I can’t remember the first time I played Monopoly. I just remember there always being some form of Monopoly in our house starting with Monopoly Jr. when my brother and I were kids. From an early, early age, I learned that if I wanted to win this game, the goal was simple: buy everything, and make sure my brother doesn’t get a single dime. I also learned that, since my brother was three years younger than me, it was pretty easy to ensure I won.
Finally, when I got older I started playing “real” Monopoly, and I started to see what a friendship-ruiner that game is. It’s not just because that game is long (and oh man, is that game long) it’s that the game encourages you and rewards you for being a money-grabbing slimeball.
I played with some friends and a dude I was dating at the time who I’ll call John. He is the type of guy you never want to play a game of Monopoly with. He buys up property with a vengeance. He’ll buy properties out from under someone. He never fails to notice if you land on one of his properties, he never makes deals with other players (and any deals he proposes are wildly in his favor), and if another player does anything he doesn’t deem correct, the games stops while he checks the rules.
And even though we all hate him juuuust a tad each time we play with him, you bet your ass he wins. Every. Single. Time. Of course, John would always notice our seething rage, but it never got him down. Fresh off the high of yet another Monopoly win, he’d just smile, shrug, and say, “That’s just how the game goes.”
Why is it that when people totally stomp on everyone in a long, arduous game and choose to have a super chill, “whatever, man” reaction that your loss becomes 100 times worse?
But the thing is, he’s totally right. That is how the game goes. John was only playing by the rules, and when I would play with my younger brother, I was only playing by the rules. The game is designed to encourage players to get monomaniacal when it comes to buying up property and stuffing your bank with as much Monopoly money as you can. It doesn’t only encourage you to do that, but it rewards you when you do, and makes your friends shell out tons of fake dollars into your fake pocket.
There aren’t any friendships in Monopoly either. If you let your guard down for a second, or you decide to trust that your friends are telling you the truth about what is written on that chance card (a rookie mistake I made repeatedly in a game which brought me down from winning by a huge margin to going completely bankrupt) you’re doomed. There’s no room for mercy, explanation, or charity–only ruthlessness.
Monopoly makes you bloodthirsty. It makes you want to buy up Boardwalk, slap a bunch of hotels on it, and laugh an evil laugh when your nearly broke friend lands on it. If you own a side of the board, you will make up some stupid name for that area of the board like Kendall Land, and you will heartily welcome your friends to “your side of the board” and get super annoyed if they roll just right and end up passing your area without paying you a cent. Monopoly is more than just a game that makes you competitive, it makes you want to fully destroy the other players.
Why is that though? What is that magical incantation that makes us turn from friends and family to mortal enemies the first time we collect 200 dollars after passing ‘Go’? I think it’s the time you put into that game. You start up a game of Monopoly, and you know you’re going to be there for hours. If you’re gonna commit to spending 2-4 hours sitting around your kitchen table playing a game that sometimes feels a bit too much like real life, you’re gonna win. Maybe you’re drowning in taxes and other crazy fees in real life, but in Monopoly world, you’re gonna rake in the big bucks. So we do that by being giant sticklers for the rules, showing our friends no mercy, preying upon our friends’ lack of attention, and reveling in our friends’ misfortune as they play. And if you find that you’re on the losing end? That suddenly, you realize you’ve been playing for literally hours, are miserable, and are losing big time? You can always flip the board over. If you aren’t having fun, no one is.
Monopoly teaches you to be the worst by breaking you. It’s the water torture of games, slowly and methodically wearing you down until you find yourself either laughing as your friends slowly start to hate you with each roll of the dice, or flipping the game over in a overly dramatic rage quit. Yet for some reason, everyone owns a copy of that game. Monopoly makes everyone the worst, and yet we all play it, we all own a copy (or two if you have a special editions), and there’s always someone who suggests playing it on a slow day. It makes you wonder: is the game the worst, or is it really just us?
No, it’s totally the game…