Ancient Asian Board Game Goes Online
| by Reuters |
As boisterous teenagers wage bloody beast wars in virtual universes at a clamorous downtown Internet cafe, a handful of men, oblivious to the din, stare transfixed at an ancient, slow-paced, black-and-white board game on their screens.
The game, widely known by its Japanese name Go, is an ideal candidate to benefit from the online boom as gaming companies move to offer international networks to connect hundreds of millions of players, most of them in East Asia.
Go, called Wei Qi in China and Baduk in Korea, originated in China more than two thousand years ago and has been widely practiced since, giving birth to a unique culture that revels in its leisurely pace and fiendishly complex strategies.
Two players, with the aim of enlarging their territories, take turns alternately placing black and white stones on a board marked with 19 horizontal and 19 vertical lines.
"The game has a long history and common rules. There's no cultural barrier to overcome," said Ryu Seung yup, head of board game business at South Korean game operator NHN Corp.
NHN, which currently runs separate Go sites in South Korea, Japan and China, plans to launch a combined global platform for the game within this year.
Go is ideally suited to get a boost from the Web because, unlike Chess, no computer program has been developed to compete with experienced human players. Its nearly infinite combinations and sheer strategic complexity have posed a great challenge for program developers.
One program, developed in North Korea and considered the best of the genre, barely beats human players beyond the intermediate level.
Online game sites also help players to easily find well-matched partners. They also offer quality education materials and other content to guide beginners.
"Lots of people have already found international game partners in China, Japan and Thailand on popular game sites," said Yang Hyung-mo, a spokesman for the Korea Baduk Association. "Soon they will attract large numbers of young people who never played (Go) offline."
Professionals in Asia already compete in international tournaments, but the online system helps ordinary players sharpen their skills and broaden their strategies. South Korea has a cable channel dedicated to Go, while Japan televises the game extensively.
While rules are the same, experts say each country has different traditions and Go styles, which makes cross-boarder matches more interesting.
Helping on-line Go spread in Asia is the fast penetration of high-speed Internet. South Korea and Japan rank among the top countries worldwide in broadband use, while China has shown double-digit growth in Internet penetration.
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