Why does Monopoly ruin friendships?

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Written by: Naoreen Kabir – Grade 10 

This article assumes some understanding of the Monopoly game.

A few weekends ago, I was playing Monopoly with some family friends. As expected, I was enjoying the game, and was even in the lead. But what I didn’t expect was the uncomfortable feeling afterward, as I reflected on how my experiences in the game had a strong tie to the injustices of capitalism and our society.

I’m usually a nice person, but playing Monopoly reveals a different side of me. I have a very aggressive strategy and don’t hesitate to take advantage of other players. In the game with my family friends, I was playing against people far less experienced. Rather than providing helpful advice and guiding them, I used their lack of knowledge on Monopoly strategy to my benefit.

For example, I traded one girl Pacific Avenue (one of the green properties) in exchange for Tennessee Avenue (one of the orange properties). She thought she was getting a good deal due to the higher initial value of Pacific Avenue, and, without realizing it, gave me a monopoly on the orange properties. The poor girl didn’t even know what a monopoly was until one of the other players registered the transaction and explained it to her.

When someone owns all of the properties of a certain color, it’s referred to as a monopoly, and gives that player the power to build houses and later, hotels, on those monopolized properties. This forces other players to pay significantly more money when they land on those areas, increasing the profit of the owner. Of course, she didn’t know this until after she had given me the first monopoly… and the upper hand in the game.

Throughout the game, I continued to make trades that were far more beneficial for me than my trading partners, and neglected to explain the strategies and tips I knew to my fellow players. Our monopoly set had some missing houses, and I mortgaged out all of my other properties just to build as many houses as I could without upgrading to hotels. Doing this restricted the amount of houses the other players could build, so that there were only two houses left. Instead of promoting shared success, my gameplay was about the pursuit of self interest, of maximizing my own profit and reducing the potential of others. This continued until the end of the game, at which point I was the winner by a landslide, made everyone else mad at me, and had caused a nine year old to go bankrupt.

And who could blame me? That’s the point of the game, after all. The end goal of Monopoly is to acquire the most amount of money and drive at least one other player into bankruptcy. This leaves a broad gap between the losers and winners of the game- the latter end up very rich and the former end up with nothing. Which is unfortunate because, while it has a lot to do with strategy, the game relies heavily upon pure luck.

In a TED talk titled ‘Does money make you mean?’, the speaker Paul Piff explained to his audience about an experiment about our perceptions of ourselves and others when we’re in a privileged position. It involved 100 rigged monopoly games. Each game had two players, one of which who was randomly selected to be the rich player: they had two times the amount of money to start, collected twice the amount of money after passing Go, and they rolled two dice instead of one. There was also a bowl of pretzels on the table. What was found was the  rich players engaged in more consuming behavior (they ate more pretzels), were more rude to the other player, and flaunted their richness to the other player. They also credited their eventual win to their strategy rather than their privilege and head start.

So what this game showed me was that when I become part of a competitive system that values money and power above all else, I limit the happiness of others for my own profits. I take advantage of those weaker than me. There’s only one ‘winner’, and the gap between the richest and the poorest grows wider and wider due to the nature of the competition. When I win the game, I feel accomplished and proud of my skill, instead of acknowledging the luck and privilege (in this case, of playing with beginners) that contributed to my position.

Then again, Monopoly is not a metaphor for capitalism in itself, and none of this is to say that capitalism and competition are totally evil and should be scrapped in their entirety. But it’s something to think about, that perhaps the pursuit of self interest isn’t the best way to achieve collective well being. Capitalism, though it has its merits, is a deeply flawed system. But we didn’t need a board game to teach us that, did we?

-Nao

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