OGA, FOL and FEAR
O.G.A. = Online Go Anxiety
F.O.L. = Fear of Losing
F.E.A.R. = False Expectations Appearing Real
There have been at least three of you who had related to me that you suffer from OGA, or Online Go Anxiety. You have no trouble playing in real life, face to face with your opponent, but you find it very difficult (even nerve-wracking) to play on a real-time online Go server like KGS.
I've been playing seriously for less than a year and I can still remember that I was afflicted with a bad case of OGA during my first weeks. I believe that OGA is a superset of FOL (fear of losing), and that FOL is caused by FEAR (false expectations appearing real). Most of us eventually overcome OGA and maybe this post will help accelerate the process for some of you that might have it.
Transparency and Unfamiliarity are probably two causal categories for OGA.
Here are four elements of transparency which can drive FEAR when playing online.
- Your match can be viewed by several people all around the world. - At any moment, your friends, rivals, or teachers can pop into your match and see how you're playing. On KGS, TheCaptain (4D) will often have as little as sixty observers watching his game.
- All of your games are recorded and some servers make these public. - In real life, you play a game and its history tends to vanish into the ether after the game ends. Online, your transparency doesn't end after the match is over. On KGS for example, everyone can access your past games and play them back, stone-by-stone, in all their glory as you march towards victory ... or defeat.
- Your rank is automatically updated by the server based on your wins and losses. - Proud of your rank? You're 20k today but what if you hit a string of losses? You think you're 17k? Will you be able to prove it in the online arena? Are you afraid of seeing your rank knocked down by a stone? Maybe two stones?
- Your rank and/or your win-loss ratio is public knowledge unless you choose to obscure it or, as is allowed on some servers, reset it. - KGS maintains a rank chart which is publicly accessible. Everyone can see how you've progressed, or not progressed, over time. IGS shows your win/loss count although you can reset it to zero.
And the rest of the Go-playing community? Think about how many there are of us in the kyu ranks. Until we even get to the dans, we're a-dime-a-dozen. In a nutshell, kyus fly under the radar and can focus on enjoying their gradual growth.
What about comparing your progress to others or to some "standard"? The simple fact is that we all have different abilities, resources and life circumstances and the combination of those three will dictate how fast we can advance.
When you play online, especially as a beginner, you will be playing mostly with strangers. Often, all you will know about your opponent is their name and their rank.
Some players will provide an avatar, a visual representation of themselves, but that can be of no help either.
Above is a montage of nine avatars taken from Kiseido Go Server. Depending on your tastes, some of these images may beckon and some may repulse. Three are friends, one is a former opponent and the rest were pulled randomly. Can you tell which? Are you sure? Who would you like to play with?
On top of that, we're divorced from the pleasantries of a good, full person-to-person interaction. Your opponent may not even choose to be polite by at least saying "Hello" and "Thank you" before and after the match. Some opponents can even be anti-social.
But just like in real life, we can choose who we play against. You're not obligated to accept every challenge to a match. On KGS, I prefer to examine a challenger's profile to at least check if they might be a potential escaper or a sandbagger. If there's anything that makes me uncomfortable, I can always turn down the challenge.
By and large, however, I've found my past opponents to be enjoyable, cordial and even helpful during the post-game reviews. Sometimes, all it takes is to remember that there's a real person on the other end.