Would you like fries with that labradoodle?
If I were dead, I’d be rolling over in my grave right now. But since I’m not, I’ll have to settle on rolling my eyes along with every kid who ever suffered through a rainy day MONOPOLY marathon, which is basically every kid and ex-kid in America.
Love it or hate it–and I feel a little bit of both whenever I play–MONOPOLY is a sacred part of our culture. Everybody plays. You play because your little sister bugs you till you say yes. You play because you can’t go outside because it’s raining or they’re spraying Naled. You play because it’s Christmas vacation, you’ve already tortured your little sister, and you don’t have anything else to do. You play because you don’t want to play strip poker with grandma. You play because there’s nothing else your family can agree to do together.
And now, it pains me to say this, MONOPOLY–the most popular board game in history, with more than 250 million copies sold–has gone commercial.
I know it seems an ironic complaint to make about a game that glorifies capitalism and has aggressively licensed versions from Armyopoly to X-Menopoly. I think we still have a version of Santa Barbopoly around here somewhere.
But despite these transgressions, one part of the game remained sacred: the tokens. You may abhor the game, or make up your own rules to make it go faster, but everyone has a favorite MONOPOLY token, and it never feels quite right when you’re forced to play with your second favorite.
Parker Brothers, the game’s manufacturer, has even done a nationwide analysis and found that certain personality traits are associated with certain MONOPOLY tokens. You’ve got your wheelbarrows, who are always prepared to take in loads of easily maneuverable money; your canons who are constantly aiming to make a big noise; your race cars, who drive hard deals in their negotiations; your shoes, who trod their way patiently around the board; and your top hats, who simply want to own it all.
Not only do we get attached to our game tokens, they’re also educational. The only iron–and for that matter, the only thimble–my son has ever seen is the one in his MONOPOLY game. And now, or rather “Here & Now” which is the name of the new edition, they’ve gone corporate.
Instead of traveling along the board as a battleship, you can now trudge along as a Motorola RAZR cell phone, McDonald’s fries, Starbucks coffee, a Toyota Prius or a New Balance sneaker. The trendy labradoodle is the least commercial of the new tokens, which also include an unbranded laptop computer and passenger jet.
I could understand the branding better if Parker Brothers was suffering through hard times. Toys aren’t the big sell they once were and board games are in danger of going the way of the Pteranodons. Kids are now electronic game experts in preschool and two-dimensional toys have a tough time competing for attention when there’s a super-surround-sound-mega-amazing Game Boy in the room. Or so I’m told. My poor deprived child, as he constantly reminds me, has to play with books and balls and art supplies most of the time, so he’d probably be glad to play something that actually came with instructions.
But believe it or not, this commercialization of MONOPOLY has nothing to do with sponsor money. McDonald’s, Starbucks, and the others did not pay for product placement fees. Yes, you read that right: they got the brands on there for free. They are simply there to represent a sign of the ubiquitous branding of American life. According to the company, MONOPOLY: Here & Now Edition was designed to answer the question: “What would the most popular board game of all time look like if it were invented today instead of in 1935?”
In addition to giving the old shoe the boot in favor of a New Balance running sneaker and trading in the terrier for a labradoodle, there are new properties with inflated prices (landing on Times Square with a hotel will cost $20 million), larger currency denominations, airports replacing railroads and more modern utilities like internet service replacing the old water works. I guess you can always buy your Evian online.
The Chance and Community Chest cards have also been updated. Instead of winning $10 in a beauty contest, you can now win $100,000 in a reality TV show, and when you go to jail, it’s for identity theft and insider trading. Oh, and when you pass GO, you collect $2 million dollars. Not bad for a few hours work.
Matt Collins, Vice President of Marketing for Parker Brothers, says, “For the past 70 years, millions of Americans have tasted the thrill of ‘owning it all’ by playing MONOPOLY. The new MONOPOLY: Here & Now Edition allows aspiring real estate tycoons to enjoy an elevated game play experience that more closely matches today’s America.”
So $2 million for passing GO matches today’s America? I hope my editor reads this. I’m gonna ask for a raise.