The first feature is that luck plays a very big part. Of course, in many games, eastern or western, luck plays some part. But there is more to Yout-nori. There is luck involved in what you get as a result of throwing yout. But also, you have to be incredibly lucky in picking the shortest path. The path you take depends on quite a bit of luck.
The second feature is that when you catch up with the opponent’s pawn, you remove it from the board. The opponent’s pawn has to start all over again from the beginning. I thought this “when-caught-return-to-the-start” was a universal rule that applies to every board game. Obviously it is not. This is a unique feature of Yout-Nori.
I think the third feature is the most unique one. You piggyback your pawns. When one of your pawns ends are staying at the same place as your other pawn, they move together. By piggybacking, you have a higher chance of winning, but also become more vulnerable as your pawns can be removed.
Identifying these three features, I realized that these features tell us so much about the negative parts of Korean society, perhaps negative parts of human society as a whole. Winning or success depends on luck; you get ahead by eliminating your rivals; and people have a tendency to be favorable to their family members or people from the same region or high school.
When I realized this, my first reaction was disgust. I hated Yout-Nori. But now, I think differently. Yes, these negative aspects of Korean society or human society as a whole are reflected in the rules of Yout-Nori. But this does not mean human society should be run by the rules of Yout-Nori. Yout-Nori makes us think about how human society should be or ought to be. Success depends on luck in many ways. This is why successful people do not deserve all the fruits that come along with success. Some people put in as much effort as others but are not as successful because they are just a little bit unlucky. These people deserve as much as those who succeeded only because they were lucky. Usually in a company, when one person reaches a certain rank, the person who was previously at that rank has to leave. But this norm does not have to be applied to other parts of society. People who fail once can be given a second chance. They do not have to lose everything and start from the beginning. People have a tendency toward nepotism. But people deserve the same consideration whether they are related to you or not. We ought to develop a tendency to help everybody no matter what.
Perhaps our ancestors wanted us remember what we ought to do by reflecting on these human conditions and realizing how bad and unfair they are. We should never forget that success in large part depends on luck, so we do not deserve all of it. We should never forget that those people who are left behind do not always deserve the bad consequences. We should never forget that we ought to help and respect other human beings.
* Professor Kim Seahwa has a master’s degree from Seoul National University and a Ph.D from Princeton University. She is currently the Associate Dean for Scranton College and the Division Chair for Scranton Honors Program.