LOST Theories - DarkUFO

The Game is Go? Black and White Stones, Jacob’s ladder and other thoughts

At this point in the series, a lot of Lostpediacs are inclined to agree that there is a “game” of cosmic proportions taking place on the island. From Season 1 on, we have been assuming that the game of backgammon might be an important metaphor (it’s one of the world’s most ancient games, opposes two players, one black and one white) for the bigger game opposing Jacob and his Nemesis. But backgammon relies too much on chance an is too simple a game to fit within the free will/determinism leitmotif of the show.

There is another game, as ancient as backgammon, which uses black and white stones and relies on super complex strategy and the ability to anticipate your opponent’s moves: Go. Its rules are fairly simple, but you need to play thousands of games in order to become a decent player, which Nemesis seems to have become after spending centuries stuck playing it on the island. People often refer to Go as the most complex game with the world because there is an almost infinite number of variations (and assorted timelines?) for every single turn and because the first stone you put on the board can influence the whole outcome of the game.

Perusing the Wikipedia entry for Go (extremely well written, by someone who is a much better player than I’ll ever be…) , you realize that many parallels can be drawn between the game and the series. Even the vocabulary used in Go is very Lostean. Players make « connections » to build « chains » of stones (as in : « it’s good to see you out of those chains, Richard… », groups of stones are referred to as « alive », « dead » or « unsettled » (we’ve seen a lot of those recently), rules prevent « suicide » of a stone (Michael’s failed suicide attempts) and the game is all about one colour gaining influence over the board (during the game, areas of the board turn from black to white influence, and vice-versa) through attack, defense or « sacrifice ».

The numbers (and the people associated with them) could very well be stones in the game. In Go, there are 361 spaces on the board (and as many stones) and there are apparently 360 possible candidates, judging from the list in the cave and the wheel in the lighthouse. A lot of the names in the cave have been « played » and have changed sides over the course of the season (Dharmaites and Losties becoming Others, Others becoming Losties, US soldiers becoming Others, and, in general, "bad" people becoming "good", etc.). Also, in Go, "dead" stones can remain on the board, which might explain why some names are crossed out but are still physically alive on the island.

As I explained, the object of go is to gain territory by capturing the opponent's stones (or should I say candidates?), and Nemesis seems to be doing just fine in that department (ie: "recuiting" Jacob's candidates). One of the techniques used to capture stones in Go is called a "ladder". Every time you add a step to the ladder, you reduce your opponent's "liberties" (made me think of Sawyer going down to the cave; when the ladder broke, he only had one way to go: down). There is a proverb associated with the game that states: "If you don't know ladders, don't play Go". Proverbs are used in Go to memorize strategies and rules of the game. Some are vague enough to fit within the Lost universe (such as "The opponent's vital point is my vital point"), others fit perfectly ("Beware of going back to patch up" might be interpreted as "don't mess with the timeline, dude"). And I'm sure numbers obsessed lostpediacs would have fun with this one: "Four is five and five is eight and si! x is twelve". Here's a link to a complete list of Go proverbs[2]--

More food for thought, from the Go entry on Wikipedia : « A comparison of Go and chess is often used as a parallel to explain Western versus Eastern strategic thinking. Go begins with an empty board. It is focused on building from the ground up (nothing to something) with multiple, simultaneous battles leading to a point-based win. Chess, one can say, is in the end tactical rather than strategic, as the predetermined strategy is to kill one individual piece (the king). (…) A similar comparison has been drawn among Go, chess and backgammon, perhaps the three oldest games that still enjoy worldwide popularity. Backgammon is a "man vs. fate" contest, with chance playing a strong role in determining the outcome. Chess, with rows of soldiers marching forward to capture each other, embodies the conflict of "man vs. man". Because the handicap system tells Go players where they stand relative to other players, an honestly ranked player can expect to lose about half of their game! s; therefore, Go can be seen as embodying the quest for self-improvement—"man vs. self".».

Isn’t that what the whole journey on the island is all about?

PS: I'm calling out all Go players to expand on these thoughts, as I am not a regular player of the game.

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