Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Game of Monopoly

Recently, I got together with a few friends and played a Monopoly-esque board game. This reminded me of a real Hasbro Monopoly game I played in 2009. My friends and I have an inside joke that, because we grew up in the 'burbs, there's never really anything to do but go to Toys 'R Us. So occasionally, even after we've become way too old for the majority of toys sold there, we'd stroll into Toys 'R Us to amuse ourselves with what kids are playing with these days.

That's how we found Monopoly Electronic Banking Edition in the board game section. I laughed to myself thinking that it was absurd, but before I can say anything, my friend had already decided to shell out 40 bucks on a credit card for the game. So that afternoon, I experienced Monopoly's new invention.

Like a lot of people, I grew up playing the game. I'm a fan of the original no-frill version. This one's a little different, though. Instead of having fake paper money, each player gets a debit card. The banking tray's replaced by a electronic banking device resembling a cash register. You enter the amount of money to add or subtract from the card into the device, insert the card, and voilĂ ! No counting needed. Each player also gets a whopping $15 million to start the game.

Judging by all of the positive reviews and 5 star ratings online, the Electronic Banking Edition is very well received by American consumers. It's a little surprising to me. When I first saw the game in store, it was early 2009, the middle of the financial crisis. I felt that the cards are a bit excessively ridiculous.

To me, it seems to highlight many of our financial problems as a nation. I'm all for innovation and keeping up with times, but isn't Monopoly supposed to teach kids basic math/financial skills? Sure you can argue that using debit cards is a skill, but personally, I think children should only learn that after they are comfortable with counting and handling cash.

Okay, what if you're an adult who doesn't need to learn the usage of cash? Electronic banking makes the game easier and faster paced! True, but haven't we been hearing a lot about out of hand spending through the careless usage of plastic in recent years? Credit/debit cards can promote compulsive buying precisely because of their ease of use (think of how fast my friend snatched up the game without even thinking whether it's worth it or not!). The addition of debit cards seems to have taken something away from the game. Not only that, the real irony lies in the fact that the funds on those cards are used to purchase real estate under the assumption of continuous appreciation.

To be fair, this version came out in 2007, before the Great Recession hit us full on. Maybe you can't blame them for attempting to keep with up the times by adding an electronic component and raising the values of real estate. So am I too cynical and sucking the fun out of the game? Maybe. It's just a game, and if they do everything to simulate the real world, it'll probably take even longer to play. While writing this post, I remembered a podcast Planet Money did back in August on the original version of Monopoly. It reminds me that afterall, the game still teaches us basic economic concepts such as trade and negotiation. Have you played the Electronic Banking Edition? What do you think?


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