Texas Perspectives

On “Monopoly’s” 80th Birthday, How the Internet Ruined it All

Monopoly Board Game with Money
iStock

Nov. 5 marks the 80th anniversary of Parker Brothers’ “Monopoly” board game, an Atlantic City-inspired game of chance. I did not spend my youth formulating a winning strategy, but I did pass go enough times to embed elements of the game permanently into my memory.

Yet we are at a point in history when traditional board games are being replaced with consoles, tablets and virtual reality. The lessons of capitalism taught in “Monopoly” are being used to replace an aging form of entertainment.

Our current generation will grow up telling stories of the weight of an iPad, the smell of a neoprene case, or cracked screens, but will any of those stories involve other people? Despite all technological advancements, simple board games had the ability to captivate a family in the home.

It’s a shame that this does not happen more often nowadays.

We should use technology to create more opportunities to surround ourselves with friends and family.

“Monopoly” is a simple game — a square game board with a single, continuous pathway segmented by various properties and chances. You roll the dice, move your token, buy property, or take chances. If you run out of money, you lose. For me, the game is less about fun game play and more about its ability to represent simpler times in my life: rainy days, family gatherings, boredom with endless free time.

Innocence is an idea that will continually be lost due to new information. The “Monopoly” game hit that mark when I discovered that Charles Darrow, the man Parker Brothers credits with creating the board game, did not invent it.

He stole the idea from a woman named Elizabeth Magie, who had created a similar game aimed at illustrating the economic consequences of Georgist concepts of economic privilege and land value taxation, titled “The Landlord’s Game.”

Allegedly, Darrow visited Magie at her home where they played “The Landlord’s Game.” Before leaving, he asked for detailed rules to be written down and shortly after unveiled “Monopoly” to the world. Magie had patented important features of her game, most notably the continuous pathway.

A quick review of patent documents of both games reveals the true originator of the “Monopoly” game is Magie, with some minor differences.

Overall, the design of the game board is considerably less refined and often hard to follow. Magie’s board pairs certain elements together, such as jail, coal tax and the text “absolute necessity” that begins her narrative of informing individuals of Georgist ideals.

Another segment pairs the poor house with a public park, and another makes the statement “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages.” There are railroads, properties, chance cards and a continuous path. “Monopoly” is identical to “The Landlord’s Game” except that it does not make you learn anything beyond how to make and lose money. 

If Charles Darrow’s version of the game is more memorable, iconic and possibly fun, is it appropriate to support the theft of the idea because the result fostered an industry that produced jobs, hours of enjoyment and permeation into popular culture? Is the “Monopoly” game just another example of American history being white-washed to avoid uncomfortable conversations?

Information has consequences. The result of reading “Monopoly’s” true history has now soured a simpler time in life. We continue to pass go, Charles Darrow did not go to jail, and a little capitalist fun is now paired with guilt as Elizabeth Magie’s dream has faded away.

Thanks, Internet.

James Walker is a lecturer of design at The University of Texas at Austin.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegram and Austin American Statesman.

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Texas Perspectives is a wire-style service produced by The University of Texas at Austin that is intended to provide media outlets with meaningful and thoughtful opinion columns (op-eds) on a variety of topics and current events. Authors are faculty members and staffers at UT Austin who work with University Communications to craft columns that adhere to journalistic best practices and Associated Press style guidelines. The University of Texas at Austin offers these opinion articles for publication at no charge. Columns appearing on the service and this webpage represent the views of the authors, not of The University of Texas at Austin.