How you can help to make Go a household name: The Surrounding Game

Click here to support The Surrounding Game at Kickstarter

[Editor: This is a guest article by Will Lockhart and Cole D. Pruitt from The Surrounding Game.]

The Surrounding Game

The Surrounding Game: A film about Go

It’s the line that every Go player hates to hear, “You’re playing Othello, right?”

For a game with such rich cultural legacy, Go suffers from a serious lack of cultural awareness in Western countries.

Go players can expect confused stares and glazed eyes when carrying a goban in public or explaining the rules.

As an American in 2012, I’d have better luck finding a game of Yahtzee on the street than a game of Go, despite decades of person to person outreach by thousands of Go players.

What would it take for Go to capture the public imagination?

Why has public promotion of Go been so slow and difficult despite the richness of the game? What would it take to capture public imagination and make Go well known around the world?

Part of the challenge is that Go has so many different avenues to explore. Should a new player first learn about life and death and the throngs of professional Go players, or the beauty of shape and the 3,000 year history of the game?

Too often, beginners are turned off by seemingly byzantine rules about which groups are dead, and explanations of ko and other complications that have no place in an introduction. Because Go takes years to fully appreciate and understand, getting new players hooked can seem impossible without some prior knowledge of the game.

It’s the line that every Go player hates to hear, “You’re playing Othello, right?”

Searching for a solution

In searching for answers to these questions, we (Will Lockhart and Cole D. Pruitt) thought back to how we first got excited about Go. Both of us love games in general and found Go strategically interesting, but it wasn’t the subtle strategy or sheer complexity that hooked us.

Hikaru no Go: A story about Go that captured the imaginations of a generation of new Go players.

In Will’s case, the gripping adversarial intensity of Hikaru no Go came at a perfect time to ignite his curiosity.

In a parallel to ‘Hikaru’, he and his brother Ben Lockhart were well suited opponents and, over the years, they grew stronger in tandem while trying to gain the upper hand.

On the way, they delved deeper and became passionate about the strategy and intricacy of the game, eventually becoming strong players able to teach and inspire others in the community.

In contrast, Cole had little to no interaction with the Go community at first, but was fascinated with the stories, shapes, and proverbs he found on Sensei’s Library.

To a new player with no teacher or regular opponents, phrases like ‘Golden Chicken Standing on One Leg’ and ‘The Blood-Vomiting Game’ were exotic hints of much deeper cultural meaning, accrued over thousands of years of human curiosity.

By the time Cole joined the Brown University Go club where Will was the strongest player, any technical discussions of tewari analysis and endgame counting were no longer so daunting. They were simply new ground in an ever growing, already exciting world of Go.

Not just a game – a story

Looking back on our experiences, we see Go as more a story than a game, one in which every player has a stake. While figures like Honinbo Shusai and Cho Hunhyun are the legends, every Go player is a character, struggling against opponents and themselves to become just a little bit stronger.

Aspiring students can wrestle with the ancient Chinese Xuanxuan Qijing problem collection, just as their forebears have for hundreds of years. And more than ever before, Go is becoming an international phenomenon accessible to everyone, regardless of background or status.

Janice Kim, professional Go player and author of the popular Learn to Play Go books.

With a growing number of players and amount of online information about Go, we believe that the future of promotion for Go lies in cultural and emotional connection with stories and characters.

In Chess, each piece is endowed with a unique set of abilities for all to see, but in Go, the full value and meaning of a stone is shrouded from public view. Teasing out the deeper story is the key to sharing the fun and wisdom of the game.

we believe that the future of promotion for Go lies in cultural and emotional connection with stories and characters.

A feature-length documentary about Go

To answer this challenge, we decided to follow the story ourselves by filming and directing the upcoming film The Surrounding Game, a feature-length documentary on the communities, people, and cultures that comprise the world of Go. By showing the passion and seriousness with which millions of people approach the game, we want to give living proof that Go is worthy of a lifetime of curiosity.

Over the next year we will be traveling around North America, and then to China and Korea to film the Samsung Cup and Ing Cup finals, investigate Go schools, and explore the cultural roots of the game. Crucially, this year marks the start of the American professional Go system, the first time Go players outside East Asia will be certified to compete against the best players in the world.

We can’t yet know the impact of the new American system on the Go community or the challenges that lies ahead for Go around the world, but with the support of Go players for this film, we can expose the passion that lies behind the game.

The opening moves

We began filming for the project in March, traveling to local events in New York and Boston.

Bolstered by the enthusiasm of both Go players and film industry professionals, we traveled to Los Angeles for the 2012 Cotsen Open, where we secured interviews with members of the Korean Professional delegation who had come to usher in the new American Pro system.

An exhibition game between professionals at the first ever American professional qualifying event.

As the momentum behind this project grew, we became more and more convinced that this was about more than just promoting Go. This film is about capturing the entire world of culture and the community that surrounds it.

After receiving support from the Shanghai Ing Chang-Ki Weiqi Education Foundation, we set our sights on a feature-length documentary, and began a crowd fundraising campaign through

In the end, our film is a way to shine a light on Go and its enthusiasts worldwide, and support from the Go community is critical to making this project a success.

By showing the passion and seriousness with which millions of people approach the game, we want to give living proof that Go is worthy of a lifetime of curiosity.

How you can help

We need your support to make 'The Surrounding Game' the best film possible.

Click here to support The Surrounding Game at Kickstarter

We know how long the Go community has searched in vain for greater public awareness of Go, and with enough support from players around the world, we believe that this film could have a lasting impact.

Despite decades of slow progress, the time is ripe for Go to receive the recognition it deserves, and we hope you’ll consider supporting us in this effort.

We realize that it will be a long time before Go is a household game, but we hope that with this film we can make another important step.

Support The Surrounding Game

If you’d like to contribute to the project, please click here to visit our page at Kickstarter and back this project today. The Kickstarter page closes on July 7, 2012 and our goal is to raise $25,000 before then.

For more information about the film, you can check out our website at:

We have some great rewards on offer for people who support the project, including pre-release footage, signed DVDs and your name in the film credits. And that’s just for starters.

Click here now to see the full list of available rewards and back the project before July 7 to get yours.


Thanks for your help, Will and Cole — The Surrounding Game

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  1. David Ormerod says:

    I think this is a really worthwhile project and I hope that it will be a big success. Whatever happens, it’s definitely worth trying.

    Go Game Guru has been backing this project since day one, and I hope readers will consider supporting it too.

    It only takes five minutes:

  2. abouthegame says:

    the music was played really too loud :S and there were some tecnical problems (for example some random noices) but a nice idea to make a documentary film 🙂 hopefully everything goes well to make a nice serie.

  3. Iceoverlord says:

    Payday is today so by tomorrow I know that I will be supporting this because I can’t wait to see this movie!

  4. Frédéric says:

    I like the final words of cho hun hyun. This movie is very good idea.

  5. That was quite a long argumentation and I kept wondering why the author was so vehement about the “ignoble state” go is in these days when I came to the fund raising part and finally understood…

    Honestly I think the documentary idea was good enough by itself without resorting to such rhetorics. As to the othello thing the only thing I can say is not so long ago I was playing a quick game of renju during lunchbreak and one of my co-workers passing by told me “hey! so you’re playing go!”. Better make a movie on renju! 😀

  6. Charleschapple says:

    Awsome this was posted here. I was already a backer. Really looking forward to it!

  7. Go is a wonderful game, and I love it a lot. But Go a household name, a popular game that everybody knows, maybe even plays once in a while? Don’t kid yourself, in the West this will never happen, not even close. Reasons:
    – there is no Go culture in the West, and that will never come: in the old days with far less distraction there was a possibility in the far East, combined with the next point;
    – there is not a big body stimulating Go in a big way for a long, long period of time, like the military and the government in Japan centuries ago, the school system and government in China and Korea maybe nowadays;
    – for the average passer-by Go looks nice, but the game is too subtle and really too long, difficult and boring to keep 99% of the people on board for a longer period of time, if at all.

    So yes, please go on, promote the game as much as you can, have fun doing so, but don’t expect anything significant out of it. There is nothing wrong in being realistic, and still enjoying the nicest game there is, for us, that is. For others, a far larger group I guess, that may be poker.

    Kind regards,

  8. I don’t think anyone is expecting Go to ever reach a level of popularity similar to its mass following in Korea, but I think that being elevated to a household name is well within the realms of possibility. Look at the status of chess in the US: Most everyone knows what chess is. Most people even know the rules and how the pieces move. Very few people ever play chess, and most of those who occasionally do are at a very basic level (like myself). The opinion of most is that chess is for nerdy intellectuals because it is way too boring for normal people. Even though the culture of America shuns intellectual endeavors, it does not stop people from knowing about games like chess and go. With more exposure, I could see go becoming a game that most people can recognize, and maybe even know the basic rules of.

    • I tried it in the past with my sister who is a basic school teacher. She didn’t adopt the game, since the kids were much more captivated by the “personality” of the chess pieces than by the beautiful cooperation of the anonymous stones.

      It’s anecdotal for sure but I’m afraid it is exemplary of the culture difference and Go will never become a household game.

  9. Iceoverlord says:

    Additionally with the start-up of an American Professional certification process the possibility of some people becoming pros means that it isnt mandatory for people to go to Asia in order to become a pro. THis can give hope. Plus although people don’t play board games as much as usual they use to, people play on the computer. Go has moved into a more computerize age so it is possible that the name could become more popular.

    Will Go ever be as popular here as in Asia, there is no way. We do not have the culture to support it, but through a movie perhaps we can let people see that Go is not dying but that there has been a failure in advertising GO up to this point.

  10. Looking good guys. Only suggestion would be to put name and title under each person as they speak so we know who they are.
    Can’t wait to see the final result!

  11. Hey Guys,

    Will from the documentary team here.
    Interesting comments! I agree that Go will probably never achieve the level of popularity here that it has in Asia, but that is not my goal. Rather, we are interested in simply exposing people to this beautiful game, and the fantastically rich culture and tradition that surrounds it. I’m happy to let people choose for themselves whether or not to invest any time in it, and I agree most people won’t – just like most people don’t do math or play competitive chess – but I hope that people can at least know what it is, and appreciate it.

    As for the American Pro system, I’m not sure anyone knows what effect that’s going to have! Might it spark a lot of interest, or will it be insignificant in the face of the Asian professional systems? Will Asian professionals take our pros seriously? What do you guys think?

    • Hi Will,

      With a very small percentage of the American people playing Go, having a few professionals will not have any impact on, yes, on what? So, maybe these professionals are stronger than their amateur counterparts. Maybe they can live of Go, although I cannot quite imagine how. Will they compete with each other, who pays for this? Or they may teach, OK this may be viable. Will they be able to compete with their Asian counterparts? No way, because of the children teaching system and the pro system in China and Korea. An American super talent, if you can find one, has to be educated in China or Korea, or the talent gets lost. Then you have one, if he cares to come back. And with all respect: who cares in America? There, baseball, football, basketball, poker reign, the rest is utterly unimportant. But please, keep enjoying Go, and all the wonderful activities and contacts coming from it. Small is also beautiful.

      Kind regards,

  12. Iceoverlord says:

    I feel like initially the Asian pros will probably not take American pros as seriously because the program is new. Perhaps in 10 years as the level of strength rises here due to competitiveness for the pro slots the American level of skills will rise and in time I could see Asian pros taking the American pros more seriously.

    • Byung Soo Lee says:

      Honestly, all it would take for go to take off in the US is for Emperor Oprah to endorse it. The only problem is that this is not an easy matter.

  13. Hey maybe this film will breed us a new Bobby Fischer of Go, to beat the mighty East ! We had an all too brief moment of “Chess Mania” blossom in the USA. We quickly lost enthusiasm as a country, but it left a mark on our society for decades.

    Excellent idea to make a Go documentary, I’m in it for Kickstarter and look forward to the film. From the trailer I saw I have a few comments: Please use a tripod or unipod for camera steadiness, and get (at a minimum) a semi-professional voice actor for any narration planned. Take queues from Indie Game: The Movie, for the type of quality filming that is needed in a successful documentary. But definitely find your own style !!

  14. as someone currently studying go in the Asian system I thought I might respond to the few ignorant comments on the subject and say that you can absolutely create a system for training kids in the U.S. it only requires a few professional teachers (which already exist in the U.S, Kim Myung-Wan for example) and parents who are willing to send their children to study full-time. The latter requirement requires a great amount of awareness of the game and this documentary is just ONE SMALL STEP so RELAX. It won’t become a recognizable game overnight.. Nobody is saying that of course. MAYBE is 50 years or so it will have grown to the level where people in America have HEARD of it. That is all. That dude Paul needs to chill..

    • Hi Anon,

      This dude Paul is chilling a lot. I’ve seen it all in Western Europe, again and again, and again. Go is a lot of fun here, still small and insignificant after a lot of years. Quote: “MAYBE in 50 years or so…”, well that says it all, I rest my case. I am not only chilled by then, but utterly dead.

      Kind regards,

  15. ZeroWave says:

    Good luck with the project, sounds great 🙂

  16. rikugo1 says:

    Personally I doubt it will even take 50 years. I think people underestimate how much smaller and more connected the internet is making the world. Most people will eventually have friends from numerous countries, and will learn of it from them.

  17. These comments are kind of bumming me out. How about some optimism? The fact that there is a documentary and new professional Go association seems like a reason to feel good about the future of Go in the U.S. As a soccer fan, I can tell you that small steps matter. Games simply need a foothold. Let’s look to the future.

  18. Frankly, everything is opinion by everyone at this point. For any comment to be even remotely valid in regards to popularity, there needs to be a quantifiable way to measure this. The best (although far from ideal) way to measure popularity would be the AGA membership logs, and see if membership has increased or declined. Again, this is not a 100% correlation, but cerainly better than anecdotal stories.

    Will – good luck with the movie. My question to you is in regards to the distribution of the movie. How will you do this? What’s the target audience? How do you plan to get the film noticed? It could be the best film since “Titanic”, but if you can’t SELL the movie to an audience, you’re in trouble.

    Final thoughts: I hope you make the film fun and engaging as well as informative. In other words, rather than a pure history and discussion of the future of the game, I hope you are able to include tension, humor and excitement!

    One of my favorite movies is “Searching for Bobby Fisher”. While the movie was about the famous Bobby Fisher and chess, I loved the main story. Some of my favorite scenes are of the young boy playing chess with his dad from upstairs (board and dad were downstairs), and the fierce tension at the end of the movie with the antagonist boy who refuses to shakes hand with the main actor after the main character reads out his victory multiple moves in advance.

    If you could incorporate the violence, intensity, tension and feelings of victory in the film, you’ll have a winner.

  19. Andy cheng says:

    not just Othello too but connect 5 also i think would every go player hates to hear

  20. David Ormerod says:

    In the debate about whether to have a pro system in the US (or anywhere else in the West for that matter), it’s natural to ask whether the ground has been prepared sufficiently, whether it’s the best use of resources and whether the timing is right.

    However, things have already progressed well beyond that point in the States. The Korean Baduk Association and Tygem are prepared to support this initiative now, and the American Go Association has seized that opportunity.

    At this point, the course has already been set. So the question now becomes whether you will get behind the plan or not. None of us know for sure what will happen, but if we support it, pay attention to what’s happening, tell other people about it etc, then we give it the best possible chance of succeeding.

    The same goes for The Surrounding Game. Maybe the timing could be better (there’s never really a ‘right’ time for anything), but the decision to start the project now is affected by other factors, like the new US pro system. The choice now is to either do what we can to to support it, or ignore it.

    We’re all part of a growing international community of Go players and I think most of us want to see the game become better known by the public. In the event that these projects are very successful, then it’s worth remembering that things that become popular in the US often spread quickly to many other parts of the world. And even if there’s no huge breakthrough, it’s still another step in the right direction.

    One thing we have to be careful of as a community is that we don’t allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good.

  21. Anything to promote the game to the public is welcome. However, most Go pictures just show a couple of people staring at the board. Pretty boring. I believe that non-documentary movies are much more effective [Just last week someone came up to us playing and mentioned the film “A Beautiful Mind”]. I recently saw the French film “Queen to Play” [with Kevin Kline of all people] which is the story of a housewife who witnesses two young people playing a loving game of chess. She can’t take her eyes off the game and ends up giving her husband an electronic chess board for his birthday. As you can guess, she ends up using it but soon learns the limit of computer chess. Here she seeks out a teacher and finds Kevin who refuses. She begs and he relents and you can guess the rest. Anyway, my point is that this kind of story sticks with people and interests them. Why not something similar for Go?

  22. The Sugar education software for One Laptop Per Child includes the Playgo activity, which recently won first place in the game category in the Edujam! software contest in Uruguay. It is available to the two and a half million children around the world who have OLPC XO laptops through their schools, and is also available in several distributions of the Linux operating system. AGA has helped Sugar Labs in the design of Playgo.

    Would you like to include this in your documentary?

    • Well, this is pretty great! It is all in numbers, and steering some activity if possible. If for example this software allows children to play some (simplified, smaller board) kind of Go, against each other, and some prizes are awarded, just for the fun of it, that could have some impact. Two and a half million children, all over the world… Thank you for mentioning this!

      Kind regards,

  23. Actually, it provides 9 x 9, 13 x 13, and 19 x 19 boards, and we mean to provide extensive learning material in sgf files and other forms. We would also like to translate the AGA school materials to a number of languages, depending on interest. We are working in about a hundred languages so far.

  24. Hey guys,

    We just came back from the 2012 Canadian Open last night, and Andy Liu, who we have been following, beat Kim Youngsam by 0.5 points to win the tournament and $1000 prize! Really a fantastic event all around.

    JRG, we definitely want to make this more than just informational; we have what we believe is a compelling narrative, and will be following all the young hopefuls on their journey to become the first American Pros.
    As far as distribution, we plan to submit the film to festivals first, and hold a few screening of our own. Then we’ll begin selling downloads off the website, and DVD sales. Depending on how this goes, we could potentially aim for TV and select theaters.

    Our Kickstarter has just FOUR days left, so PLEASE, keep telling your friends about it and if you plan to donate, do it now before it’s too late!

    Thanks everyone,


  25. T-minus 48 hours