Everlasting Mono

Everlasting Mono was described to me (and my sister Laila on our Rethink the System tour of NZ’s North Island) by the feminist, academic and generally fair-minded Alison McCulloch. It is a means to ensure one game of Monopoly lasts for the full two weeks of a family holiday.

Why, oh why, you may well ask, would you want to make Monopoly last longer than usual? Monopoly is surely the world’s most hated board game, with its penchant for creating gloating winners and demoralised losers. In other games defeat may be brutal and tragic, but at least the end is quick. In Monopoly losers are often forced to play on for hours knowing they are headed for annihilation.

Alison revealed the workings of Everlasting Mono while we were discussing the Infinite Game. As she explained, when she and her siblings went on their summer holiday, they played Monopoly as an infinite game in which the object was to keep the game in play. To do this they changed the rules as needed to ensure that no one was ever forced out of the game. Bankrupt players for example, were given extra resources to ensure they could keep playing. After each session, they would carefully put the board and their stacks of money on a designated table until the next time.

My first reaction to this was how fabulous! To take the game that helps train children into the logic of capitalism and sabotage it by changing the rules and preventing anyone becoming the outright winner. Then I started to wonder if capitalism also knows how to keep people in the game – or at least keep them in just enough so that it is almost impossible for them to drop out and the overall game can continue. There are a thousand ways in which our current system achieves this. One is when people receive loans they cannot repay, so they are kept in a spiral of debt. Advertising is another means; the endless parade of new products and experiences that lure us into an everlasting consumption game.  Then there is the process by which more and more exchanges are mediated by money. It becomes harder and harder for us to imagine how we could live without buying food, medicine, child care, water, entertainment and so on. Whether we are truly “playing” in these scenarios, rather than being “played with” is debatable.

Because children are free(ish) the game between Alison and her friends was probably still at least minimally fun for everyone, or they would have quit and done something else. But we need to be careful not to assume that just because there is some sort of place for everyone in society as it currently operates, that this is good enough. An infinite game isn’t just about keeping it all going, is also about real play – which has to be fun for all.

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