New Pieces Aren’t the Only Upsetting Thing about Monopoly

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  • Monopoly is not a fun game. It doesn’t matter if you’re the race car or the top hat or a T-Rex. Monopoly is generally only fun for one person, the one who is winning. In fact, Monopoly seems better at getting people disowned or otherwise excommunicated than a right hook to the face might be. Anyone who has played with people they didn’t know very well sure as hell learned a lot about those people by the end of the game. But here’s the thing about Monopoly, it’s supposed to be like that.

    Now that three Monopoly pieces are being retired, another wave of nostalgia for the game is crashing across the shores of the internet. But think about it, how many of you truly remember this being a fun game? How many friendships were tested? How many blood relatives will no longer speak to you? Or maybe you’re the person holding the grudge over the weird pact made in the emergency lit hallway during the blizzard that ruined your game?

    Anyway, it’s on purpose. Monopoly is designed to make you hate the person that wins. It’s sort of obvious. Sure, its easy to resent the winner of any competitive game but think about how a person wins at Monopoly. The winner is the person who can engineer the bankruptcy of their opponents by charging higher and higher rents. Sure, there’s luck involved but the winner is a tabletop land baron who is trying to put their rivals out on the streets.

    That’s the way Elizabeth Magie (the real creator of The Landlord’s Game) wanted it to be. Magie wanted the game to show people that concentrating land in private monopolies was a shady practice that left people wanting and concentrated wealth amongst a small proportion. It was not supposed to be a “fun” game. It was instructional. The negative feelings you have from losing and the questions raised by why it’s fair for Grandma to hoard land until she drives her grandkids into the poorhouse are the real prize.

    Again, think about it. Who has a sparkling amazing relationship with their landlord? That person does a pretty minimal number of things and manages to profit from you. In Monopoly, as in real life, you’re not required to make sure any of those conditions are livable. The only thing required of a land owner in that game is making sure to collect.

    And that’s beautiful. Someone made a game that’s designed to completely screw you over and generate animosity and no one realized that. There’s a whole Dane Cook bit about how this game ruins lives. It’s almost funny because it does ruin people’s lives, the being beholden to a land owner part at least.

    Monopoly is meant to make you feel something. It’s designed to make you realize something about mechanisms bigger than yourself. Sure, Georgist single tax might not be the most thrilling thing, but people who design games think about the feelings their game will evoke. Time goes into that. You should pay them the respect of figuring out what that thing is and thinking on it.

    Also, think about that the next time you feel a pang of nostalgia for this game. Instead of wistfully remembering the dice roles of yore, maybe interrogate that feeling. You were never supposed to have fun. Lizzie Magie was trying to teach you that paying rent sucks and that land barons are parasites on our society.

    Games, Toys