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Against Monopoly: An Invective

In Board Games, Rants on December 9, 2010 at 10:34 am

The other day I had the occasion to go to a mall with some friends, and the whole Cathedral of Consumption (as per usual, this time of year) was decked out with tinsel and faux tree branches, red ribbons and assorted signifiers of consumptive yuletide. Winter Wonderland and its ilk played on the loudspeakers. Patrons moved about, negotiating mall traffic whilst clutching multiple red-and-gold bags redolent with perfunctory gifts.

Such things were expected, but in the mall I espied another seasonal phenomenon. There with the wreaths and the songs and the rest of it were several different versions of Monopoly. Not just in one store (Barnes and Noble may have been the worst offender) but in several.

Classic Monopoly. Star Wars Monopoly. Disney Monopoly. Simpsons Monopoly. Family Guy Monopoly. Anniversary Monopoly in a gold box. Monopoly called “Onyx Edition” which is in a black box for some reason. Monopoly, Monopoly, endless fucking Monopoly.
I hate Monopoly. I hate it as a game, as an object, and as a gift. I hate that it’s successful and enduring. I hate that it’s a piece of Americana and a fixture of households. I hate that it teaches bad lessons about economics and how real estate works. Worst of all, this year countless editions of it will be given as a thoughtless gift. Festive wrapping paper, glowing with festive potential, will be unfurled to reveal a board game of dubious fun and economic fallacy. The various editions will be played once, probably on Christmas or the day after, and then boxed for good. The various bills and pieces will be lost, possibly lodging themselves under refrigerators or in the ducts of heating systems. Years later, when cleaning a vent, someone will find a small, half-melted bit of plastic, and infer that a Monopoly hotel probably got lodged in there somehow.
As a game it requires little to no skill and the conclusion is usually evident from the start. Someone manages to buy up the various valuable properties, and from then it is only a matter of time until the other players go bankrupt. There are no comebacks in Monopoly, and after a certain point little of the uncertainty which lends any game drama. There is very little room for cleverness or wit, very little space for elegance. It is, ultimately, a grown-up version of Candyland- a game flush with iconic adornment, but has very little in the way of actual playability. For all of its non-complexity, it demands that we pay attention and store the various player pieces, cards, bills, houses, hotels, and dice. Upend a Monopoly box, and a whole bunch of disparate shit is on the floor. It is disparate shit that is so much sound a fury (in plastic form) signifying very nearly nothing at all.

Monopoly inspires my hatred precisely because I love games so much. I love Scrabble and Cranium. I love Jenga and Apples to Apples and Trivial Pursuit. I dearly love Risk, in all of its incarnations. Each one of these games has more elegance, more grace, more intelligence and is ultimately a better source of fun than Monopoly. Yet Monopoly gets endlessly repeated and endlessly sold, and is, for some reason, one of the best loved board games out there.

This year, I implore you: Do not buy your loved ones Monopoly. Buy them something with drama, like Axis and Allies. Gift them a game that will actually make a party better (nor more boring) like Apples to Apples. Wrap in paper a game that excites the strategic mind, like Risk. These games, I guarantee you, will be more fun the Monopoly, a terrible game that is wholly unworthy of the attention, money, and love that it receives.

  1. Keep an eye out for the Monopoly card game. It's quick, easily portable, and while the same basic concept is there, it's far, far more flexible (in terms of the outcome actually being in dispute).

    I think there's 2 versions… Deal is the one I tried.


  2. I've got an unusual Monopoly position: I stopped hating it the day I played it on the GameCube.

    This was at a friend's place in Toledo. I was staying with them on a work vacation and four or five of us must have played that game 10 times while I was there.

    And here's the thing: once all the shit was electronic — all the dice, the counting, the cards, the goddamn money changing — one thing was left: deal-making. When you can glide across all the mechanics by hitting B over and over again, Monopoly became a delight. And it also became clear that there is nothing more important in Monopoly (not even luck) than making deals. They didn't even have to be good deals. If you made the most trades, and if those trades were not *clearly bad*, you won.

    This is what Nintendo taught me about Monopoly, and also about capitalism.

  3. Oh, did I mention each game suddenly took 30 minutes? That was important, too.

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