Pitara Kids Network

The curious history of the world’s most popular board game

"Landlords Game board based on 1924 patent" by Lucius Kwok - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Landlords_Game_board_based_on_1924_patent.png#/media/File:Landlords_Game_board_based_on_1924_patent.png

There is a good chance that you have played this board game. And perhaps your parents and their parents before them too.

According to the company, that makes it, over 275 million games have been sold in 111 countries. Over the last eight odd years over one billion people have traded make-believe real estate with fake money.

If you guessed Monopoly, you would be right. Just in case you have not played this board game, a quick explanation is in order. At the start of the game all the players are allocated some fake cash. From there on every player gets to roll the dice to move around the board. When they land on a property on the board they can buy it if it is not already owned. But if it is already owned by another player they have to pay rent to the owner. The more properties you own the more rent you collect. The aim of the game is to own and control of the entire economy. The game ends when the ‘monopolist’ own everything and all other players are driven into bankruptcy.

Over the years this game has come to be seen by many adults as a good game to ‘teach’ children financial literacy. It not only helps children understand how the world of money operates, but also ’teaches’ them skills to negotiate and make tough decisions — essential life skills, in today’s competitive world.

What might surprise you though is that before this game was called ‘Monopoly’, it was called ‘The Landlord’s Game’. The game designer Elizabeth Magie had almost the opposite vision of what the game has now come to be. She wanted to use the game to teach the dangers of cutthroat capitalism. During the Great Depression (a time of great financial hardship during the 1920s) this game was used as a tool to teach tenants how landlords were ripping them off.

“Landlords Game board based on 1924 patent” by Lucius Kwok – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Landlords_Game_board_based_on_1924_patent.png#/media/File:Landlords_Game_board_based_on_1924_patent.png

The original creators’ vision was corrupted and a game designed to teach the pitfalls of hyper competitiveness that leaves opponents is economic ruin is now seen as one that teaches financial literacy.

But, you might say, it is just a game. Perhaps. While the jury is still out on how games effect children, it is generally agreed that games that have explicit violence require ‘Parental Guidance’. Perhaps Monopoly should be PG13 too.

Meanwhile, perhaps when you play this game next, you will think twice before ruthlessly bankrupting your best friend. Or your sibling.

First page of patent submission for first version of Lizzie Magie’s board game, granted on January 5, 1904. Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_board_game_Monopoly#/media/File:BoardGamePatentMagie.png