Friday, August 16, 2013

Monopoly Empire (We li-ive in a material world…)

Last month, my sister Kathleen had a wonderful post on her blog – yes, we’re the bloggin’ sisters -  about the latest brand-extension to the Monopoly line.  Monopoly Empire joins such properties as the Disney Princess, Sponge Bob, and Simpson’s Electronic Banking (doh!) versions.

Rather than land on Marvin Gardens or St. Charles, in Monopoly Empire, you acquire properties like Coca-Cola and Samsung. It’s also a streamlined version, and takes only 30 minutes to play.  In Kath’s words:

The battle against product placement everywhere has everywhere been lost. Time-stressed multi-tasking is a way of life even for toddlers. We all live in Snack World.
But it seems a little sad that a lot of today's kids just don't have the time, even if they had the inclination, to loll about on an old blanket in someone's backyard and play Monopoly for hours. Yes, kids, there was a time when the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" meant sugar-soaked fun, when sun tan lotion was meant to attract rays not repel them, and when "Go directly to jail," didn't sound like the tagline for yet another TV show.

Like Kath, I realize that the battle against product placement has lost – if it had ever been waged to begin with. Which is not to say that we still aren’t entitled to decry it.

Not that there weren’t product tie-ins and marketing aimed dead-eye at children when we were kids. Among my most prized possessions as a kid were a pair of felt slippers shaped vaguely like cowboy boots, and sporting the image of Roy Rogers rearing up on Trigger, and a plastic Mickey Mouse wallet. I would have given anything for a Cinderella watch, even though it was well known that no child needed a wristwatch until they graduated from eighth grade, when they were gifted with an old-lady or old-man Timex.

But there just wasn’t as much of it, and brand consciousness was pretty limited.

Sure, we knew that some kids wore Keds, and other kids, like us, wore P.F. Flyers, which we wore because that’s what Mr. McEarchern (pronounced Ma-geck-rin, by the way) sold in his cobbler’s shop. Somewhere, since we’d seen the ads on TV, we imagined there were kids who wore Red Ball Jets, but we never encountered any. The supposition was that those sneakers must have been too highfalutin for Main South, or too trashy.

Other than sneakers, I don’t think I realized that clothing came in brand names until I got to high school and saw all the ritzy girls at my school wearing brightly-colored Pappagallo flats and Villager sweaters. (And the brand back then was in the label, not on the outside of the garment. In those days, people weren’t walking billboards.)

Along with being appalled by the crass commercialism of Monopoly Empire, I am saddened by the truncated playing time. One of the best things about Monopoly was that it could go on forever. We would even toss out the rules to keep people in the game, with under the table (or, more likely, blanket) loans, debt forgiveness, and barter.

What a shame that kids are so time-crunched and attention-challenged that they don’t have a couple of hours to wile away playing a board game.

And, while on the subject of playing games, I don’t remember ever being crushed by defeat or thrilled by victory. Even as an eight year old, we knew that this was a fun but essentially meaningless game, a fun thing to do with your friends.

Kath covered the essential story line but, because she hopped on it so early-on, she did report that that Jail and Go To Jail had been removed from the Empire version. Which would have been a colossal mistake, given that so very many empire-builders end up in the hoosegow – have we already forgotten Jeff Skilling and Bernie Madoff? Anyway, the Wall Street Journal had erroneously reported the No To Jail idiocy but, as it turned out, later media outlets pressed Hasbro on the matter, and it does, indeed remain. (Phew!)

Of course, there is no more “Do Not Collect Two Hundred Dollars.”

Such a paltry amount would mean nothing to today’s gamers, or nothing more than their allowance. No, today you collect “Tower Value”, which I guess is tied to how big your tower – built by acquiring brands – is. Which, if this is the case, is one more negative.

In the more egalitarian, Depression-era version we grew up playing, there were certainly haves – hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk – and have-nots – a couple of measly green houses on Baltic – but all players were created equal when they rounded Go.

But here the goal is empire-building, and why not have the rich get richer. Isn’t this far more true to life?

By the way, that empire-building involves acquiring brands and stacking them up in your tower, and:

Watch(ing) the Monopoly Empire towers rise and fall

…And how much fun will you have watching those towers rise and fall? Lots, I'll bet, since you are probably too young to equate towers falling with the fruits of jihad. (This is Kath again.)

To add to the general detestability of Monopoly Empire are the game tokes:Monopoly tokens

  • A bottle of Coca Cola
  • A Ducati bike
  • An Xbox controller
  • A Corvette car
  • McDonald's fries
  • A Paramount director's board

Which are, of course, all branded, not to mention that hideous platinum color…

But what, pray tell, would today’s kids make of the tokens-of-yore, which were already a bit butter-churny dated by the 1950’s and 1960’s. That high-button old tokensshoe?  The flat iron? The thimble? (I had, until Kath mentioned it, forgotten that “unless you owned the Monopoly set, you were never ever in a million billion years going to get to use the Scottie dog or the
racing car.” I was definitely a Scottie girl.)

Here’s the product description from Hasbro’s site:

Buy your favorite brands one by one and slide their billboards onto your Empire tower: the game is a race to the top! Collect rent from your rivals based on your tower height. And be the first player to fill your tower with billboards to win!

With the Monopoly Empire game, you can own some of the biggest brands in the world! Every space on the board is an iconic brand, including Xbox, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Samsung! Splash your Monopoly cash to build your Empire tower as high as it can go. You'll need to make tough decisions and smart moves to take down the competition and be the first to reach the top. Hit the big time and own the world's top brands with the Monopoly Empire game!

That’s right kids, start making those touch decisions and smart moves – and do it in lightning speed-dating time. Top of the world, Ma!


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