I was reminded yesterday of the depravity of humanity by playing one game of Monopoly. It probably has been well over a decade since the last time I played the game. What started off as a friendly competition between friends quickly devolved into unfair trades agreed upon in the desperation for liquidable assets. While I remember the game being fun, the debates, the banter, the shady deals, and out right scams made this particular game fascinating. At one point I had convinced one of my students (don’t worry he is a senior in high school who has taken economics), to trade me three of his properties with $800 cash in exchange for one of my cards which would give him a monopoly. I justified the trade by convincing him of the earning potential that comes with a monopoly and I demanded cash because I did not want him building homes on those properties right away. Unfortunately for him someone else made a trade with me shortly after which gave me a monopoly in three corners of the board making it virtually impossible to pass “go” without landing on my property which at this point had at least 3 homes on each square. When it was his turn he landed on the property he had just traded to me owing $600. With his already desperate cash situation, he ended up having to mortgage off the three monopoly properties I had just prior helped him complete. Was I sad? Absolutely not. It’s how the game is played. We didn’t break any rules (which we agreed upon), and by this point this game had already spanned well over 4 hours impairing our reasonable judgement. Playing this game taught me something I did not realize about the game when I was eight years old, Monopoly capitalizes on the human potential for greed… In fact, greed is encouraged because that is the way the game is meant to be played.
While this game is supposed to be harmless, part of me was saddened by a game which uses greed as leverage. In a small way, I think people’s strategy is a reflection of human nature in a capitalist society. In desperation we make illogical moves in hopes of hitting a “lottery”. Rather than managing assets I saw some people gamble away their cash to build homes with the hope that some unfortunate soul might land on one of their three properties not taking into account what would happen if they land on another’s well developed property. As I think about what happened with the housing bubble and the state of the economy in the past few years, I think our game of Monopoly reflects how people think and how others took advantage of our desire to “get rich quick” sometimes at the cost of the desperate. What made me sad about our game and our human nature, is the justification of our actions, “well that’s just how the game is played!” At the end of the game I was accused of being a scammer, which I cannot deny, and went to bed that night giggling to myself about how epic that game of Monopoly actually was.