03 February 2010

Funny Money

If you want to have a eye-opening experience, a decidedly outlook-altering moment in time, play "Monopoly" with real money.

Actual, cold, hard cash. Legal currency, not funny money.

Think about bringing $1,500 in 1s, 5s, 10s, 20s and 50s to a table, rolling the dice and moving your marker around the board, knowing that the game will end when two players go broke; whatever money you have at that point is what you get to keep. Think about how that transforms "Monopoly" from "fun" to "profit," from "pastime" to "feeding frenzy," from "game" to "greed."

Did that once, in My college days, at a frat house that normally had poker games during summer nights. Pulled together the money, got in the game...and discovered what greed looks like up close. One hears or reads about it, like a distant war, but it is never the same as seeing it up close, of feeling its impact around you and noticing your visceral reaction to it.

Normally "Monopoly" is played amidst chattiness, a party with colored paper keeping score (except for those psycho-competitive people who think it's life or death.) When real money is on the table--or more accurately, in hand--there is no chattiness, there is no friendly exchange of information, there is no camaraderie, only the acrid smell of sweat and desperation.

Every move is watched fiercely: every roll, every space, every card pick, every transaction. Trading is like sharing blood: no one wants to do it without total guarantees. And passing "Go" is not the mere turn of a corner, it is oxygen to stay alive, the reason to go on.

The game with real money was a frantic race, a race to see who could get those $200 bucks faster, who could get the right cards and avoid the bad ones. Properties were bought like passing kidney stones, a painful process to be avoided at all costs for it meant losing money with little guarantee of getting it back. No, better the sure thing, the grab-the-cash greed that looked upon investment as so not the goal of the game.

I bought as I usually did, avoided trouble and got the first monopoly, the purples just past Jail. The sweat stench grew more acrid. A second monopoly, the reds, came together. Then--only then--did We both build them up. I got Mine to 4 houses each, he got his to 3. Sure enough, the other two players went broke and when We cashed out, I was up $850; the winner with the reds walked out with an extra $975; the two other players lost money, too.

You experienced "Monopoly" players will quickly realize that those "winning" numbers are paltry, pathetic even. Play a whole game and end up with only $975 in profit as the winner? Shee-hit that's lame. But look at it closer: two players lost $1,500 each and two more about $2,000 all told while the two winners walked out up $1,825, so someone made about $3,175. Obviously, that was the bank. Not a bad deal for about two hours' work.

The reason the winning numbers were so low was because the game was no longer a "build to win" scenario, but a "grab what you can" scenario. To truly build, you need cooperation or an enormous amount of luck. That's what makes "Monopoly" so intriguing, the trading, bartering, readapting of tactics to fit the winning strategy of "build fast and better" that leads to winning the game. To rely on luck is to lose game after game after game; to play to win means to engage with the other players.

In the real money game, engaging with the other players is deemed suicidal: the pie's "too small" and I have to have it all. Build? Yeah, right. Building takes money "off" the table and leaves Me weaker. No can do. Building only comes into play when there is no other choice. I fell into that trap, building only when the second monopoly showed up. The other four players stayed intent on their "grab the cash" tactic instead of trading to gain a foothold. They hung separately and so all of them lost together.

But the bank made out like a bandit.

So let Me leave you with this mental exercise based on the above game of "real Monopoly":

--The game board is Puerto Rico.

--The players are not all of Us, but a handful of oligarchic parasites, although fewer than before.

--The money for the game is what We pay in taxes, the U.S. of part of A. drops in Our lap and the monies We siphon in from investors that We incur as debt.

--The only goal of the game is to grab as much cash as you can before the timer goes off...in 2012.

--And here's the kicker: The bank and the players are playing against--against--the board.

Funny money indeed...

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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