Ah, Monopoly, that endless board game. If ever there was a concrete illustration of eternity in the bad place, Monopoly is it. Recurring cycles of debt, running out of money, keeping track of all your property, mortgaging your property, hopelessness, despair, boredom, losing valuable hours of your life. So why am I back in the game these days?
It wasn’t my idea. On a Sunday afternoon, in an attempt to calm down two rambunctious boys after a wild and exhausting Nerf gun battle (in which I was an enthusiastic participant), my husband unearthed our old Monopoly game. Seriously? I asked. These boys are seven and four. The older is just learning to read. The younger is just learning to count to twenty, and has no concept of the value of money.
“Is this Monopoly Junior?” asked the seven-year-old. Monopoly Junior apparently has different rules than regular Monopoly, including an actual endpoint.
“Nope,” said Grandpa. “This is Monopoly Senior.” Which thrilled the seven-year-old. Monopoly Junior was suddenly passe.
Little did I know the appeal this game would have. Turns out both boys love Monopoly Senior, which feeds the universal love of acquiring money and property, and unmasks the greed in their little hearts. Since that inaugural Sunday, Monopoly has been a regular activity.
Each boy has a different approach to the game. The seven-year-old is all about owning as much property as possible so as to collect as much rent as possible from his opponents. But he has a generous spirit. When I ran out of money (because of paying a lot of rent, mainly to him), he sweetly offered me all of his. I refused, but he insisted. I paid it back when I passed Go.
The four-year-old is all about amassing piles of cash, which he does by refusing to buy any property until well into the game, when he observes the rest of us collecting rent on our properties. He obviously doesn’t understand the principle of spending money to make money. And if he hands the banker a $100 bill to pay the $75 Luxury Tax, and gets a $20 and a $5 as change, he believes he now has more than before he paid the tax. He gave the bank one bill and got two back.
Our emerging reader provides moments of levity, such as the first time he landed on Vermont Avenue and read it as Vomit Adventure. He was tremendously pleased with his error. Gross humor, dear to the heart of a seven-year-old boy. This is mild. I have other gross stories, which I won’t relate here, but one of them ended with two grandsons lying on their backs on the kitchen floor, at my feet, laughing hysterically at their own grossness.
My husband grew up playing Monopoly by throwing all tax money, fees, and fifty dollar bills used to get out of jail onto the middle of the board. The player who lands on Free Parking claims the wad of cash in the middle. This is something all players hope for, but only serves to make eternity even longer. Just when you think the game is mercifully winding down, someone lands on Free Parking and away we go.
But I am a capitalist, and I do believe Monopoly is good practice for the real world of capitalism. Here we learn the consequences of poor management – when you buy more property than you can afford (see greed above) you’re left with nothing to pay your debts and have to start mortgaging said property. When the seven-year-old achieved a monopoly and purchased the coveted hotel, he was smacked in the face with huge property assessments, and later with the realization that nobody could afford his exorbitant rent.
How do you stay in the game, build your assets and still have enough cash to pay your bills? This is Life Skills 101. And the whole idea of playing games, sometimes winning and sometimes losing, is an opportunity to realize that your essential worth as a person is the same whether you end the game with a lot, a little or nothing at all. This is hard to stomach when you’re the loser and the winner is rubbing his hands together, gloating, but it’s still true. Better to learn it early in life.
I’m hoping the Monopoly phase will pass. I find it horribly dull. brightened only by the enthusiasm of two hilarious boys, and the pleasure of spending time in their company. For that I’ll stick it out.
And here’s to Vomit Adventure, which will hereafter replace Vermont Avenue on my Monopoly board.