A ground-breaking initiative to tackle social isolation in Fremantle has more possibilities than the number of atoms in the observable universe.
I’m talking about the ancient board game Go, with City of Fremantle the first local government to hold Go sessions where people socialise and exercise their brains at the same time.
Go originated in China more than 4000 years ago and is believed to be the oldest board game still played to this day.
The rules are simple – one player has white stones and the other black. They take turns placing them on a grid, attempting to surround more territory than their opponent.
But as the board is larger than the one used in chess, the number of legal positions is mind-bendingly huge (about 2.1 × 10170) and expert games can last six hours or more.
But don’t worry, beginners use a smaller board and ease their way into the abstract strategy.
Dr Silvia Lozeva, an academic in anthropology, social development and political science at UWA, is a Go expert and came up with the idea to hold the sessions at Fremantle Library.
“There are many benefits from learning to play the game, both socially and neurologically, but the main advantage is creating an inter-cultural link between East and West, in a way only comparable to bringing the spices to the western world,” she says.
“My focus is to provide as many meaningful ways of preventing social isolation and foster a sense of community as possible, and the game has provided an excellent tool and a bridge between times, cultures and places.”
Although chess is back en vogue after the hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, over the years Go has featured in Hollywood movies including Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe, and director Darren Aronofsky’s cult-classic Pi.
The board game recently made headlines with the AlphaGo challenge, where human players pitted their wits against AI. Dr Lozeva is so fascinated by Go she gave a TEDx talk in Perth on it and published articles in the journal The Conversation about the board game. She recently founded Institute 361, which facilitates Go sessions in schools, workplaces and communities, including sessions designed for people on the autism spectrum.
Aside from the social benefits, the game is known to develop patience, resilience and long term strategic thinking, which can be useful in all walks of life including the business world.
“With its simple rules and possible moves to explore, it takes minutes to learn and much more to master,” Dr Lozeva says.
The next Give Go a Go session is at Fremantle Library on High Street on Tuesday (March 14) at 3.30pm. Weekly sessions will be held until the end of June. To register go to eventbrite.com.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK