Monopoly - Now With Big Brother Action!: Hasbro Confuses Video Game Structure for Video Game Engagement

A recent piece from the New York Times discusses Monopoly Live – an upcoming release from the popular game franchise.  What’s particularly new and interesting in this version of the game is the addition of a tower in the center of the board, equipped with speakers and an infrared sensor.  The tower polices money transactions and rule adherence, while also pacing the game.

Hasbro reps note that the new design took into consideration the perceived play habits and needs of a video gaming generation. In trying to answer the question of “How do you give them a video game and the board game with the social experience?”, the designers introduced the tower.  This feature reduces the need for an instruction manual, allows players to jump into rapid-paced sessions, inserts random events during lulls in gameplay, and caters to the assumed decreased attention spans of gamers by eliminating the need to do the math inherent to the original design.

As such, the all-knowing tower is meant to give gamers what they want in board game form.  However, the addition of the tower strikes me (and apparently many other reviewers of the new design) more as the installation of Foucault’s panopticon.  Though the new design is meant to emphasize and favor fast-paced social interaction, it seemingly eliminated the chance for the emergence of house rules and peer-on-peer social sanctioning, which are inherent staples of the original Monopoly gameplay experience.  In other words, it sounds to me like a top-down design meant to artificially cultivate enjoyment might actually rob the game of some of the intrinsically fun and social aspects that were already there.

To be fair, I haven't played the game myself.  Nonetheless, if Hasbro is really targeting a gamer base of players,  the description in the article and what I have since researched elsewhere suggest they may have made a few mistakes in construing and then co-opting what about video games makes them so fun.

First, in an attempt to make a board game look and sound more like a video game, Hasbro has hard-coded and automated the rules, processes, and consequences of video gameplay.  In doing so, I’d suggest they’ve confused what we might call the designer layer of games (the guts and underlying mechanics that make the system work) with the user experience layer (the skin over the design that functions to imbue meaning into those mechanics).  For the most part, players want to interact with a system of rules in a way that is buffered by or coated with external narrative and/or internalized meaning.  The new Monopoly just kind of throws the guts at you, with little dressing, resulting in a gameplay experience that sounds (literally) automated and robotic.

Second, in automating the game, Hasbro has removed the cash, the  Chance and Community Chest cards, and – most worrisome to me – the dice.  Though perhaps irrational, rolling dice gives a game player a sense of control over his or her fate.  This is all the more important in an experience that already feels automated and on rails.  Removing dice-rolls and replacing them with a button-presses likely robs the player of a sense of self-determination (if even a false one), which would be all the more crucial in such a Big Brother environment.  Designers of user experiences, particularly somewhat automated ones, should never underestimate the consequences of tangible manipulation on psychological agency, belief, and engagement.

Finally, as mentioned above, Hasbro has seemingly thrown the baby out with the bathwater, inadvertently de-emphasizing the social aspects of gameplay while prioritizing faster pacing.  The automation drastically hinders the ability to cheat or to even subjectively interpret many of the rules.  In doing so, the new design may actually decrease social interaction and meaning – when rules are delivered and policed from above, gameplay loses the capacity for emergent social norms that are usually etched out through transgression, argument, and resolution.

Respectively, these three mistakes reduce the feelings of excitement, the sense of agency, and the need for social interaction that are typical of the original board game.  Video games, on the other hand, commonly excel in designing for these component parts of player motivation and enjoyment.  True, video games are hard-coded, automated, and mostly predefined systems, but the best of them are designed in manner that makes the boundaries of the system invisible.  Moreover, when multi-player, the best video games are increasingly allowing the player base to renegotiate the rules of their experience.  Therefore, in its attempt to take what’s most attractive about video games and to implement that in a board game setting, it seems Hasbro may have missed the mark, confusing the structural characteristics of video games for the psychological engagement they offer.

Monopoly - Now With Big Brother Action!: Hasbro Confuses Video Game Structure for Video Game Engagement by Jim Cummings, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

5 Responses to “Monopoly - Now With Big Brother Action!: Hasbro Confuses Video Game Structure for Video Game Engagement”

  1. Gaston says:

    Thanks for the heads up!! It's funny, I happened to read this post on my cell phone just as we were drniivg by the local Target in Florence, AL so I did the rational thing and dragged my wife inside so we could look for them. Alas, none were to be found. I'll keep looking, though.

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