This Chicago Tribune article rehashes an argument I’ve written about before: a newer set of European games, epitomized by Settlers of Catan, allow all players to build and compete in a way that is quite different from classic American games like Monopoly or Risk where one players crushes the others. However, Monopoly defenders say the classic game may just be the perfect game for our troubled economic times:
Games like Monopoly and The Game of Life and upstarts such as Settlers of Catan come with powerful lessons about personal finance, experts say. Just don’t expect the experts to agree on which lessons are best.
University of Texas at Austin professor Daniel Hamermesh said he demonstrates in his introductory economics class the concept of diminishing returns through a Monopoly property deed…
The game [Settlers of Catan] involves a bit of nation-building. Players are settlers of a new land and trade for commodities like sheep and lumber as they build roads and towns, but no one is eliminated during play.
The whole idea irks Orbanes, who believes that the lessons of the traditional games — there is one and only one winner in the jungle — are being lost.
Here is a summary of Orbanes’ perspective: in a cutthroat world, game players, particularly younger children who are learning about how the world works, should practice being cutthroat. Games like Settlers of Catan are not realistic enough for an economic world where everyone does need to fight each other.
This all sounds to me like it could be another generational argument: the younger generations are too soft as they play games where “everyone is a winner.” It could also be that Orbanes thinks that a classic piece of Americana is being lost – Americans once flocked to Monopoly during the Great Depression but aren’t turning to it during this period. Or perhaps he is motivated by business: these European games are taking away market share from American games in a sector that has had some difficulty in recent years.
Regardless, he is right to suggest that games and play can teach kids and others about cultural values. This article hints at a larger cultural argument that we could have: should kids learn about teamwork or winning?