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Editorial: Gaming the Rules

When the price of real estate soars, rents skyrocket and inflation threatens not only economic stability but social comity, it’s time to dump all your assets and walk away from the game. Life’s too short. The time invested could be better spent writing the great American novel, solving the riddle of world hunger or doing the dishes.

We’re talking, of course, about Monopoly, the enduring board game that has been known to engage players for hours on end until bad faith, bankruptcy or landing on Boardwalk brings competition to a halt. The game, which hasn’t changed much since the 1930s, has been entertaining children and adults alike for generations. But as with so many things, deregulation has led to declining standards. Players brazenly bend the official rules, taking more money than allowed, freezing assets and recklessly swapping properties — modifications that generally make a long game even longer. Let us be clear: If you land on “Free Parking,” you’re not entitled to collect taxes and fees that may have accumulated on the board. That’s just wrong. Lots of players are scofflaws, though, apparently helping themselves to the stash if they land in the right place.

Knowing that some 70 percent of players never bother to read the official rules, Hasbro, the game’s publisher, has decided to open up debate about “house rules” — the unofficial rules by which many people routinely play. In the custom of the day, Hasbro is crowdsourcing through Facebook (what else?), polling opinion about cash limits, whether players should receive rent if they land in jail (we vote no) and how much money players should get when they pass “Go.” The prescribed amount is $200, but that just doesn’t cut it anymore; some bankers generously give double.

At any rate, when the promotional exercise on Facebook ends April 3, Hasbro intends to issue a special edition of the game incorporating the five most popular house rules. Since people are free to play Monopoly any way they like, no matter what edition they own, this exercise is nothing more than a clever publicity stunt that’s likely to reinvigorate sales. But perhaps the idea will prompt the Securities and Exchange Commission to rein in rogue players by crowdsourcing the rules by which Wall Street bankers should play.

Which brings us to the question of whether Monopoly should be updated to reflect the macroeconomic realities of the day (the game, far too bullish on Atlantic City and railroads, is showing its age). For instance, new cards in the Chance pile could add an element of risk that would shorten the playing time: “Credit Default Swap — Pay Treasury $1 Billion” or “Underwater Mortgage — Get Up and Walk Away.” And for those who balk at playing the banker or who find the paper money too annoying, we suggest a revised game with a virtual crypto-currency such as Bitcoin. No one would actually know their net worth, but it would solve the problem of fly-away bills when playing at the picnic table.

Finally, if Hasbro wants to please the masses, it might issue the 1 Percent edition and rebrand the game Oligarchy. Surely the mustachioed Mr. Monopoly wouldn’t object to a little competition.