Thursday, December 24, 2009

Manchurian Monopoly?

Around this time of year, my thoughts turn to China. Both because the flood of inexpensive toys has changed childhood and because of my Nobel nominated plan to save the economy through the purchase of said toys.

Again this year, my thoughts turn to the Panda and its efforts to drive Santa's Workshop out of business. Elves don't work cheap and there is real price competition from Keebler. The Chinese Santa on labor costs every time.

My mom noticed my son really liked playing Monopoly with his grandfather - probably because he kept winning. Just as my son regularly bests me at Risk even though I study international affairs, he beats his real estate attorney grandfather at Monopoly. So that game jumped to the top of the gift list.

Little Goof got the new-fangled version in which players buy cities instead of Atlantic City real estate and an electronic device registers transactions and keeps track of the money. One of the great advantages of board games over video games is the limited level of beeping - the new version of Monopoly however is as noisy as a Gameboy.

I couldn't help but notice that everything in the box was made in the USA - except the electronic banker. I'd love to say that this does not bode well for America's future - that we make the cardboard and the Chinese make the complex electronic component. But I'm not sure that's the case, since the intellectual property - the game itself is - was invented here in the US and that's where the action is.

Still, I worry a bit about America's future. I remember a short story by the great science fiction writer Alfie Bester. Earth was in a cold war with another planet and the story was about the government unit that examined toys imported from this planet, to make sure that the toys did not hide something dangerous. In the story the unit was focusing on a robot that built things on its own, certain it could turn violent. They quickly looked over a futuristic Monopoly game (thorium mines on Mars, colonies on Venus etc.) and decided it was harmless, still focusing on the robot. One of the team members brought the game home for his kids - who took to it right away. But their parents didn't notice the object of the game was lose money as quickly as possible.

My son's new Monopoly could also be part of an insidious plot against America - it eliminates the need for any skill at arithmetic. Is this a similar devious plot (and do the Chinese read Alfie Bester?) In fairness, this may be a self-inflicted wound, the game-maker merely asking the Chinese to build a device to make the game easier on slothful Americans. In the game itself, the cities that can be purchased are not grouped by any logic I can detect - thus simultaneously undermining American's already shaky hold on geography. Fortunately, we have still have Risk to balance this out.