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Monopoly : A game for leisure and war.

The course of life offers us no rules,does not progress with roll of a dice and is not confined to a deck of cards , yet we still look out for some parallels between life and games. Contrary to the aforementioned line, some games are modeled after reality as a parody or burlesque, mocking real life while aiding the participants in grasping the basics of civilized existence.  A certain subset of games, board games has carved itself a cherished spot in the hearts of many as a nostalgic pass time and an agent for strengthening familial bonds. Dear Readers, this month’s blog aims to draw the spotlight on the icon of board gaming, Monopoly and it’s unavowed role in rescuing world war 2 allied prisoners of war .

Monopoly, also mentioned as “Business” in certain versions, has been a staple of family friendly board gaming for a number of decades but it began its journey as “Landlord’s Game” in 1904. It was designed by Elizabeth Maggie as an edged social commentary and a withering exposé on how Landlords who charged hefty sums as rents were the scourge for plebeians, proletarians and common working folk. The gaming principle was similar to what we see in the modern version but the participant who had emptied the pockets of others was lambasted rather than hailed as the winner. The traction for this rudimentary version was searing underground, many admirers of this version came up with their personal house rules and amusing concepts like chance cards, jail and community chest. Despite its popularity, board game manufacturers maintained their distance from monopoly, citing it to be too complicated and political in nature. After a considerable time was passed after the inception of “Landlord’s game”, in true Machiavellian and opportunistic fashion which is the essence of this game, an individual named Charles Darrow compiled the prominent house rules in the lore of the game and rechristened it to “Monopoly” and crucially added a copyright logo. Now claiming himself to be the creator of this phenomenal game, Darrow turned it’s conceptual backbone upside down, by declaring the player who outlasted others as the winner. While “landlord’s Game” chastised the capitalistic instincts, “Monopoly” rewarded the player who ran their companion’s funds dry. In 1935, board game manufacturers Parker Brothers purchased the rights for “Monopoly” from Darrow. Three decades after rejecting “Monopoly’s” original blueprint, Parker Brothers published and sold around 2 million units and amassed a fortune. 

About 85 years have passed since Monopoly’s outset and it has transformed from a socially relevant divertissement to a widely recognized board game, which is virtually the ambassador of the activity in general households. Although the 21st century has seen an inordinate paradigm shift in the sector of gaming with the introduction of video games and digitization, “Monopoly” comfortably sits atop it’s perch, miles away from being declared an antiquity or obsolete. The rationale behind the charm that “Monopoly”  possesses is twofold, primarily it’s nostalgia. Previous generations have enjoyed this game to a far greater extent in their leisurely moments, accompanied with tea and jeering laughter. Second reason is its timeless relevance in any era of civilization and the straightforward concept. The gaming principle of “Monopoly” is as simple as it gets, throw the dice, move forward accordingly, buy assets and charge rent from passersby. The objective is to drain the funds of your competitors and outlast the financial turmoil, finally establishing your monopoly. The accessory parts and concepts, jail, chance and community chest are fairly simple and comprehensible too. The only complaint that it faces is that, the entirety of the game takes an eon to reach its terminus, most players are eliminated in proceedings and get bored, while watching from the sidelines. 

In 1940’s “Monopoly” wasn’t the only international phenomenon which was centered around an obsessive competition of land grabbing, it was accompanied by something far more serious, World War II. 230,000 soldiers were incarcerated in Prisoner of War camps by Nazi regime. Facilitating escapes was a perilous yet necessary act. Those who were able to free themselves from clutches of captivity were able to relay sensitive information and hope back to their homeland. To undertake the endeavor of aiding captured comrades, Britain formed the British Directorate of Military Intelligence section 9, a highly secret dept acronymed to MI9. The dept was established in 1939 and it’s objective was to aid Allied military personnel to evade and escape capture. In its tenure from 1939 to 1945 , MI9 was defined by its daring escape and evasive missions, surreal espionage, gadgets hidden in strange places, their modus operandi veiled with crafty subterfuge. MI9 operated from room 424 of Metropole hotel, Northumberland Avenue in London, a place that would never be suspected by their rival spies. MI9 was spearheaded by Christopher Clayton Hutton, who might as well be the inspiration for James Bond’s weapon designer Q. Hutton was a master in ingenious innovation and was instrumental in turning the tide of war. Hutton’s invention ranged from printing silken maps, minuscule compasses hidden in soap bars, boots with compartments in bootheels and magnetized razor blades. Smuggling these contrabands was a challenging task and Hutton & company were devoting their entire intellectual capabilities to devise a method. In a flash, Hutton caught the proverbial lightning in a bottle and declared that he’d found a way to slip the devices of escape to POW camps. His strategy was to use the Geneva convention to sneak in contraptions hidden in care packages and kits. The Geneva convention also known as the humanitarian law of armed conflicts, stated certain in its constituting treaties that POW were to be provided with certain amenities for sustenance. One amenity was that POWs must be provided with means to occupy their time of incarceration. Using this clause, Hutton planned on sending tools disguised or hidden in “Monopoly” sets, dubbed as “Escape Monopolys.” MI9 collaborated with Waddington’s , the licensed publisher and distributor of “Monopoly” in the U.K. In a particular set of “ Escape Monopoly”, a tiny compass, a silk map, and a tiny blade were hidden in chiseled sections in cardboard beneath the printed top. German Riech currency was put in instead of ”Monopoly Money”. Hutton in a way sent “Get out of jail free cards via “ Escape Monopoly” sets, pun absolutely intended. To send these boxes full of surprises, MI9 used the addresses and names of numerous fake charities, rather than using standard Red Cross charity as losing the reputation and genuine help Red Cross did was far too much to be considered as collateral damage. Soldiers were briefed regarding these “Monopoly” boxes and where to look for the tools. Before the declassification of MI9 documents in the 1980’s, no one suspected “Monopoly” to be a war hero and its success rate was 100 percent. It proved to weaken even the impenetrable Colditz castle, which was considered as a certain death for POW at the hands of Nazi SS. A sorrowful detail that is attached to this incident is that no such “escape Monopoly” sets have been featured even in museums or have survived, due to the fact that it was in the Standard Operating Procedure to burn the “Monopoly” set prior to escape. 

Image by Gianni Crestani from Pixabay 

Something that may as well be termed mundane rather than enjoyable in present has such an illustrious past is a revelation in itself, by the looks of it one might never be able comprehend the impact “Monopoly” has had on current scenario.

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