Playing Monopoly and my “anti-Monopoly” talk

by Sachi Feris

My almost-five-year-old has attended her fair share of protests since November. Even my 19-month-old raises a fist in protest when my daughter prompts a call and response:

“We are the people!”
“A little bit louder!”
“We do not want Donald Trump!”

But, as usual, I feel the “real work” is in quieter moments of play—moments that are ripe for either reproducing or challenging the status quo.

A couple of months ago, my daughter insisted that I teach her how to play Monopoly (click here for a history of the game, including a man who allegedly stole the idea from a woman as well as a socialist version), a game that has been on our living room shelves since pre-children. I tried to dissuade her but it was a lost cause.

Early on in the game, my daughter landed on Park Place, which I advised her to purchase. Shortly after, my son (who serves as “messenger” when we play board/card games, delivering unused game pieces back and forth between my husband, my daughter, and I), happened to “deliver” Boardwalk to my daughter.

We often accept his offerings as serendipitous gifts so I told my daughter that Boardwalk would give her what was called a “monopoly,” when you own all the properties of the same color.

“Do you want to keep your brother’s ‘gift?’” Not surprisingly, my daughter opted to keep Boardwalk and quickly began building houses.

It was a short game. I landed on Park Place and had to mortgage several properties to pay my debt. The game ended when I landed on Park Place a second time.

“Why are you taking money from the bank?” my daughter asked.

“I’m not ‘taking’ the money,” I explained. “I’m selling my properties to the bank so I can pay you. And now I don’t own any property which means I don’t have a place to live. And I have used every last dollar I have to pay you, which means I don’t even have any money to buy something to eat. This can happen to people in real life, too. In fact, this is basically what Donald Trump’s business does…buy properties and build houses and hotels…and along the way, some people end up with nothing.”

“But who won the game?” my daughter wanted to know.

“You did!” I clarified. “I don’t have any money or a place to live! I definitely ‘lost.’ How do you feel about winning?”

“Happy,” my daughter responded.

“Well, it’s OK to feel happy about winning a game, but if this were real life, how would it make you feel? Is it fair that you have six houses and I don’t even have one house?”

“No,” she affirmed.

I was an avid and greedy monopoly player as a child. And, of course, I loved to “win.” Never do I remember connecting this game to “real life” or thinking about what happened to mortgaged properties or the people living in them. (Click here and here for previous posts about gentrification.)

Yesterday, my daughter requested Monopoly again after a couple of week hiatus and ended up with two monopolies. Then she landed on Connecticut Avenue, which was my best hope for acquiring any monopoly in the game—and bought it. Luckily, I had purchased all four railroads and when she landed on one with instructions to pay the owner double the price, I had some bargaining power as she had little cash leftover after her multiple purchases.

“How about you give me Connecticut Avenue as payment? That way I can have a monopoly, too, which would make the game a little more fair—because otherwise I won’t be able to build any houses or make any money.”

“But in this game, that’s just how it is,” she replied, matter-of-factly.

“But that’s how it is in the world, too. Do you think that’s fair?”

“No,” she affirmed.

“So if you pay me by giving me Connecticut Avenue and letting me have at least one monopoly, it makes things a little more fair.”

My daughter agreed to the trade.

“You know,” I continued, “when we play Monopoly, we each begin with the same amount of money. But in real life, some people begin with a lot of money and some people begin with none. Like Donald Trump—he had a lot of money to begin with and that is why he was able to build so many buildings. But when Mami and Papi graduated from college—our parents didn’t give us any money—we had to work to make money to have a place to live and buy food.” (This led to some questions of confirmation that “when she was ten” Mami and Papi would still pay for her!)

As usual, after our twenty minutes of pre-bedtime play, we stacked our money/properties in separate piles and agreed to continue the game on the following day.

Tonight, in picking a “Get of jail free” card (click here and here for previous conversations about prisons and jails) from the “Chance” pile, my daughter declared:

“I have something very important to say. No one should have to go to jail—but Donald Trump should go to jail because he does things that are bad.”

Though I didn’t go into detail about which “bad things” Trump could be imprisoned for, I couldn’t—and didn’t—disagree.

I will proudly bring my daughter to protests and continue to show her that this is one way to use our voices to stand up for justice—but our everyday play is my real battleground for educating my daughter to create a more just world.