The board game Monopoly feels as though it is meant to be torturesome by design. Every time I take the famed game out of the cupboard, I know that I don’t want to play it, yet it still manages to make its annual appearance at family gatherings. The game is exhausting — some people grow bored of their fictional land-owning dominance while others feel hopeless when forced to traverse the green squares. But recently, for the first time in my life, I was able to take out and dust off Monopoly and not feel a premature sense of boredom and aggravation. I instead experienced a historical and rousing deep dive, sparking internal realizations of how a game that has suddenly seen a surge in play as a result of the pandemic has implications for change beyond the board.
With the announcement of a return to campus in the fall of 2021, University of Michigan students are eager to traverse the streets of Ann Arbor much like game pieces advancing to “Go,” finding utility in a promise of normalcy amongst change. Yet this return will still be one of luck balanced with uncertainty in need of revision, much like the game Monopoly.
In line with this eager sentiment, Hasbro announced in March that, for the first time in over 85 years, the classic yellow Community Chest cards would be updated. According to the game makers, “covering topics like beauty contests, holiday funds, and life insurance, there is no denying the Monopoly game’s Community Chest Cards are long overdue for a refresh. And, coming out of the tumultuous year of 2020, the term ‘community’ has taken on a whole new meaning.” Hasbro’s plan has opened a public vote on modern incentives to be printed on the famed yellow cards, removing all of the original 16 and, instead, asking Twitter users to “add a little community to the Community Chest.”
When looking at life through the lens of a giant board game, Hasbro is correct in its need to add value to the community as we know it. Their challenge spurred me to think of what I would like to add or remove from my community’s chest, transcending the board and game pieces. With that in mind, perhaps removing the metaphorical get out of jail free card for professors facing allegations of sexual harassment or adding an advance to State Street and pass go without feeling unsafe fits the challenge.
It is easy to feel as though college life is simply a game of collecting and paying. With every new step comes the potential for upset or victory at the hands of those in power. Eagerness is there — whether it is the return to somewhat capitalistic endeavors of shopping and eating at full capacity or living on campus in an apartment, residence hall or house. However, such a return comes with financial, social and physical burdens that we have gone a year without experiencing. I can’t help but feel like a tiny silver piece being taken out of the cupboard for the first time in a year, thrust amongst a community that has changed yet remains bound to the same outdated instructions and playing cards.
This idea of college being a real-life board game is not a new concept. In the 1950s, the University had its very own monopoly: Strolling down State Street or the Diag was a way to pay and collect. Specifically, Student Government Council instituted a fundraising program called “Campus Chest,” stationing collection buckets around campus in hopes of earning revenue for campus club funding in exchange for coveted prizes. Dropping as little as $1.30 or as much as $5 in the bucket in Nickels Arcade would not get you second place in a beauty contest but instead perhaps a ticket to the Michigan versus Ohio State football game or even a late permission (an outdated incentive — this pass allowed female students to return to their residence halls an hour past curfew). According to a 1956 publication in The Michigan Daily, “at first glance, this may seem to be asking for a great deal at one time. But not when one considers that this sum is all that is asked over the duration of a year and can do much good in a world which has an abundance of poverty, sickness, and misery.”
Although the program was terminated in 1957 due to its various “weaknesses,” there is little difference in the current desires for U-M students to feel a greater sense of community. Therefore, there should be a reinstitution of a metaphorical Campus Chest program with a few modifications for modern times. Following the same direction as Hasbro, players of the game of college shouldn’t be burdened with aggravation and a sense of defeat before the start of every new year. For a better sense of community, there should only be a point of collection instituted by those who make the game and for those who play it. Life gives no free passes.
Julia Maloney is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.