By looking through the lens of Monopoly, this project endeavored to understand the institutionalization of social norms for defining a culture, specifically American culture. To highlight the main points:
  • Play simply reflects culture. Games induce culture.
  • The success of Monopoly was due not only to its ingenious use of the game's underlying principles to market it, but also to the cultural mechanisms enacted by it (though not intentionally).
  • The identity one brings to the table is not important. Rather, it is the identity everyone walks away with that matters.
  • The nature and goal of the game are unmistakable: to be the last one standing.
  • The dice signify an element of reality in the utopian sphere of game play.
  • Monopoly disseminates a message of individualism, first and foremost, telling the individual that you and you alone are the maker of your own destiny.

Monopoly is a game. Full stop. But the fantastical element of Monopoly, as in all games, should not prevent further inquiry into the role of play. Most obviously, play is a means of achieving leisure. Though leisure may be the purpose in play, leisure is not the sole product of play. Certainly, there is more to play than idle pleasure. For a point in the right direction, a word from Roger Caillois one last time:

Play is simultaneous liberty and invention, fantasy and discipline. All important cultural manifestations are based upon it. It creates and sustains the spirit of inquiry, respect for rules, and detachment. (Man, Play and Games 58)

Play keeps one grounded in culture. It instills obedience, curiosity, and appreciation. But it is games that are responsible for enfolding the individual into the life of the society, as Marshall McLuhan points out:

Games as popular art forms offer to all an immediate means of participation in the full life of a society. (Understanding Media 238)

Games bear the values and ideals of the culture that produces it, as do all cultural objects. These objects are more than mere artifacts. They are the tangible essence of a society and its culture. They are the means by which society negotiates fantasy and reality. Material objects simultaneously manifest as they institutionalize cultural norms.

Whether Monopoly is read as an icon of venture capitalism, celebrated individualism, or just plain fun, its cultural significance is unmistakable. Fact: Monopoly is published in twenty-six languages and distributed among eighty countries. Countries are not the only ones subsuming Monopoly into their culture, but so are other social niches. Colleges and universities, for example, have their own versions of Monopoly (such as Uvapoly here at the University of Virginia). Entertainers, from Elvis to the Simpsons to Lucille Ball, are enshrined in their own versions of the game. Movies also seem to make popular renditions of Monopoly, such as Star Wars Episode I and Toy Story.

When cultures change, so do games. (Understanding Media 239).

Despite the changes in backdrops these various versions provide, the essence of Monopoly remains the same. If what Marshall McLuhan says is true, the culture Monopoly induces has not only persisted but has also expanded. Whatever version is played, Monopoly itself has become a cultural norm that extends far beyond the four corners of the board.

Games, as all material culture, should not be easily dismissed. Rather, they should be carefully studied and scrutinized. Though play may reflect a culture, games induce a culture. And so, one who desires to understand the manner by which a ideas, beliefs, and practices are institutionalized, do not need to look beyond than the nearest game board.


THE CREDITS





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