Game Changer: Will Monopoly Be The Same Without Paper Money?

Game Changer: Will Monopoly Be The Same Without Paper Money? by [email protected]

Will Debit Cards Make the Monopoly Game Less Fun?

Just about every adult in America has played Monopoly at some point. But in our increasingly digital, screen-focused era, the maker of the iconic board game feels it has to shift with the times, too. So Hasbro’s next update to the classic game will replace paper money with debit cards and scanners, among other changes. And while that may seem more relevant to kids who rarely see their parents pay with anything other than plastic, it’s also taking something vital, tangible — and educational — out of the game. 

So how important can one old board game be, and what impact will changing it really have? To find out, the [email protected] show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111 talked to Mary Pilon, author of the best-selling book “The Monopolists,” about the history of the game, and Geetha Ramani, an assistant professor specializing in human development and quantitative methodology at the University of Maryland, and director of its Early Childhood Interaction Lab.

An edited transcript of the interview appears below.

[email protected]: Is it a surprise to see this happen with such a legendary game as Monopoly?

Mary Pilon: No, not at all. Hasbro has actually done this a few times. They acquired the Monopoly brand when they acquired Parker Brothers in 1991. They will revamp it to add things like debit cards, credit cards. There are all of those different “opoly” games, often times based on your alma mater, different cities and things.

But what’s so ironic about this is, Parker Brothers acquired Monopoly in 1935 as a brand, but the game had a full life before that. It was invented by a woman in 1904 as kind of a left-wing protest against monopolies. It was played as a folk game for 30 years before Parker Brothers even touched it. And one of the things that those early folk players did was, they modified the game to make it their own, to reflect their times. They put their own cities in. They made it their own. So it’s funny to me that over a century later, we are going full circle again, and the game’s still evolving.

[email protected]: We’ve talked on this show about financial literacy and the problems that we have with it. Will the learning element of Monopoly, in some respects, be taken out if there’s not any more money in the game, and it’s all debit cards?

Geetha Ramani: That’s right. I think part of the beauty of Monopoly is the simple things, like making change and understanding whether you have enough funds. And all of that, it’s my understanding, is going to be done by the machine. So even though that there’s a lot of complexity that’s being added to the game, some of the simple components that are being removed, I think, are going to hurt the learning elements that Monopoly has built into it.

[email protected]: Do you think there’s a possibility this version of the game may push a lot of people back to the old version, especially parents that are playing it with their kids?

Pilon: I think that’s true…. On the book tour, I was really surprised at how many parents came up to me and said that they use Monopoly with their kids, not only as a bonding tool — which it is, you know. That was the case in my family — I think it’s been the case for generations. But their kids — I hate to use the expression “kids today” — but kids today don’t understand cash because they see their parents use credit cards and debit cards wherever they go.

That’s something that I think that all of us take for granted — that there is a generation gap. In a previous life, I wrote about credit cards and banking at The Wall Street Journal, which is actually, ironically, how this whole Monopoly thing came about. It’s a really good point, that it is a game where you can use cash — you can count things out. I think with kids, that tactile piece is a huge part of it. But at the end of the day, it’s the parent who has to buy the set. So, presented with two options, I think that the parents who are buying the game are going to veer towards the more traditional option.

“Kids today don’t understand cash, because they see their parents use credit cards and debit cards wherever they go.” – Mary Pilon

[email protected]: The price on the new one is right around $25. I don’t remember what the price of the old version is, but realistically, it’s not a huge change in price, overall, correct?

Pilon: Well, it depends. On Black Friday, Monopoly and a lot of Hasbro board games are deeply, deeply discounted. And a huge percentage of board game sales happen in November to December. Plus there are so many of these sets in circulation. Used ones are ubiquitous at garage sales now. If you wanted a traditional set, you could get it for, I don’t know $5, $10. Not a lot.  But they revamp these brands every couple years. And the game also lives on the iPad and the iPhone with the more traditional world set, where you still have money. It’s not quite as fun as physically handing out the cash. But there are other versions out there for sure, that are cheaper.

[email protected]: Even not having the “cash” in there, the game will still offer kids and teens some financial literacy education. It’s just going to be a little bit different, correct?

Ramani: I agree. I’m sure it’s going to be very interesting and novel at first. Having the concrete dollar bills there, having the money that you can work with, is really important. The numbers that might show up on the screen, that you use with the cards, are going to be really abstract for younger kids to understand.

Having concrete cues about the money and how much you need, and how much you have, is really important for kids if you’re trying to teach them about the worth and how much things cost … and what’s more and less than other things. There will still be opportunities there, with the card and the electronic billing and talking about these kinds of things. But removing the concrete materials is going to make it harder for lots of kids to understand.

[email protected]: From what I understand, there also is the possibility of raising and lowering the prices of the properties. So, in some respects, this is going to be a little bit more of a learning process about wealth in general.

Ramani: Absolutely. And I think that will definitely add an interesting component to it. But it might depend on how old the kids are. For younger kids, that element’s going to be really challenging, I would imagine. Even for adults, right? But for older kids, perhaps maybe it’ll make an interesting piece of financial information to talk about while they’re playing the game.

[email protected]: What are some of the other changes they made? We’ve talked about debit cards, and that they’re going to have a scanner. Did they change any of the properties?

Pilon: Those are the biggest changes. As far as