Our Monopoly, ourselves

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Around for more than 100 years, Monopoly has always been much more than a game. Its board design, playing pieces and rules have been revamped time and time again to reflect the ethos, cultures and experiences of the people who use them.

Maybe that’s because Monopoly didn’t start out as a game. In 1904, a woman named Elizabeth J. Magie Phillips wanted to bring the American public’s attention to the philosophy of political economist Henry George, who strongly believed that the trend toward concentrating land in private monopolies enriched property owners and impoverished tenants. She thought that the best way to see the corrupted system play out first hand was in a parlor game. Mrs. Philips didn’t open a lot of minds or change the system, but the people who played enjoyed it enough to share it with their friends.

The archetypal Monopoly board features real street names from Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the game first took off. Earlier versions of the game, created and distributed locally, sported street names from Chicago and Indianapolis—because those are the cities the local players could relate to. For the game to be successful outside the United States, Atlantic City had to be replaced with the foreign cities (and foreign currencies) that would make the game relevant to players in the UK, France and Germany. In 2008, the Hasbro World Edition went truly global and open source at the same time, replacing localized streets and landmarks with international cities selected by popular Internet vote.

In 2011 Monopoly was the subject of a more significant, albeit unofficial, reimagining at the instigation of Kurt Anderson’s radio series Studio 360 Redesigns, where listeners nominate a ubiquitous American design for a 21st century makeover. In the hands of game designer Brenda Braithwaite, Monopoly was renamed Boom.

Boom follows the same basic rules of play, but replaces physical properties, like real estate, utilities and railroads, with intellectual properties. Boardwalk and Park Place, the most expensive and desirable real estate on the board, are swapped for the corporate brands Apple and Google. (The low rent properties are replaced by brands promoting vices like tobacco and pornography.) Instead of building houses and hotels, players hire “visionaries” and visionary CEOs to increase the value of their brands.

The game takes its name from the fact that drawing certain cards can send the economy into a boom or a bust, when property values and fees can suddenly double or be cut in half. Hostile takeovers and joint venture ownership are encouraged. Kids who grow up playing this game will be much better prepared for how the world works.

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