Saturday, December 12

Blame Monopoly!

As a kid, I loved Monopoly. Couldn't tell you why, but it was the game I most wanted to play. I was pretty ruthless, which meant that I was pretty good at it.

So it was kind of a shock when I played a game yesterday. It was a mini game, and it was against a computer. Still, the crass nature of Monopoly is pretty appalling. It's all about money and possessions. Material goods are the driving force of the game. I guess we don't have to wonder what message kids will take away from this game.

It's not just the attitude, though. The whole game is pretty freaky, when you take a good, long look at it. To get anywhere in the game, you have to buy buy buy; you buy anything you land on, if it's not already claimed. Don't think, just put down money! Then develop the land as quickly as possible. That will allow you to raise rent. Finally, once you get a good number of homes, raze it all and put down a hotel.

Oh, and if you run out of money, no worries. Just mortgage some of your real estate. You'll pay it back... probably.

But my favorite? The object of the game is to financially break the other players. You are supposed to create a scenario in which you wring every last cent from people. You can't win until the person has used up every last asset and owes money everywhere. You have to shoot to drive other people into bankruptcy. How's that for a life lesson?

There is also the issue of obsolescence. When's the last time a railroad was a good investment? And I think the last decade has proved just how problematic utility companies are.

I think the truly galling thing, though, is the money. You get $200 just for making it around the board -- and it's tax-free. (Unless you hit that unfortunate "10% or $200" square.) Tax-free money just for existing? C'mon, at least take out FICA taxes for believability!

Maybe the least believable part, though, is that everyone starts out as equals. Players have the same amounts of money. They don't have to work summers in college to get that $1,500. Nope, the banker just hands it out at the start of the game. Hardly a real-world experience.

Shouldn't the game be a little more diverse, socioeconomically speaking? Sure, it wouldn't be much fun to start off in different economic groups -- "Aw, man! I rolled the underprivileged, inner-city kid! " -- but at least it wouldn't reinforce the BS we're fed about everyone having an equal chance.

So it's unrealistic. Maybe I could live with that. But, from a personal finance standpoint, this game sends a chilling message to players -- most of whom are children. The game makes it perfectly acceptable to over-leverage yourself in the pursuit of riches. Use everything you've got, borrow what you don't, and hope it all turns out okay in the end.

If you can't pay for a property, mortgage something so that you can. Or sell a house. Need to make rent? You can find more ways to borrow the funds. And when you eventually run out of options, that's it. The game's over, and everyone just walks away. There are no lasting repercussions. You just push it all out of your mind.

Maybe I'll start my own board game. It'll be called Bankruptcy. Preferably to be played right after Monopoly, but by itself is fine, too. Once you declare bankruptcy, the game begins. For the first seven trips around the board, you're actively in bankruptcy.

The board will be filled with all sorts of fun, ongoing trials, like dealing with your creditors and learning the impact of the new bankruptcy laws. Oh and let's not forget the memorable "Getting a car when yours breaks." You try to negotiate a car loan when you have terrible credit and no money down! How high will that interest rate be?

How about "Renting a place to live"? You can experience the fun of trying to find a building that will consider someone in bankruptcy -- and then having to put down a bigger deposit.

Of course, after the first seven trips around the board, things ease up. But the players will have to do a few more rounds, just so they can truly appreciate the lasting effects. Like how it could interfere with finding new employment! (Some companies run a credit check, as well as a background check.) And they can revisit the oldies-but-goodies, like how you'll never have an easy time renting again, with a bankruptcy on your record!

Sure, by the end of the game, your kids will be quizzing you on how much you're putting away for their college funds -- or maybe they'll just be rocking back and forth, crying -- but wouldn't it still be a better (and more accurate) representation of the world than Monopoly?


Anonymous Wojciech Kulicki said...

Never thought about it this way, but I think you hit the nail on the head. Especially when it comes to young children, who are fortunately or unfortunately like a sponge, it's interesting the lessons we teach them through board games like this.

I'm not sure if they have the mental capacity to separate reality from game. Any parents or psychologists out there care to weigh in?

December 14, 2009 at 1:46 PM

Blogger a.b. said...

We made up new rules to Monopoly in our house, because I took the "poor house" very seriously and ended up crying in almost every game. My family had experienced hard times, and I couldn't separate taking properties from people in the game vs. people losing their homes. I remember liking it when I was a kid, but as I got older and had a better understanding of finances, it stayed on the shelf and I went back Chutes and Ladders and Sorry.

December 14, 2009 at 2:29 PM

Anonymous Julie said...

It sounds like you have some pretty serious issues with this game... it's just a game! It's for fun! If a parent expects Monopoly to teach their children life lessons, then there are worse problems than the greediness of Monopoly.

And while you're comparing it to real life, you might want to note that monopolies are illegal in the US for the very reason that they make all of the little people broke.

December 14, 2009 at 7:04 PM

Blogger Abigail said...


This post was partially tongue-in-cheek. I doubt highly that all the financial ills come down to a board game's teachings. I was mostly just laughing about how absurd and slightly evil the overall intentions of the game are.

Still, I do think it does somewhat indoctrinate kids into capitalism at an early age. (Then again, most things in this society do. The game of Life isn't exactly about deep, philosophical satisfaction.) You have to admit, though, that the game, as a whole, has some pretty strange, slightly dark values.

I actually meant to point out in this post that monopolies are illegal in this country -- mainly because we have a long, storied history of them in this country. But since I forgot, I'm glad you pointed it out. Though Monopoly is a bit of a surreal title for it, since monopolies that are illegal in this country rarely have anything to do with owning large chunks of land.

That said, I did love it as a kid -- I think mainly because I got to play with money and, as the banker, do math in my head. Because I was that nerdy.

I guess I simply think it's an interesting commentary on our society that this is a classic game.

December 14, 2009 at 7:47 PM

Blogger Shevy said...

My best friend and I played Monopoly just about every day after school for several years and I've started playing Monopoly Jr. in the past few months with my youngest child.

I meant to comment a little on the commonly accepted inspiration for the game but a little research shows that there is quite a gulf between the official story of how the game came to be and how it actually evolved!

Definitely some food for thought....

December 14, 2009 at 11:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey economics class

January 5, 2010 at 7:55 PM


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