Why Mo­nop­oly has a mo­nop­oly on copy­ing it­self

The Guardian Australia - - World News / Opinion - David Mitchell

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.

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