Thursday, January 12, 2012

Critical Analysis of Monopoly

Formal Elements
Monopoly consists of a square board with various unique spaces around the edges that represent real estate properties and a few other elements. There are cards that correspond to each property which can be bought by players with the in-game money. Each property has a color which designates which properties that form one group, with two to three in each group. House and hotel figures can be bought and placed on properties if a single player owns the whole property group. Players take turns rolling two dice, moving a plastic figure clockwise around the board, and interacting with the space they land on. If the space is an unowned property the player can buy it for the listed price, or else it gets auctioned off to the highest bidder. If the space is an owned property the player must pay rent, determined by the value of the property and the number of houses or hotels on it, to the owner of the property. Other possible spaces include having to draw cards that trigger a random event or give a random penalty/bonus to the player, having to pay money to the bank, or going to jail. When a player runs out of money and properties they are out of the game. The goal of the game is to be the last person standing.

The formal elements combine to create an interesting, although mostly boring, gameplay experience. The randomness of the dice rolls denies the opportunity to make decisions about what actions to take. There are a few choices, but mostly obvious ones. You can choose whether or not to buy an unowned property, which is almost always a good idea since it is the only way to make money. You can also choose how to sell off and/or mortgage your various assets in order to pay your bills. This is a little more meaningful as it creates some strategy, but overall the amount of money you owe dictates your actions in that circumstance. Deciding if and when to trade properties is a very significant decision and can greatly impact gameplay, but the game would not progress very well if players held out for great trade deals. Usually a trade comes from necessity, or from the abundance of resources giving a player little fear of failure.
The dynamic of the game involves a very prevalent positive feedback loop. Once a player accumulates property and money, they gain money from rent and therefore have more potential to improve their property. Similarly, once a player is forced to mortgage their properties to pay debt, they lose their ability to produce income and are therefore more susceptible to debt. This positive feedback loop means that one player usually ends up way ahead of the rest, at which point the game becomes almost hopeless for the other players. While there are some exceptions, those exceptions are purely based on random die rolls and involve little to no skill. In fact, the game in general requires little more than the ability to count money, and even that can be avoided with calculators or friends. Monopoly is designed to simulate the economy, and for the most part it succeeds at this. All of the formal elements follow from the economic simulation idea, except perhaps the emphasis on random events and outcomes. It lacks the decision making influence that is integral to the real economy and the outcomes of individuals finances.

It makes sense that the designer would choose a game of real estate and money to simulate the real life effects of income and expenses. While some people may never own their own property, the concept of being paid for a service or good, and in turn paying for other services or goods, is central to everyday life. Even the reliance on randomness makes sense, because a game that involves all of the intricacies of the real world economy would be much too complicated for the general market. Taking away the need for complicated skills makes the game accessible to almost anyone.
The choice of resources seems less significant. While the use of real estate makes sense, as it is a basic part of economics, some alterations have had great success. For the most part these changes seem to be popular because they create an emotional connection to they game. Most people do not care about owning the state of Kentucky, but they might care about owning a resource that relates to one of their interests or hobbies. Star Wars themed Monopoly and Cat-Opoly have therefore become quite popular, along with almost any other theme you can imagine.

While I enjoyed this game more than I did when I was younger, probably because I played by the correct rules, it still lost my interest rather quickly. The lack of skill makes the game boring, and the positive feedback loop makes it frustrating for everyone but the leader. Although this game does a good job of conveying the sometimes brutal nature of the economy, it fails at challenging a player in any way.

Monopoly was created by Charles Darrow in 1934, and was published by Parker Brothers starting in 1935.

1 comment:

  1. When I have played recently, it has been with 2-3 players, meaning starting capital is collectively $4500. In this scenario, whether or not to buy a property becomes important because one cannot afford to buy properties willy-nilly: the auctions can come up rather quickly. In our five-player game, we had collectively $6000 in capital. I wonder how the game would play if, instead of each player starting with $1500, there was a fixed amount of money that was evenly distributed to all players, or perhaps less to the player who goes first?