The dice seems loaded in the Age of Austerity
The Circling Fin
The other night I watched in amusement as my young sons, played Monopoly with us for the first time. They grew spellbound by their wads of toy cash, counting and recounting slips of coloured paper in the illusory security of permanent wealth, while neglecting to keep an eye on what was actually happening on the board.
Meanwhile my wife, veteran of several economic cycles, wiped the floor with the daydreaming males of the family, swiftly leveraging possession of a daunting property portfolio and charging us ruthlessly for every occupation, no matter how brief.
Tears were shed as, one by one, bankruptcy loomed and we were reduced to mortgaging even the prospect of the €200 payout for passing GO.
Feelings always seem to run high in families when board games are played, but I wonder if the game of Monopoly in particular has become an even more intense experience since our nation (and much of the Western world) came to grief in 2008.
Since that fateful year, we have been experiencing the sharper end of market economics. Moreover, in many countries, the millennial boom and subsequent bust were centred around the buying and selling of property. We see the after-effects, from ghost estates to court cases to tax and welfare adjustments, every day of the week. What started out as arcane decisions in boardrooms and on golf courses ended up punishing communities and undermining our commitment to protect the vulnerable.
As children, we treated Monopoly as a kind of race – a race to build up as many properties (and then as many bank notes) as we could. As adults we know better: The object is not particularly to own property or money, though either, and especially both, can be crucial. The object, as a former American champion of the game, Richard Marinaccio, once pointed out, is to ‘bankrupt your opponents as quickly as possible. To have just enough so that everybody else has nothing’.
But what if you are the one who has ended up with nothing? For my sons, the game became an exasperating experience. But then they’re exasperated if they have to give up the remote control. For me, losing the Monopoly game was more upsetting, painful even. Looking at familiar Irish street names and landmarks being used to persecute me – and all my possessions, admittedly imaginary ones, being stripped from me, relentlessly and endlessly – I couldn’t help feeling there was a direct link to real life.
Many of us got used to driving good cars and owning our own houses; we got used to having satisfying, reasonably rewarding jobs. But now, in the Age of Austerity, the means to provide and to prosper seem to be steadily evaporating.
After we were done, the stray pieces and cards and bank notes were gathered up, returned to the Monopoly box and put away on top of a wardrobe. For all I care it can gather the dust of decades.
Fin Keegan is a writer based in Westport. This column is based on his weekly radio essay, heard on WRFM radio, and online at thecirclingfin.com