American Go E-Journal

Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell on Go, Pong, Life and Changing the World

Saturday August 4, 2012

A standing-room-only crowd packed into Washburn Hall at the U.S. Go Congress opening ceremonies Saturday night, where – after a brief but entertaining Congress welcome from Congress Directors Paul Celmer and Peter Armenia — Atari founder Nolan Bushnell regaled the rapt audience with tales of how he came to found the company that helped define the computer entertainment industry for years. The talk was the keynote presentation of the ongoing International Go Symposium (see below for Sunday’s schedule).

“Isn’t go a great game?!” Bushnell began, to cheers and applause. “Go allows us to engage both side of our brain,” Bushnell continued, “but it requires humility and patience, both of which are hard for Americans. But wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone played go?” He then described how he learned go from a fellow chess club member in college, was instantly entranced by the game, and then got interested in arcade games while working in an amusement park. Punctuating his own history and that of the computer game industry with jovial asides – “I turned down an offer to buy a third of Apple for $50,000; I regret that.” – Bushnell described developing classics like the Atari 2600 gaming console and Pong, which drew knowing nods from many in the crowd of gamers, some of whom had brought their favorite Atari game cartridges to be autographed. “Go has been really important in my career,” Bushnell said, as he described the ups and downs of a long and fascinating life. “Just like in a game of go, at the end, you pick up the pieces and start over again.”

Now CEO of Brainrush, Bushnell has gotten interested in education and in the effects of aging on the brain, and he described software his company’s working on that he said has gotten tremendous results by focusing on play instead of the usual approach of “presentation, practice, test.” Bushnell concluded by throwing his arms wide and proclaiming that “I love go players” and confiding that he often plays on KGS (“Often anonymously”) but that he needs “a two-martini account” for those days when he just wants to have fun playing.

International Go Symposium Schedule for Sunday, August 5
A = Attending Congress; S = Skype presentation; also streaming live online. Papers and web links will be posted online after the Symposium; details will be announced in the E-Journal.

Sunday August 5

9:00    Thomas  Wolf  Go Theory S
Basic Seki in Go

9:45    Chen Zu-yan  Poetry S
The Art of Black and White: Weiqi in Chinese Poetry

10:30  Roxanna Duntley-Matos  Education and Community Organization  A
“Playing Under and Pushing Through the Stones”: Privileging Transnational Go Network Formation and Minority Leadership from Lower to Higher Education.

11:15  Peter Shotwell  History
The Origins of Go Strategies in Classical Chinese Grammar

12:00-1:00  Lunch 

1:00-2:30  A Panel Discussion on Go inChinaToday:
Marc Moskowitz  A
Wei Qi Wonders: Conversations About the Game of Go in China (Film)
The Challenges of Categorization for an Increasingly Globalized Game

Stephanie Mingming Yin (China1-dan Professional)  A
Experiences in Growing Up in the Profession and Observations on the Chinese Methods of Education  Joshua A. Guarino (Go Congress Japanese-English Interpreter) A
Cross-cultural memoirs

Peter Shotwell  (Go Historian)
Go in China1985

2:30 Hotta Yumi  A
Hikaru no Go creator – Interview
Paul Barchilon  (Vice-President and Youth Coordinator, American Go Foundation: 2006 Teacher of the Year)  Akane Negishi  (Translator)

3:15 Terry Benson  Rules/Attitudes A
Spreading Go – Rules and Attitudes Which Make That Hard

A Panel Discussion on Go on How to Start a Go Program in Your Community
Moderated by Roy Laird, PhD, LCSW-R (Program Director, New York City Children’s Aid Society)

Play Go and Grow: Why Every School and Library Should Have a Go Program  A
Paul Barchilon (Vice-President and Youth Coordinator, American Go Foundation: 2006 Teacher of the Year)

Developing Youth Programs
Peter Freedman, PhD (Portland, OregonChildren’s go organizer); 2011 Portlandand Mexico Children’s Tournament)  A

Teaching Children to Become Go Players
Siddhartha Avila (Program Director, Mexican Youth Go Community; Univ.of Michigan Cultural Ambassador Go Program)  A

The Art of Go in Education and Presentation of the International Children’s Go Art Contest

photos: (top right) Nolan Bushnell delivers Symposium keynote speech; (middle left) Bushnell talks with Congress attendees after the speech, including the EJ’s Steve Colburn (right) and Todd Blatt (left); (middle right): Congress Directors Paul Celmer (standing, center) and Peter Armenia (seated at right) with Chris Kirschner (left) as the Ghost of Congresses Past. photos by Chris Garlock

Categories: U.S. Go Congress