Monday, October 12, 2015

Let's Play Monopoly

In the latter half of the 20th Century, countless people all over the world were hunched around a board rolling a dice, buying and selling. No, it wasn't exactly gambling. No real money is involved, only play money. And this play could go on and on and on. Remember the game Monopoly? As a young boy in the 1970's, I would play this board game with neighbours. But over the years, I stopped, maybe because you need more than 2 people to play the game, and forming that "quorum" got harder when you move into HDB apartments. These public apartments are not exactly ideal for people to come together to mix around. Gotong Royong just disappeared in public housing estates, a fact that is much lamented about. But you don't really need gotong royong to play Monopoly, and Monopoly in the 21st century is far from dead, at least where young people with plenty of time on their hands, are concerned. For example, many students still gather around to play Monopoly in the library, never mind that it is available both on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

When you dive into the history of the game of Monopoly, you will discover that the game had its origins in Academia. Mary Pylon has traced the origins of the game right back to Abraham Lincoln. No, Abe didn't invent Monopoly but the originator of the game. Instead, Lizzie Maggie was indirectly influenced by him through his father (who worked with Abe) and later through the Economist Henry George. Lizzie Maggie eventually invented a board game called "The Landlord's Game" - the precursor to the modern game of Monopoly. But this wasn't Parker Brothers' account of how Monopoly was invented. In her book "The Monopolists", Pilon traces the development of the game from Lizzie Maggie through the many people who subsequently played and modified the game, right up to Prof Ralph Anspach, the protagonist of the book whose Anti-Monopoly game forms the counter-point to the narrative. This is one of those once-started-cannot-put-down kind of book. The narrative is rich in sub-plots through the early development of the game by word-of-mouth, about who taught whom to play the game - a history that was shown to be relevant in the latter part of the book when Prof Anspach strived to prove that Parker Brothers, and more specifically, Charles Darrow, had mis-appropriated the rights to the game. This is not to say that Parker Brothers and Charles Darrow were out-and-out crooks. They, in turn, were looking to survive in the years immediately after the market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression  that followed it. Eventually, they prospered but as big businesses go, they went after Prof Anspach' Anti-Monopoly invention because they deemed his game to have violated their copyright. The latter half of this book traces the battle between Parker Brothers and Prof Anspach - with the twists and turns that makes this book such an absorbing read. Ms Pilon has expertly weaved the whole story into one such that you won't be lost in the whole narrative of the historical development of this iconic board game through 100 years. Great for history buffs, rather enjoyable to those who love a good story.

Highly recommended.

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