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Modified monopoly: experiencing social class inequality.


Many teachers use simulation games. Games offer opportunities to foster communication with students in both large and small classes. In the present paper, ten points are presented with the adoption of the popular game Monopoly whose rules have been modified to create a shared but simulated introduction to social inequality. The game provides a simulation experience for cadets and faculty who are learning and teaching in the unique educational environment of the United States Military Academy at West Point.


Simulations games have long been a feature of teaching (Dora 1989). Goldsmid and Wilson (1980) note that simple games offer the instructor opportunities to foster communication with students in both large and small classes. McAllister, Warren, and Witschger (1996) successfully adopted a simulation game to teach about structured inequality that required few resources, accommodated a large class, and was well liked by students. In an extensive and exhaustive review of the literature, Dora (1989) offers ten points in consideration of adopting a game for the classroom: 1) set goals; 2) integrate and supplement with course material; 3) time games to course material; 4) establish rules; 5) time, space, and costs; 6) pre-game preparation; 7) enthusiasm; 8) equitable familiarity with the rules; 9) structured post-game debriefing; and 10) reflection, evaluation, and assessment.

I have considered each of these points and adopted the popular game Monopoly. The roles are modified to create a shared introduction to social inequality for my cadets. The next section describes the rules of the game.

Student Rules for Modified Family Monopoly

Introduction: Monopoly is considered the leading proprietary game in the Western Hemisphere. Published in 43 countries, most cadets will have familiarity with the game. The objective of the traditional game is based on one primary rule to "... become the wealthiest player through buying, renting, and selling property." Monopoly represents a simulation of a significant feature of a capitalistic political economy and when played can help highlight the experiences of living in the Western world. However, one assumption of the rules of the game is that everyone begin equal--$1,800. I call my version of the game Modified Family Monopoly (MFM). This classroom version accounts for the socio-economic error and distributes income according to four different classes--upper, middle, working, and lower socio-economic to more robustly represent class distributions in the United States. Other rules are also stratified along class lines.

Family Roles: First, cadets must be "born." Cadets must draw slips of paper from a hat containing the social-class families. The drawing is random with no replacement. Eight possible family arrangements representing the four different social classes are available. After all cadets have drawn a socio-economic class, they next get with their respective family members and adopt family roles. For example, if four cadets draw middle class family, then they must decide what type of family they will be--mother, father, and two children or two single parent mothers or four adult sisters, and so on. Ages must be identified for purposes of voting--described below. Family roles are static.

Beginning Salaries: Each family begins with the following amounts of money: 1) upper socio-economic class (05--LTC is a Lieutenant Colonel, a higher ranked military officer usually with 12-14 years of service) receives $2,000; 2) middle socio-economic class (W4--Warrant Officer, a higher ranked specialized officer with 12-14 years of service) receives $1,500; 3) working socio-economic class (E9--Sergeant Major, a higher ranked enlisted soldier, with 12-14 years of service) receives $1,000; and 4) lower socio-economic class (E5--Sergeant, a lower ranked enlisted soldiers with 12-14 years of service) receives merely $500. I use the current military pay scale and create proportional monthly salaries where a Sergeant earns 42.3% of a LTC salary, a Sergeant Major 67.5%, and a Warrant Officer 74.9%.

Taking Turns: Turns are taken in descending order, beginning with the upper socio-economic status (SES) family. Upper SES classes can move the number showing on the dice or plus or minus one. Middle SES classes can move the number showing on the dice or plus one. Working SES classes can move the number showing on the dice or minus one. Lower SES classes move the number showing on the dice.

Buying Property: The lower SES can buy only the purple and the light blue properties; the working SES can buy lower SES and maroon and orange properties; the middle SES can buy lower and working SES properties, red and yellow properties, plus utilities and railroads; the upper SES can buy any properties it can afford. If an SES family lands on a property that is for sale but is ineligible or declines to purchase a property, the property is auctioned off to the highest bidding eligible SES families. Bidding runs in increments of $10.00.

Passing Go Salaries: Salaries are a major feature of Monopoly and they are obtained by passing "GO." When a family passes GO, the lower SES receives $85; middle SES receives $130, upper SES receives $200, and working SES receives $150.

Taxes and Jail: Any family landing on the corner "Free Parking" spot must pay a flat tax fee of $200 each time. Similarly, when landing on "GO TO JAIL," the lower SES must go directly to jail and remain there until doubles are rolled; the working SES must go directly to jail, but can pay $50 to get out on the next or any of the following turns or remain there until doubles are rolled; middle SES must go directly to jail and roll greater than 7 to be released or pay $50 on any following turn Upon receiving instructions to "GO TO JAIL," the upper SES immediately rolls the dice. If an even number turns up, they do not have to go to jail. If an odd number turns up, they go to jail but can roll again immediately. If the second roll is greater than 7, they are released; if less, they must remain until a number greater than 7 is rolled or pay $50 on any following turn.

The Lottery: A $50.00 lottery ticket can be purchased prior to a family's turn. In order to double their money, they must roll a 12 on dice on their turn (an odds ratio of 1:36). The bank invests the initial $50.00 for the lottery. Outside of the above specified roles, all other Monopoly game rules apply. The course instructor is the bank. Finally, the contravening of a rule by any player (voted on by referendum by all players playing rolls that are 18 years or older) sends a family to jail. Get out of jail roles then apply. Three violations constitute expulsion from play completely. The next section turns to academics at West Point to explain the context of playing the game.

Academics at West Point

West Point's overarching academic program expects "... graduates to anticipate and to respond effectively to the uncertainties of a changing technological, social, political, and economic world" (Office of the Dean, 2002). Linked to this goal are eight specified academic goals (Office of the Dean, 1998; 2002). The specified goals include the inculcation of a cultural perspective, an historical perspective, understanding of human behavior, creativity, and life-long learning among others. In addition, I stress critical thinking skills. Monopoly is a means to achieving these goals.

Monopoly Versus Modified Monopoly

Monopoly, the Parker Brothers' Real Estate Trading Game was developed by an unemployed American named Charles B. Darrow and trademarked by Parker Brothers (1935). The game begins and assumes equality on the social, political, and economic playing board of American life. Sociological research shows the country to be stratified along a number of dimensions including class. I have modified the rules of Monopoly to more realistically represent the forms of social inequality that exist.

I adopt and modify Monopoly as an experiential tool in a junior level sociology of the family course and more recently, for an introductory sociology course. It can easily be adopted for social problems, social inequality, and other courses that have some social class component. The game is designed to have cadets experience the tasks and subtleties of being born into and living within a family of a specific social class standing and "feel" the structural conditions such situations impose on members. The affective, cognitive, and behavioral dimensions of class are included in the experience as well. The modified rules can be further modified to accommodate different class sizes, courses, and time schedules. No other resources other than a traditional Monopoly board are necessary.

The goal of MFM is to introduce cadets to the problem of social inequality, create a common experience, meet our academic goals, and hopefully inspire them to want to learn more about the causes and consequences of inequality. We play MFM prior to readings and lesson blocks on social inequality and stratification in the introductory course or prior to lessons and readings on families and class. While the game is played as laboratory of sorts, it is eventually integrated and supplemented with course material. I attach the MFM roles to the course guide and encourage them to familiarize themselves with the rules prior to attending class.

Depending on the structure of our classroom, I move all the chairs to the side of the room and set-up the game on the floor or use a large conference desk that is centrally located in the classroom. The key is equal access to the game board. The justification here is to observe if cadets from lower SES groups in the game move further away from the gaming activities as the game progresses. I prepare by counting all the monies out in advance and have set up the board prior to cadets arriving to class. An accelerated game requires more distribution of properties to the eligible families. As cadets enter the room, they are "born" into a family by drawing a slip of paper from a hat, randomly without replacement. They are told to adopt family roles in a household arrangement. Note that on some occasions cadets will actually merge with other families to survive the game. This should be closely monitored and included in debriefings about the social forces of economics and alternative family arrangements. Family incomes differ based on the social reality of inherited wealth. Passing "GO" amounts differ based on the relative salaries of different social classes.

Monopoly board games are inexpensive and can be purchased for approximately $30.00 new and cheaper used. More elaborate games are on the market, including an electronic version. In large classes, two or more games can be run simultaneously. Instructors can also increase the family size. I have allowed for as many as eight families to play a single game, across three 55-minute classes. The game can be played for an hour or across three to four--50 minute class periods. Again, shorter games or accelerated games may require a pre-distribution of some properties to families based on class standing. Again, I justify distributing various properties to cadets in advance as an additional form of inherited wealth (property). This justification often arises during the game but should be discussed during the debriefing session.

In preparing for the game, I have invited colleagues to visit our class to serve as bankers when running more than one game or as non-participant observer to assist with taking notes to use for debriefing. In preparing, instructors should treat the game as an experiment. The instructor serves as the bank but should also take mental or short-hand notes as the game progresses.

When I instruct cadets about the rules and the upcoming class, I try not to understate playing Monopoly to encourage cadets not to attend, but I am enthusiastic about the game. Cadets are instructed to bring the rules to class and I also make another copy of the rules available for each family during the game.

While the game progresses, the instructor should take mental, and on occasion, shorthand, notes on the cadets' interactions. Indeed, the instructor is a participant observer in this field experiment. Various forms of communication, both verbal and non-verbal, become significant social indicators to the cadets' experiences that can be addressed in the debriefing portion of the game. However, on many occasions I improvise the teaching moment and throw out concepts to cadets. For example, lower SES cadet families have complained about not being able to purchase property from other areas of the board. I point out that this is known as "redlining"--a practice of banks denying home loans to minority groups (Healey, 1998).

Cadets should be debriefed about their experiences as a result of playing the game. Instructors should ask their cadets about their feelings and what they were thinking during the game. Of course, all thoughts, feelings, and behaviors should be placed in a larger social context and discussed. The first class after MFM involves structured debriefing including emotional debriefing. Some examples of interactions in my classes have included higher SES family members being much more cognitively, emotionally, and physically involved in the game than lower SES family groups. Higher SES behaviors included being more verbal, more excited, closer in proximity to the board, and overall more attentive to the activities of other players and the game in general. Indeed, on occasion, they served as sources of social control in the game. On some occasions, privilege made some cadets feel uncomfortable. In contrast, lower SES family players will be quieter, more withdrawn, and socially and physically distanced from the game. Others from lower SES groups might question the pedagogical legitimacy of the game and others have indicated that they stopped coming to class because they were not "into the game."

Any verbalizing and other outright deviant behaviors should also be noted for later discussions. For example, some lower SES players may offer to merge with other families--creating very non-traditional households in order to solidify their economic standing. It is worth noting that on only one occasion did a higher SES family decide to distribute its wealth among the lower SES families. However, the normal response is to be competitive, allow the norms of the game to govern behavior, and feel compassionless for people relegated to jail, poverty, and outcast.

This becomes important information in terms of how social forces limit and construct choices about household arrangements and choices of partners. Other deviant acts might include refusing to pay rents and stealing money from other families. Finally, one consistent feature I've noted with every course is a group or groups of families who intentionally remain in jail in order to continue playing the game. For the instructor, this facilitates an interesting discussion about limited opportunities for the poor, values, and rational choice. Most importantly, instructors should link the experiences of the game to the real social conditions that people in everyday life may face as a result of their income condition.

Reflection is accomplished using the game as a shared and common experience and as a gateway to larger social issues. I rarely have a systematic method for assessing and evaluating the game. It is primarily a method of introducing a particular section in the course. Cadets have offered suggestions and strategies for improving the game. Likewise, I routinely invite other instructors into the class as non-participant observers. They have offered noteworthy insights about improving the game. For example, my department chair, an historian by training, suggested adding the lottery because it historically has been a resource and beacon of hope for the poor.


The Parker Brothers' board game known internationally as Monopoly, simulates the capitalist economy. However, the genesis of the game assumes economic equality, with each player. I have modified the game for inequality and allow cadets to experience the euphoria of higher SES living and the disappointments of lower SES life. Instructors should consider the major points outlined by Dora before adopting a simulation game. I have easily integrated the game into a number of different courses including Marriage and the Family, Social Problems, American Society, and more recently Introductory Sociology. Other social science, behavioral science, and humanities instructors including leadership instructors can easily adopt the game to their courses. Cadets fred MFM to be novel, familiar, and inexpensive. Because it teaches from the perspective of the students and involves their active involvement, they are allowed to experience and consider inequality at different levels immediately prior to reading about it--an opportunity the sociology teacher can capitalize on. Most importantly, the game is aligned with the academic goals we aspire to at West Point.


Dorn, Dean S. 1989. "Simulation Games: One More Tool on the Pedagogical Shelf." Teaching Sociology 17:1-18.

Goldsmid, Charles A. and Everett K. Wilson. 1980. Passing on Sociology: The Teaching of the Discipline. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.

Healey, Joseph F. 1998. Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change (2nd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

McAllister Groves, Julian, Charles Warren, and Jerome Witschger. 1996. "Reversal of Fortune: A Simulation Game for Teaching Inequality in the Classroom." Teaching Sociology 24:364-371.

Monopoly. 1935. Monopoly: Parker Brothers' Real Estate Trading Game Beverly, MA: Parker Brothers.

Office of the Dean 1998. Educating Army Leaders for the 21st Century. West Point, NY: Office of the Dean United States Military Academy.

Office of the Dean 2002. Educating Future Army Officers for a Changing World: Operational Concept for the Academic Program of the United States Military Academy. West Point, NY: Office of the Dean, United States Military Academy.

Morten G. Ender, United States Military Academy

Morten Ender is the Sociology Program Director in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point. He earned is Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Maryland. He acknowledges Dr. Catherine Mobley for the inspiration to adopt Monopoly in the classroom. The views of the author are his own and do not purport to reflect the position of the U. S. Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.
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Author:Ender, Morten G.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2004
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