Welcome to the New Ozopoly.
When Parker Brothers published Monopoly in 1935 – into the teeth of the last Great Depression, little were they to know that it would become the most played board game in history. Wikipedia says that there are 485 million players worldwide. Miserable bastards.
But it is, for me the most quintessentially American pursuit, is it not ? Mercilessly smashing one’s opponents into economic submission, wrecking their lives with a Wall-Street epicentral GFM based on financial instruments so arcane as to be indistinguishable from fraud – driving American hegemony relentlessly forward and crushing third world economies faster than a sports shoe company flogging powdered milk products.
As a lapsed student of business, I have an instinctive fear and loathing of monopoly – as I rightly should – being a law-abiding citizen wedded to free markets and unfettered competition. Never for a minute would I contemplate running a cardboard cartel for years – and if I ever made a slip up like that, I’d be the first one to cough up say $36 million or so in fines by way of self-flagellation.
Monopoly is a cruel cruel way for kids to be introduced to commerce. As an Australian child, one was supposed to aspire to something rather unfamiliar in the fibro jungle of the western suburbs – namely a Hotel on Mayfair. Very unfamiliar – especially in a trade union household – as was the central thrust of the game – far, far from a collectivist world view. I didn’t appreciate that a Hotel on Mayfair was about expensive accommodation. I thought hotels were where your dad went on Saturday to get pissed and into blues.
Meanwhile, back in the land of board games was all that fussing and fighting with the luck of the dice running against one and all and the tendency for
a) bankers to be unfamiliar with basic ethical principles (plus ca change, la meme chose),
b) amnesia not distributing cash accruals fairly,
c) tedious counting of money and
d) games that seemed to run for about the same length of time but with a lot more action than an innings by either Boycott or Lawrie.
I think it’s time to recognise the need for a rethink of Monopoly – as is apparently the view of Hasbro – the people who out-monopolised the Parker Brothers. Wired (June 2009) noted that now it will be possible to do away with all that messy cash and to use plastic credit cards. Imagine if the reality stretched out like today – the banker would work up a sweat offering more and more credit to NINJAs (No income, No Job; No Assets) using the assets to secure sub-prime loans. You could own all the Hotels on Collins Street – and still go out backwards in an unsecured derivatives swap organised out of Bent St. I think we’re looking at an opportunity to involve shares and other investments as well as property. “See your Storm unit price vaporise. Get a margin call from Which Bank ?”
It would be time also to update some of the other game dynamics. Dice loaded to roll snake eyes (aren’t they always ?). Imagine chance cards that read “Lie about who was driving when your car went through radar trap and get out of gaol free.” Or perhaps “Congratulations, you have successfully bonked a town planner. Your Hotel redevelopment on prime beachfront crown land with heritage artefacts has been approved. Collect $4 bazillion”. You could look forward to turning over “Your cousin Bilal lands a job in the Department of Planning. Collect 100 chainsaws”. Or “You win pre-selection for the seat of Wentworth. Become Leader of the Opposition”. Well, not all chance cards are good, are they ?
How about Community Chest cards like “The Public Health System collapses – pay the Health fund half of your money and the bank half of your house”, or “Bad luck, 40% of your compulsory super contributions have headed for a Lehmann account in Lichtenstein, lose many, many turns.”
And the actual real estate ? Nobody does railways or utilities these days! New OZopoly would start with every player owning a Telco, a coal-fired power station, a desal plant, old growth forests and a motorway or airport. The first thing that players would do is sell them off to a Singapore mega investor or Chinese resources giant and invest in funds backed by Detroit real estate and General Motors shares.
The game of Monopoly has virtues not so readily available to the real world. If things are not going your way, you can always wander off to the toilet and never return, or distract the imminent winner with an offer of going to the shop for a paddle pop. Less well-tempered losers can always upend the board and refuse to ever play again. Or until the next rainy day.
Tough that the new Ozopoly won’t be played on boards. It might continue to be played in boardrooms, but the cut and thrust will be on screen. Games will last a mere two or three minutes and we will routinely see Muscovite and Nigerian names popping up in Land Titles registers around our fair cyber nation.
But at its core, monopoly has the dead and rotting smell of greed. No matter how hard you tilt the level playing field, sneaking cash under the table and dropping huge hints – or miscounting so you land on their one street, your littlest kid is always going to get dudded by his or her older siblings. Fortune, as usual goes to the brave, huge and massively cashed-up.
Monopoly teaches them that life is capricious, unfair, full of dread and loathing and not worth the risk. It removes all doubt that there might not be enough resources to go around and it totally violates the indigenous reality of Australian life – that the land owns us and not the reverse – and that our prosperity comes through collaboration and fair dealing with others.
Hey – wait a minute – look – the real estate in the local rag is going up ! Excuse me, I’m off to see a hooker.