My brother owns three properties. In real life, I mean, not in monopoly. In monopoly he’s probably never owned more than two. Although I can’t say this for sure. In my family, when we play Monopoly, nobody is ever entirely sure a) when the game has finished or b) who has won.
It’s fair to say our games end in a degree of acrimony and recrimination. Often we revert to stealing (both from the bank and each other). Often properties get vandalised. I say vandalised, I mean fed to the dog. Community Chest cards get chucked across the room, defaced. Amidst the accusations and denials my mother is often heard to say “right, that’s it, I’m never playing with you lot again.”
In our family, the only game that ends worse than Monopoly is Scrabble. We have literally never finished a game of Scrabble. As for Cluedo, a three year relationship with an ex-girlfriend once unravelled and was effectively terminated during the course of what began as a light-hearted game. (She won the game. I was a tad ungracious in defeat. The solution, I believe, was Miss Scarlet with the lead piping in the Billiards Room, but don’t quote me on that. It was late, we were drunk and there were tears involved).
Monopoly is fun because it allows even the most hardened socialists among us (by this I mean Rach and Euclides) to be greedy and capitalist for an hour or so. (I say an hour; a game has never lasted longer than 45 minutes in our house. To put this into context, the instructions on the box say an average game should last 2-3 hours). Some people say Monopoly is like a metaphor for London life. Some people are idiots. Monopoly is about as far removed from real life as you can get. Unless you’re Michael Winner.
Who, for example would ever buy a hotel on Whitehall? Is that even legal? You’d have a job getting planning permission. Who even knows where Northumberland Avenue is? Or Bow Street, Coventry Street, Vine Street? Ok, maybe Vine Street (30 years in London has never improved my knowledge of the West End I admit). But the point is, there are far more relevant streets in today’s London that would make the game feel more real. Commercial Road for example. Or Holloway Road.
Who has ever been sent directly to jail for no apparent reason? Nobody. Oh ok, maybe anybody who was black in the 1970s or Muslim er….now. Who has ever won £50 for a beauty contest? Who ever heard of free parking in London? Who randomly pays school fees on demand, surely there should be a regulated system in place? A monthly direct debit perhaps? Even the stations are odd. Kings Cross and Liverpool Street, fine. But Fenchurch St. and Marylebone? Two quaint and beautifully designed little stations granted, but surely Waterloo and Paddington, the two biggest stations in London deserve more prominence. About the only realistic thing is that the two ends of the social spectrum are accurately identified: Old Kent Road for a mere sixty quid, Mayfair setting you back to the tune of four hundred nicker. (Tip: try to buy both. a) you’ll look diverse and cool b) you’ll monopolise that corner of the board near ‘Go’ and c) they are nice colours.)
But hey, we don’t play Monopoly for a reality check do we? We play it as a throwback to an age of innocence. I say innocence, I mean a time of colonialist Empire building, the Wall Street crash and war in Europe.
But just look at the pieces we play with: the dog, the boot, the ship, the iron (hold on, the iron?!), the top hat and the car. Pure innocence and eccentricity. The beauty of Monopoly lies in its simplicity. The colours, the near symmetry, the collecting £200 just for passing go. It’s very much the Kate Moss of board games.
Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to actually finish a game. What does that look like? Does ticker tape explode from the ceiling covering the players and scaring the dog? I don’t think I’ve even got as far as buying a hotel, let alone monopolising the whole board. I have been made bankrupt. That’s it. This Christmas, just for once, maybe my family will play a game to its conclusion. I have dreams of a string of houses on Bond Street. It’s never going to happen.