By Neil Merrett
Monopoly for Nintendo Switch, developed by Engine Software, released 2017
As a game that is reportedly believed to have been invented at least 116 years ago by a woman called Lizzie Magie, there will always be purists to argue that monopoly can only be truly played on real world cardboard – with tangible dice and paper money.
Some might feel that players need to touch feel a wad of hard, or not so hard earned cash coming into their hand, or the forlorn sense of despair as it is snatched from them by an omnipotent inland revenue or a human rival.
Yet as a videogame simulation – a true digital boardgame if you will – the enhanced interactivity of recent videogame adaptations of Monopoly adds a timely sense of brutal competitiveness to the archetypal property simulator.
Whether through the introduction of real-time electronic auctions or a digital finance system overseen by an unrelenting and faceless digital banker, Monopoly the videogame can eerily mirror modern anxieties about the unrelenting pace of modern capitalism, as well as the primal thrill of being flush with cash.
Easy come, easy go
That monopoly, along with other popular family classics such as Trivial Pursuit has been consistently ported on home computers, consoles and even handheld devices should be no surprise.
It’s hugely successful real-world equivalents created into a variety of unique national and city-specific editions, not to mention branded versions based on seemingly every major film and toy franchise.
How about Ghostbusters monopoly, or a version with places and landmarks associated with the city of Hull? There are even faith-based iterations such as Bibleopoly, which ultimately ends not by bankrupting your opponents, but for forgiving them for falling short in their debts.
Like many great games, whether computer or board-based, Monopoly takes some simple, well-devised concepts and approximates them into something that condenses our personal relationship with money and captures a basic truth for almost every player.
The game’s success is not so much in recreating the way money works, but letting us play out the greatest and most base ambitions of being rich, poor or destitute.
Monopoly tries to show people how they might ultimately seek to use, lose or abuse finance for a variety of reasons – without theoretically destroying lives in the process.
Power, revenge, or even compassion are viable motivations in the game, especially when sticking it or giving salvation to a loved one.
Not bad for something using die-cost models of pets and home appliances, a few pieces of card and some dice.
Yet the boardgame’s use of tangible wooden houses, paper money and property deeds are not really what people love about the game. Monopoly as a videogame has all these things, and can even rely on modern hardware to allow you to shake a controller like a dice, with the feedback of them rolling around on a table top.
Coasting through life
Vidogame monopoly has the added benefit of letting a player role their dice off a board, or send it careering into a rival player, knocking over their playing piece or property empire. Within seconds, the computer will kindly restore order, manage the payment or debts you owe and move on to the next player.
As opposed to the responsibilities required in real-world Monopoly to manage and oversee every function of the game, including the bank, the videogame format lets players happily just plod along, rolling their dice and slowly managing earnings and outgoings without breaking a sweat.
It is not impossible then, in the videogame Monopoly, to play for an hour/s without having to really think drastically about the messy boring sides of money and just let your investments handle themselves, at least until a miss-roll can suddenly cost you everything with some massive tax penalty or maintenance bill.
It’s easy it seems to forget about money until you suddenly don’t have it – thankfully boardgames aren’t like real life!
Financial comfort can seemingly become strangely numbing in digital Monopoly. Suddenly – for richer or poorer – a group of players may find themselves wanting to ‘spice up their game’ by making sudden and seemingly reckless decisions that will ultimately ruin as many people as it benefits. But then what is the point of a game without risk and purpose?
Here, the innovations afforded by the interactivity of videogames brings something new out of the well-trodden Monopoly format. Players can use a special function to set out deals and trades with other players, while allowing other players to hop in with their own mercenary counterbids.
A focus on the game forcing the player to purchase any unowned property they land also shakes things up. A purchase must always go ahead in the game, either outright with cash or through an auction if a player is unable or unwilling to pay for a property.
This has the purpose of heightening a strategic kind of desperation to the proceedings. One where a player may seek to spitefully and artificially raise the value of a property, or alternatively allow a rival to buy up key real estate for next to nothing that could ultimately be the ultimate harbinger of doom for your nascent property empire.
As the game’s faceless narrator often spouts, “From small acorns….”
With its compulsory live auctions, everything you spend or doesn’t has ramifications in digital Monopoly.
As a videogame, Monopoly arguably works, because the tenets of the source boardgame itself continue to work. Only on a Nintendo Switch, or Wii, or even a mobile phone, the game is now streamlined perfectly for the gamer age. Online multiplayer and computer players mean a player can never not find opponents of varying skill or obnoxiousness.
The interactive nature of games means a wide variation of the ‘classic rules’ that are beholden on each individual family to define can now be recreated.
Players can even engage in special themed boards such as haunted houses or theme parks to try and make the blatant themes of greed, risk and financial failure a little more saccharine for the kiddies.
Despite its century-old origins, Monopoly is a surprisingly fresh online and family multiplayer game. It may well be for another hundred years of human history.