Misconceptions about the decline of real-life Go clubs
That phrase, "I hate Go", was half-jokingly spoken to me seven times over the last three weeks by friends on KGS.
Admittedly, there are times when I too "hate" Go. The phrase encompasses my frustrations. Maybe I lost a game. Maybe I'm not advancing in rank as fast as I think I should be. Maybe I'm unhappy for not having read a move just one stone deeper, or for having found the ideal move three stones after it should have been played.
Given that "love" and "hate" are supposedly two sides of the same coin, one would come to expect similar frustrations in just about any fervent pursuit.
Interestingly though, I can't recall having felt as much frustration at any time when I practiced fencing or kendo. One possible explanation is that the intense physical activity released enough endorphins to lift my mood.
Another explanation might be the camaraderie of the salle or the dojo. Everybody acted as a fun social distraction, a cheering squad, or a mutual support group. And honestly, how can your mood not be lifted when occasionally, after two hours of practice, the gang either steps out for beer and pasta at Original Joe's or sits down for a tasty home-style Japanese meal?
Virtual vs. Real-Life
Now, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that I probably spend at least a third of my time on KGS just socializing. There's a lot of online chat that goes on in the rooms of that server and, coupled with KGS's rather well-designed game-review capabilities, I once speculated about the ultimate demise of real-life Go clubs as virtual clubs would take their place.
I probably couldn't have been more wrong.
Face it, it's a different experience to be sharing a drink, a light conversation, and a game in person than it is to be sipping tea by yourself as you play on a server. You can throw-in all the tools at one's disposal - internet telephony, webcams, and virtual worlds like Second Life - but what you get is still a substitute that falls notably short of the broad social enjoyment that comes with a club.
These days, I'm more convinced that online social interaction will always remain merely an extension of real-life social interaction; a convenient way to get together when time constraints or distance conspire to keep us separated. Online Go is enjoyable and educational, but I'd really prefer to be playing at The Berkeley Go Club, The Sunnyvale Go Club, or join the LLNL Club for it's once-a-month off-campus meets at the Panama Bay Coffee Company.
I speculate that many of us would also rather be at a club if one were nearby. The pleasure of just getting together with people who share the same interest is difficult to replicate.