Monopoly is a game we all know and love, or at least know and ‘love to hate’. Few games so positively destructive to household peace and relationships have managed to achieve and maintain such enduring popularity in popular culture. There’s simply something of abiding charm in the board game’s blend of chance and strategy, where a player’s careful purchasing, trading and development can be lost in an instant from an unlucky roll of the dice.
Yet despite the game being such a classic family favourite – so instantly recognizable and so embedded into popular culture – it seems the unusual history of the game is widely unknown to most. This is especially puzzling considering the fascinating story behind its origins. Whether you love some Monopoly amongst friends on a rainy day, or consider it one of the most tedious board games ever made, you have to marvel at the game’s unexpected past and its continuously innovative re-inventions.
Arguably the oddest part of Monopoly’s history dates back to its very start; the reason the board game came to be created in the first place. In 1903, a woman named Lizzie Magie created and self-published a board game she called The Landlord’s Game. This game was – in all meaningful respects – the same as the game that we today call Monopoly. Yet Lizzie did not set out to create the game as an idle past-time – rather she intended The Landlord’s Game to be an educational tool that illustrated the unfairness of unchecked capitalism that leads to land monopolism. She subscribed to the economic philosophy of Georgism, which states that value created by land should not be owned by individuals but should instead be owned collectively by society.
To this end The Landlord’s Game came with two sets of rules – one anti-monopolist (where all players were rewarded when land generated value) and one monopolist (like today’s game where individual players are rewarded). Her intention was to show to people through playing her game that monopolies are inherently unjust and lead to economic disaster that is essentially randomly assigned to the players. When the game later ultimately passed to Parker Brothers (today incorporated into Hasbro), only one of her two rule sets was included – the monopolist one. There’s an almost comedic degree in irony to be found in that these rules that have charmed and excited us ever since, and that a game that was originally intended to teach us about the perils of monopolies is today enjoyed by players ruthlessly pursuing them.
In the 1920s and 1930s, despite Lizzie Magie retaining the patent for her game, several versions of almost identical games were distributed by various game producers across America. Most successful was Charles Darrow, who named his rendition Monopoly and sold such an impressive quantity of games that Parker Brothers was convinced to purchase the rights from him. It was not an immediate easy sell, however. Parker Brothers initially rejected the game because of what they listed as over 50 ‘fundamental errors’, mostly revolving around the game’s length and complexity. Yet, the impressive sales and popularity of the game saw Parker Brothers reconsider. After a shady series of events in which Parker Brothers first helped Darrow patent the game in his own name and then purchase that patent from him, Parker Brothers ended up with the rights to Monopoly in 1936.
From then on, Parker Brothers distributed the game far more broadly, expanding its reach both within America as well as into Europe and beyond. The game quickly became enormously popular all over the globe. In fact, it became such a hit in the United Kingdom that it was famously used in World War II to aid Allied prisoners of war escape. John Waddington Ltd., the British manufacturers of Monopoly, worked together with the British Secret Service to produce special copies of the game which contained, amongst other things; genuine money, real maps of Germany, and compasses. These special game versions were then given to the prisoners through charitable organizations operating in Nazi Germany and Occupied France in the guise of being regular copies of the game.
More recently, Hasbro incorporated Parker Brothers in 1991 and gained the rights to Monopoly. Hasbro took Monopoly to the next level by expanding the number of versions and editions offered for sale. Since their takeover Monopoly has grown to become an even more visible brand and has successfully been injected into all manners of trendy and popular franchises. All kinds of TV shows, movies, locations and video game editions exist today, meaning you can enjoy versions of Monopoly based around Game of Thrones, Las Vegas, and countless other subjects of pop cultural interest. Overall, Hasbro has released well over 1,100 themed editions of the famous board game, with the original game available in over 47 languages.
Even more recently, the scope of Monopoly has been extended further still, with licensed app and browser versions available through storefronts such as Google Play Store and social media sites like Facebook. The so-called ‘online social game’ adaptation of Monopoly, created by Evolution Gaming is primarily free play and suitable for children, yet in a modern transition which is in lieu with the game’s theme of wealth, a series of Monopoly slot games have been developed for online casino sites. On that note, Hasbro have lent the Monopoly brand to an edition of the DreamCatcher live casino game, entitled simply ‘Monopoly Live’.
Fresh takes like the above ensure that we will continue to enjoy bankrupting our near and dear ones long into the future with the pervasive Monopoly franchise. The game’s enduring popularity may well mean we’ll see its concept taken even further in new innovative ways in the future – perhaps a virtual reality Monopoly game, in which you can walk those very street on which you’re buying property, shake hands with business partners and end up in jail? In any case, it seems the original caveat of Lizzie Magie’s game is lost as its forewarned perils have become an ubiquitous reality…but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the infamous board game!
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