Five years ago, I swore I would never play Monopoly again. But then, last weekend, a few friends wanted to and couldn’t understand my objection. What’s my problem? Well, as if real life weren’t hard enough, the Parker Brothers novelty forces us to fight the same battles we have to fight all day—bills, bills, bills, paltry income, bills, bills, exorbitant rents, potential jail time—in the guise of recreation, like those nightmares in which you work a full shift at whatever shitty retail job you work when you’re awake because corporations own our dreams, too. You may as well hand a prisoner of war the game of Risk. Monopoly, cleverly but odiously, distills the essence of capitalism into something so easy even a child can excel at it—or fail miserably.
Because beyond the political, there’s the personal. We tend to play board games with family and friends, but this one should only be played by enemies: like the economic system it condenses, Monopoly brings out the worst in everyone who plays by its rules. No one ever won by playing an honest game, by rolling the dice hard and being frugal in their investments; nor has anyone ever had a great time dutifully rounding the board, doling out penny-ante rents on mishmash properties owned by players unwilling to trade. Instead, it’s won by a combination of dumb luck and cutthroat scheming. Monopoly is a game of dealmaking that turns friends against friends, lovers against lovers, parents against children. (After all, young children, dumb to the cruel realities of capitalism, only ever win Monopoly if someone let’s them win!)
Even the most IRL kind and generous among us will in the midst of gameplay conceive of ways to manipulate their opponents, exploit their weaknesses, and win—get more property, more cash, more advantage—because it’s the name of the game, literally. You could say it’s all in good fun, but I’ve seen people come close to blows, to dissolving decades old friendships, to judging themselves failures in life because they can’t even excel at the rudimentary business played on the board. Monopoly, more than any other, is the Game of Life, re-creating the reality of our day-to-day. But life is hard enough. There are games that encourage us to create words, to test our knowledge of art and history, to draw pictures and contort our bodies for laughs. We don’t have to spend our evenings out of the office practicing for the office.
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