With the economic world currently in turmoil, encouraging the monopolising of business and property hardly seems responsible. However, this is just what Hasbro proposes in their controversial boardgame, Monopoly.
The aim of the game is simple: by controlling squares on the board, which represent streets or public works, the player can illicit money from other competitors. The winner is the last player with money left, or the richest if the game is played against the clock.
Gameplay is also simple, downplaying the complexity of real business. The player first selects a pawn to represent them in the city. These pawns include figures such as dogs, thimbles or tophats, seem to suggest the player is not human, and lends the game a perverse, magic undertone unsuitable for younger players. Having selected their pieces, the players role dice to decide how far they move on the board. Most pieces on the board represent streets in the city, and players can decide to buy these properties if they land on them. If they land on a property owned by another player, however, they must pay that player rent. Players can raise the rent to astronomical amounts by building more houses on properties they own, thus hoping to run other players out of business faster.
Other squares represent utility companies or train stations. These can also be bought and charge rent, but cannot be built upon. This seems to suggest it is appropriate to build more and more houses in a city, but not improve the available transport system. Other squares represent random chance, allowing the player to pick a “chance” card. These cards offer a random bonus or hindrance to the player, usually in the form of money. For example, the game plays on competitor’s vanity in one card, professing them the winner of a “beauty contest”, and offering a cash reward!
The creators of the game are quick to describe it as “harmless fun”, suggesting that by mimicking real life, they are in no way influencing players. However, the subject of the game seems far from harmless. As the name suggests, players attempt to Monopolise the city they are playing in. The very idea of a monopoly goes against the idea of free trade. Similarly, by defeating other players, they simulate forcing them into bankruptcy by taking away all their money and income. Thus, the players no partake in the game – perhaps, like so many bankrupt soles in the Wall Street Crash, because they have taken their own lives? It is well known that the sort of games people play reflect their personalities – so what can we say about a person who enjoys spending their free time simulating the destruction of another person’s life work?
Similarly, is it right to use the concept of monopolies for a game? While creators argue the game is simply intended to be harmless fun, would those who have been forced out of business due to commercial monopolies find it so amusing? It seems unlikely.
The game also encourages a range of other unsafe or unethical behaviours. The square grid on which the game is played not only undermines the geography of the setting – with the effect of confusing children – but also encourages the construction of square or rectangular cities. The ability of players to “play” as an animal gives an unpleasant undertone of bestiality, while playing as inanimate objects like a car suggests a use of magic. The unwholesome aspects aim to further corrupt young people playing the game.
Lastly, these games must influence those who play them, particularly young people. The player spends the majority of the game waiting for his opponent to experience a bad roll, and then capitalise on their misfortune. By trivialising the effects of ruthless business strategy, children may be encouraged to use ruthless strategy to achieve their own aims: if they are told it is all right to destroy the lives of others by monopolising businesses, pushing up rents and costs to the poorest among society, then why should they see anything wrong with bullying their friends to get what they want? They may even go further – studies show that a majority of convicted murderers have played Monopoly.
Paul Blanchard is a writer, blogger and professional idiot. More of his ramblings are available on his blog, Dog in the Water Pipe.