heuristics are way easier to grasp. But that first hump is a field by which it is more likely for someone to quit.

Ofc I’ve noticed that many second-gen immigrants form china and taiwan tend to tell me “yeah I used to play it but I’m bad at it so I quit.” All of which never seemed to get past 20kyu in terms of skill, which makes me think it’s because they had too hard of a time getting past that beginning stage of not knowing what’s going on.


Nice analysis @mekriff :+1:
I like the beginner heuristic framework for thinking about the “user experience” of new players and what about Baduk that causes them trouble.

Looking at it through my lense, it seems the “initial hump” causes new players to feel internal shame for being “bad” at go. And since no one likes feeling shame, they quit.

So maybe the solution for increasing new player retention is two fold. One, develop a method for teaching Baduk that shortens the length of time needed to grasp the positional and directional heuristics. And two, carefully frame the learning experience in a way to minimize shame and allow new players to develop a positive internal narrative around their learning journey.

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@Devin_Fraze , you mention “serenity” as part of playing a game of go. I usually have quite the opposite when playing a (live) game and get my heart racing with every battle. It’s all but a calm game, I find…

Of the four points you mention that were mentioned by Seth Godin, none of them really resonate with me.

  1. I don’t play games because it makes me feel smart (to be honest, go makes me feel pretty stupid most of the time),
  2. I don’t see luck as part of go, so I’m not trying to feel lucky. In my point of view a good game of go should not involve any luck. Unfortunately I rather often flip a virtual coin in my head whenever I don’t know what to do, but I actually dislike that part, and those positions in which it is necessary, the most.
  3. I don’t play go to feel part of a team or to feel connected. I enjoy puzzles and strategy games, which generally speaking are not team activities or often do not have to be competitive (my most played game is probably Age of Empires single player, followed by EU4). I do like playing in real life and I do feel connected to people, but as most of my games are played online, I don’t think this is a reason for me to keep playing.
  4. I have to admit that it is enjoyable to win a game, but this is also not the reason. I’m a big fan of the early and midgame, as I feel strategy has the most effect there. I enjoy interesting life and death situations that arise in the game, and often I feel it is more fun to explore the situation together with your opponent or in review after the game just to find the best move.

I believe the real reason I play go is the same reason I do mathematics and play music: it’s just a lot of fun for me. I’m not sure why I enjoy it, but I am sure that most people do not enjoy the things I do. As much as I love teaching things to others, I have realised that most people simply cannot be interested in some things. It is for the same reason why I would probably never get an interest in things like football, the stock market or fancy cars: they just don’t seem enjoyable to me (and I have had several conversations with people trying to get me interested in those things). Why does not everybody like the same music, the same art, the same sports, the same food, etc etc? I don’t know, but it is a fact that everybody is different in their tastes.

So to sum it up: I play go because my body for some mysterious reason releases chemicals that make me feel like I’m enjoying my time whenever I play go.

Addendum: if there is any group of people that you can actually influence enough to get them to like new things, then it is children. The younger, the better. So if you dream of a world with more go players, I think the best strategy will be to donate go equipment to schools, organise events for kids and so on.


Go is a purely skill based game, as opposed to luck based games. there are no random elements to the game, each action is determined solely by the decisions the players themselves make, which is why real upsets are very rare, and beginners can suffer from a lack of reward early on. because of this there arent actually that many purely skill based games. most games try to get a mix of skill and luck, where the random elements make the game more enjoyable for beginners (because they get rewarded easier and early on) and the skill required helps keep the game interesting for veterans and provides a possibility for them to sperate themselves from less experienced players.

skill based games are notorious for having very flat improvement curves and virtually unattainably high ceilings. players who like to “put in the work” and enjoy the journey of improvement and delving deeper into the game are drawn to skill based games. competition is a large part of the attraction. in that, skill based games imo actually bridge over to sports nicely.

the more luck based a game is, the less important winning becomes (unless its for money… not my favourite kind… if a game is good it shouldnt need money as an incentive), because players cant really influence the outcome very much, so why try hard, when you can just enjoy playing?

of course there are other reasons to like go :smile:, most covered very nicely by @Mulsiphix1, but thats my take on why people quit go. they recognize that its an investment and thats not what they look for in a game.

  1. Because it’s hard for the beginners
    The rules are simple but we all know that the beginning is full of frustration. Life and death is a mistery. Even with 5 stones handicap on a 9x9 board it seems that the opponent knows some sort of black magic to capture all of our stones.
  2. Because it’s hard to feel satisfied
    The learning curve is fast at the beginning, but it is for other people too. After we learn the very basic stuff (how to know that a group is alive without actually drawing two eyes) we start play real games and find out that all the world out there plays better than us.
    And when we improve, we don’t get much satisfaction beating weaker opponent but we still feel sad for losing against stronger ones. And there’s always plenty of stronger ones!
  3. Because everything we learn is volatile
    As long as we proceed along this journey, we realize that what we’ve already learnt is inconsistent and temporary: it’s just the point of view of a short-sighted man. Then we learn a bit more, we open a little more our eyes and notice that all of our knowledge can be refuted by a deeper knowledge: a player that is three kyu stronger than us can proof that our corner isn’t ours, that our group isn’t alive, that our territory can be reduced and stabbed, that our strategy is weak.
  4. Because it’s endless.
    You can never say “I know how to play”. You can just manage to fight against someone about your strenght and then realize that there are infinite players stronger than that. There’s no goal or prize.

Passing through all of this stuff without feeling discouraged isn’t for everybody.
I usually say that you must love puzzles and riddles to be able to enjoy Go. But it’s just a part of it.
Riddles and puzzles can be solved. You can never “solve” Go.
So, in order to enjoy Go for a long time you must be able to manage effort and frustration on a never-ending journey. Which is great! But not for all. Especially in this hectic western world, that asks for quick learning, quick achievement of goals, quick rewards.

So, I think is completely reasonable to teach Go to hundreds of people and to find just a bunch of them that keep playing after a while.


Personally, I have never met anyone who started playing Go for the recognition, admiration, or esteem that they felt they would garner or receive from others. I can see how players who achieve fame or who dream of achieving fame through Go, might be examples of this. But those are truly rare cases, considering the millions of Go players worldwide.


Why do people approach anything new? They either perceive that they need it, know that they want it, or suspect they might enjoy it. Curiosity, interest, and pleasure seeking behavior, sparks just about everybody to search for hobbies. Go is no different.

We had a big discussion a while ago about Go and how it correlates to IQ. The general consensus was that Go itself had no influence over IQ. No matter what your IQ is, you may or may not play Go. And if you have a high IQ, then you will likely excel at Go more than people with lower IQ’s. However, IQ has nothing to do with the level of personal enjoyment that one derives from playing Go.

In this same way, why we play Go will boil down to why humans behave the way that they do. Why do they make the choices that they do? How do they logicize, cognize, analyze, and ultimately come to a final decision? It sounds to me like your interest lies more in human psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science.


There have been some great answers here so far. I’ll add that I think why people quit is pretty simple. For whatever reason a person comes to investigate Go. They give it a try, and as has already been mentioned, it is quite hard to get started. Why Go is hard to learn is a completely different topic, but we all know it to be a fact.

Once they investigate, begin to understand what Go is, what the learning curve looks like, realize Go is a more serious game than most board games or other abstract games they might be familiar with (Reversi, Checkers, Connect Four, etc…), then they are faced with a decision. Do I really want to invest my time into learning this activity? Will this be a good investment? Is it too hard or frustrating? Does what little I know about Go so far, resonate deeply enough to explore this game further?

But the biggest factor that any hobby faces when it arrives at the metaphorical chopping block of human commitment or abandonment, is time. People are living busier lives than ever these days. Their attention is being pulled in a million directions. The digital age has added so many options for ways for us to spend our time, that it almost boggles the mind. When a person makes a decision about picking a new hobby, it is obvious they cannot explore every hobby that peaked their interest.

They must assess all the options for hobbies on the table, as well as consider if their time would be better spent on non-hobbyist pursuits. Should I invest more into my schooling, career, relationships, exercise, non-essential learning, pick up a new skill, learn a musical instrument, finally try my hands at a new language, etc…? With only one life to live and time being a finite resource, people must be very selective. And let’s face it, Go isn’t something you learn in a day.

Depending on their mindset they have when they approach this hobby, Go may be a very poor choice for them personally. If their reasoning or preference for starting Go would require a substantial and long term time commitment to their goal, then Go, again, may be a poor choice. If you are here to compete, know the most, be the best, dream of reaching amateur Dan level, want to follow Go like a sports nut, learn all the Joseki, master the best strategies and tactics, become a 5 second turn Blitz Master, etc… then your Go goal isn’t going to be reached anytime soon.

Meanwhile there may be other hobbies on the table that have attractive goals that might be reached in a substantially shorter period of time. That would leave them free to pursue more goals, new hobbies, or refocus their efforts on new goals in the same hobby. Why we play Go deeply personal, and why some people choose to stay boils down to the fact that they made the conscious choice to, despite all the reasons and opportunities to spend their time elsewhere.


I love Go, you love Go, but not everyone feels as we do. Just as being an Athlete doesn’t resonate with me but represents the world to an Olympian. Another part of this is that as a true fan of Go, you have had the time to get to know various aspects of Go in a way that newbies cannot yet understand.

If I play you a piece of Mozart’s music, you can recognize it’s beauty. But show that same piece to a talented pianist and they will interpret an entirely different world of beauty, with a technical understanding of the music and techniques being applied that your untrained and lesser experienced self can not yet truly comprehend. Beauty is entirely in the eye of the beholder :hugs:.


Simply put, I have a growth mindset. I’m in love with experiencing life and understanding the world around me. I am obsessed with competing with myself, ever chasing the goal of becoming a better version of my previous self. I’m a natural born philosopher and deep contemplation, rumination, and daily pondering of ideas and concepts, is my playground of choice. It is my happy place. I love a good conversation, but this endeavor is also equally enjoyable alone. Who doesn’t want to know more stuff :nerd_face:?

@mekriff, @kickaha, @lysnew, @Vsotvep: I have sincerely enjoyed reading your responses. Thank you for explaining these concepts and sharing your viewpoints. I talk about this subject a lot in my life and I found it refreshing to hear familiar concepts worded in new and interesting ways. Truly, I found them informative, interesting, and enjoyed reading them. Thank you for spending the time to share :innocent:.


I really think that keeping players initially boils down to making the process clear, concise, and fun. If you can minimize confusion and make the process fun and/or exciting, then you will see a lot more people Trying out Go for longer periods of time. In the end though, as others have so finely put it, staying in the hobby takes a particular kind of person to thrive and find lasting interest.

@Vsotvep’s suggestion about donating Go equipment to school and teaching children is probably the biggest thing a single person could do to bring the largest number of people to the hobby. Entertainment, books, video games, and other ways of teaching Go to kids and teens is also going to have a huge impact. Hikuru No Go is serious successful in this arena :face_with_monocle:



Here is my guess as to the combination of factors as found by Quantic Foundry which would best fit go:

:arrow_double_up: Conflict
:arrow_double_down: Social Manipulation

:arrow_double_up: Strategy
:arrow_double_down: Discovery
:twisted_rightwards_arrows: Need to Win

:arrow_double_down: Immersion
:twisted_rightwards_arrows: Aesthetics

:twisted_rightwards_arrows: Social fun
:arrow_double_down: :asterisk: Cooperation
:arrow_double_down: Chance
:arrow_double_up: Accessibility

:arrow_double_up: High
:arrow_double_down: Low
:twisted_rightwards_arrows: Could go either way
:asterisk: As evaluated relative to Go, but rengo/pairgo allows this to go either way.

Note that this is just my opinion on what would correspond with liking go, not based upon statistical analysis.

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gonna have to disagree on the discovery bit. While yes you don’t find new terrains or landmarks, you do discover new ways that the stones interact and explore the possibility space.

But maybe this idea deserves a category to itself?

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I disagreed with it too. I consider everything else beyond the board game, something to discover about Go. And there is sooooo much to discover :upside_down_face:

“Gamers who score high on this motivation are discoverers who have a broad interest in rulesets, game mechanics, and the play spaces that are enabled and emerge from different game systems.” – Quantic Foundry

This does seem to fit go, but I think what follows makes it clear that it’s not a very good fit.

“To this end, they enjoy keeping up with new game releases and staying up to date with the current meta.” – Quantic Foundry

While there is a meta in go, it is not due to new releases; we’ve been playing (essentially, with a few minor patches) the same game for several thousand years. Again, this is more Strategy than Discovery, I think.

“Gamers who score low on Discovery prefer more traditional, familiar, tried-and-true game mechanics.” – Quantic Foundry

This is go. The mechanics are not the draw, but rather their strategic implications.

“Gamers who score high on Strategy but not Discovery are more likely to practice and master a particular game.” – Quantic Foundry

I think this describes the big abstract strategy games (Go, Chess, Xianqi, Shogi, maybe some other regional chesses).

This is not to say that you can’t score high on discovery and still enjoy go, nor even that you can’t satisfy that motivation through go. The point in categorizing it as low discovery is that that is (hopefully) a reflection of how it services its core audience.

Source for QF Quotes: https://quantic.page.link/VNGn


I don’t think that a player sticking with Go, despite the fact the ruleset doesn’t change and that “new releases” aren’t even possible, in any way services the concept that Quantic Foundry is trying to measure with Discovery.

Discovery could measure a player’s likelihood to sample numerous abstract games, always on the lookout for the next great set of mechanics. However, this renders Discovery useless in terms of a way to rate Go. Instead, it reflects human behavior related to games or pleasure seeking behavior.

I feel the concept of Discovery should be turned inward, to focus on discovery within the entire field of the hobby itself. Instead reflecting a player who loves the game and then goes on to discover as many facets of the hobby as possible.

How many of us go on to learn multiple Go rulesets? How many of us enjoy Go and so we dig further and further into the possibilities, of this hobby? I think the concept of Discovery, when applied to games that literally cannot change, needs to be adapted, in order to service the spirit that the category is trying to quantify.

If you really want to say that Discovery is all about game mechanics, then I still think Go can qualify. I point you to Exhibit A :smirk:

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I still feel unsatisfied by the answers I’m reading. While everyone is giving very personalized and intelligently worded responses, I would again encourage people to dig deeper.

One razor we can use to dissect our theories is:
"does my theory explain why Go is so popular in Asia?"

For example, the reasons why players quit: it’s hard to play, hard to learn, endless, skill based, too serious, the time investment, not-for-everyone. These things are all true in Asia, yet it has spread.

Or the suggestions for spreading Go: be clear/concise/fun, teach more children, it’s for a certain kind of person, find people who love puzzles and riddles. Those points are terrific and true, but there has to be more to it. Those points don’t explain why Go spread in Asia.

[I would encourage people to edit and refine their posts. I wrote this and it was 5 times as long. Then I rewrote it and revised it. While it was more work for me upfront, I hope that it will benefit us all]

well afaik it might not even be as popular in asia as chess is in the west. I’ve met a number of first and second gen immigrants and most of them have either quit early on or just heard about it but never learned to play. The thing is we think it’s more common because they have a stronger pro scene and we are well aware of it, but it seems like it’s kinda like Tennis in the US. Everyone knows about it, some people watch it, but not very many actually play.