A few weeks ago we hauled out the Monopoly board. I don’t know what reminded us of Monopoly. I think it was my youngest son, who a while ago had decided that he wanted to play, but the board we owned was missing pieces, so we managed to disappoint him until he ended up with a brand new game at Christmas this year. Until now, nobody has thought of actually playing the game.
So we hauled it out and set it up. The players were myself, my youngest son (13), my eldest son (21) and my eldest’s girlfriend (I’m not going to list her age because I’m not an asshole).
This was the first time I could remember playing Monopoly in perhaps ten years, and for sure it was the first time playing with anything close to the actual rules. I have known for quite a while that I’d never actually played by the rules, but had never gotten around to caring enough to read the rules and give it a try.
I used to play Monopoly mostly with my father, and though we didn’t play by the real rules, we sure thought we did. If you’ve ever played Monopoly, chances are good you didn’t either.
- We were not allowed to buy properties until we went around the board and passed “Go” at least one time (I guess the theory was that this made the game more “fair,” but in my experience this was not true at all… it just made the game longer).
- Money collected from the Community Chest or Chance cards that didn’t go to other players went into the center of the game board. If you landed on Free Parking, you got all the money. (The rules say if you land on Free Parking nothing happens. It’s literally just a free space. And all money collected from Community Chest or Chance goes to the bank.)
- If we landed on a property and didn’t want to buy it, it was just the next person’s turn. But this is not how the rules require you to play. If you land on a property and you don’t want to buy it, the property goes up for auction and any player can buy it. Bidding starts at ten dollars.
- We never used the mortgage amounts on the back of properties. (It’s much easier to monopolize the board if you’re willing to take a risk and mortgage your properties.)
- We never traded or purchased properties from other players. (I didn’t even know this was part of the game until very recently. There is a great deal of psychology that goes into the game, and I didn’t know it was even there.)
- We never sold our hotels or houses or Get Out of Jail Free cards to raise money. Why didn’t we do this? Everything is in play all the time. It’s a game about capitalism. What did we think we were doing?
There were other minor rules of the game that we either invented or had been passed down from someone else we’d played with. I don’t remember all of these rules, but I remember Monopoly being a very different enterprise as a kid.
First and foremost, Monopoly was always a grind. We expected a game to take several hours, and to be fair it can still take several hours, but it tends to be much quicker under the actual rules. I remember playing most often on New Year’s Eve, primarily because it was a night when we’d be staying up late for sure, so the game dragging on forever wouldn’t matter as much.
Secondly, the metaphors of Monopoly make much more sense to me now. Some of this is probably a factor of Not Being a Kid Anymore, and Actually Knowing About Mortgages and Having One of My Own. But it seems more like you’re dealing with an actual small-scale version of a capitalist system when one player says to another, “I’ll give you Boardwalk for a thousand dollars and your Get Out of Jail Free card.”
Even jail makes more sense. Sometimes you just want to hang out in jail for awhile. It can be a safe space where you get three squares and nobody asks you to pay six hundred dollars to rent their bed-bug infested flop house. (We also used to play so that the only way out of jail was to roll doubles or have a Get Out of Jail Free card. This isn’t true. You can also buy your way out of jail, speaking of ways the game metaphor resonates with Actual Capitalist Society.)
Monopoly starts out fun, and that’s how I remember it. You’re trying to buy as many properties as you can. You’re trying to create a Monopoly. To win, you need to make sure everybody else goes bankrupt. (Honestly, this game makes a good case for stronger anti-trust laws.)
To be sure, there’s a certain amount of chance in winning. You have to get lucky with the dice. But there’s also a great deal of scheming. I’m not a particularly competitive person, so I was a bit surprised when playing Monopoly and someone asked to trade one of my properties for one of theirs and it was a decent deal and my knee-jerk response was “no way.”
But then I remembered my father, and how he played the game. He was normally a very empathetic person, but not when playing a game. If you passed go and forgot to ask for your $200 right away, you forfeit you right to the money. If you weren’t paying attention to the board and forgot to ask for your rent, you weren’t entitled to it. And you’d better be buying all the property you could or you were going to lose and he was going to lord it over you.
Worst of all, however, was when he eventually lost the game. I can’t speak to him having lost more than one time, because after that first time, he never played the game with us again. Something about this game was personal for him, and he simply couldn’t recover from losing. So at some point in my early teens, I played the last game of Monopoly with my father.
I’m glad I get to play the game again now, but I have to admit I feel a little bit of what my father must have felt, but with a difference. During my first game back, as I was putting the rest of the board into bankruptcy and it became obvious that I was going to win… I felt guilty. I did not feel the rush of winning. I did not feel exonerated by my skill at dominating my family. I felt sick to my stomach. And when we decided the game was over and I had won, I felt only relief that it was over.
And when we played again a few nights later, this time with my wife and daughter involved (and my wife was winning), I found myself scheming in ways that seemed a little unsavory. I had very little property, but I managed to leverage hotels onto my property before anyone else had hotels, and it looked for a little while that I was going to be able to pull out if not a win, at least not a savage loss.
But again, somewhere near the last third of the game it started to feel unsavory. I was collecting money and was able to purchase more property than I had any right to own, and suddenly I just wanted it to be over. So when I landed on one of my wife’s properties on which I owed $1,100 rent, I quickly counted my mortgages and money and gladly handed everything over to her.
Again: I felt relief.
I have a feeling there are many emotions a person can and will have while playing Monopoly, and there are many ways to respond to wins and losses. There has always been a bit of a sense of relief, I guess, but the relief has changed from “this eternal game is finally over” to “my misery at taking money from loved ones is finally over.”
Maybe I’m not cut out for Monopoly. Maybe I’m not cut out for capitalism. Or maybe I just empathize too much with my family to be competative.
In any case, if you think you hate Monopoly, I recommend playing again and following the rules.
I promise it’s kind of fun!