Why Monopoly has a monopoly on copying itself
Let me put my cards on the table: I’m not a fan of the orange KitKat. It’s nothing to do with Nestlé’s marketing of baby milk, before you look at the web address and mistake this for the <Italic>Guardian</Italic>. Oh no, as customers who’ve paid will realise, this is the <Italic>Observer </ Italic>and I don’t give a shit. I’ll happily eat a normal KitKat and let the world be damned.
The way globalisation is going, you’d never get anywhere if you started worrying about the moral failings of whoever owns the thing that owns the thing that owns the thing that makes the thing you need. Doubtless most prayer books are now published by subsidiaries of conglomerates with satanist mission statements. I bet the Sultan of Brunei somehow controls the global supply of a dye vital to manufacturing rainbow flags. And probably all of the world’s, I don’t know, birthday cards are made by corporations partly owned by pension funds managing the retirement savings of, among other people, racists. And racists hate birthdays.
The car keys of some absolute monsters are in our shared global swingers’ bowl, but we didn’t listen to Lenin so it’s too late to do anything about it now. That’s just the way the wind blows the pampas grass, so neck your Lambrusco, take your pick and count yourself lucky if you avoid the Citroën – that guy’s bound to be a pervert. Because, at the end of the day, everyone gets screwed.
So my antipathy towards orange KitKats isn’t about corporate responsibility. It’s because, when eating a normal KitKat, I have never thought, or come close to thinking “I wish this tasted of orange.” I knew it wouldn’t and so I was content that it didn’t. And I neither understand nor forgive anyone who actually would think that. It would be like eating a Terry’s Chocolate Orange and wishing it didn’t taste of orange. Or eating an actual orange and wishing it tasted of apple. Or looking at the new Dairy Milk bar with bits of marshmallow in it and thinking “Ooh, interesting!” rather than “That is literally the worst abomination committed by humankind.” In short, it’s the thought process of someone who likes films to be in 3D.
“Are you then the right person,” you may be asking, “to write about the merits or otherwise of the Natural History Museum and Hasbro’s new twist on Monopoly, Monopoly Dinosaurs?” If you are asking that, full marks for prescience, because that’s exactly what I’m about to do. But absolute minimum marks (which is probably a B or a 2 these days – there’s no point compounding stupidity with low self-esteem) for fair criticism, because the very last person you want passing judgment on Monopoly Dinosaursis one of those “Ooh, interesting!” juxtaposition junkies munching their peppermint Wotsits washed down by a can of Cadbury’s Creme Sperm.
I realise there’s long been more than one Monopoly – and I don’t mean Amazon and Google. I mean more than one version of the game: Star Wars, 007, Virgin Money, Nottingham, and so on. In fact, Amazon and Google don’t actually have Monopolies. Sets of Monopoly for sale, that is. I Googled, I looked on Amazon and found nothing – and how else can you buy anything? Perhaps they fear the implications of its name next to theirs, like when Pavarotti refused to endorse an Italia 90 version of
Hungry Hungry Hippos.
By the 1930s there were already two Monopolies: the American one, based on Atlantic City, and the British one, set in London. The latter was brought out so the game resonated more with British customers, and I understand the pressure to keep it feeling relevant. But who at Hasbro, in 2017, thought the best way of doing that, of catching the imagination of the aspirant plutocrat kids of today, was to move it out of the field of property development and into palaeontology? Because buying and selling houses for inflated sums is so last century, while academic research is where it’s at?
Monopoly is a game that rewards getting rich without making anything. It’s about wealth creation by the aggressive use of ownership. It was ahead of its time. The logical response to our current era would be to take games about dinosaurs, or indeed anything else, and turn them into property trading games like Monopoly where success or failure depends entirely on luck and circumstances rather than merit. Add an extra Chance card, where you lose the rent from one of your cheaper properties when it burns down because you cut corners refurbishing it, plus a load more Get Out of Jail Free cards, and it’s a game about Britain today.
I’m not sure that would be appropriate to the Natural History Museum shop, though. Customers will just have seen a lot of dinosaur skeletons and information about dinosaurs and so retail orthodoxy dictates they’ll want to buy things with dinosaurs on them: mugs, pens, badges, games of Monopoly. And, from the game’s blurb, it’s clear the adapters gave the new version a full five minutes’ thought: “Lay claim to each dinosaur fossil, and leave tents and jeeps on your fascinating discoveries. Then watch the rent come pouring in as you make deals with other palaeontologists.” So I’m guessing a jeep on a Tyrannosaurus rex is something a rival palaeontologist really wants to avoid landing on. Much worse than, say, two tents on an iguanodon.
Unfortunately, I think my cynicism about this game springs from naivety. “Why would they make that?”, I’m instinctively asking. When I looked at the full list of Monopoly versions – and there are hundreds – I realised it was the wrong question. I should have asked “Why not?”, to which it seems the market supplies no adequate answer. I don’t know why, but the manufacturing costs have obviously sunk so low that they may as well make one.
A handful will buy it, and that’s enough: some 3D film buffs plus those saviours of capitalism, people who are buying a present for someone. They don’t have to think the game’s worth having, just that it’ll look appropriate to whoever unwraps it.
Together, they’re enough to make Monopoly Dinosaurs pay for itself, just as they were with Dino-opoly in 2004 and Monopoly Dinosaur (singular) in 2010. And indeed Monopoly Harrow School Edition, Dachshund-Opoly, Monopoly Corvette 50th Anniversary Collectors Edition and the rest. Like a bastardised chocolate bar, each causes a microscopic synapse of surprise to fire, a sensation we fleetingly mistake for fun.
Tokens from the Natural History Museum’s Monopoly Dinosaurs edition.
Illustration by David Foldvari.