Only a Game? Learning Money Morals Through Monopoly

In Hong Kong, it is not uncommon for a family or children of several families to play the boardgame Monopoly over holidays such as Christmas and Chinese New Year. Obviously, the game is related to various monetary notions. Furthermore, when we look at playing Monopoly from the viewpoint of teaching and socializing children, the boardgame is a common way to casually introduce children to some basic social notions and practices related to money. The Hong Kong edition of Monopoly adds a local perspective, which certainly helps to grab children’s interest.

Generally speaking, children in Greater China seriously learn about money first by getting red packets and pocket money. Then there is Monopoly. It is interesting that the first Monopoly-themed attraction in the world opened at the Peak in Hong Kong in October 2019 (see CNN/Travel). Even though the boardgame is designed for players aged 8+, younger children also play in gatherings of friends or relatives. Having the habit of asking why, children will get informal explanation from adults for terms such as “chairman of the board”, “stock” (which pays in a community chest card or ccc), “dividend”, “consultancy fee”, “income tax” (a box on the gameboard, plus a refund in ccc), “life insurance matures” and “building loan matures” (as in the Chinese version of 2017, with paper money, not ATM cards).

Moving from simple concepts to investment strategy, children are exposed to the basic distinction between properties (including houses and hotels) and utilities (ie water and electricity). More importantly, all businesses must pay attention to cash low and liquid capital, and children master the importance of having money on hand, without using relevant technical terms.

However, asset management professionals remind parents about problems in using Monopoly with children. A certified financial planner with a B.Soc.Sc. from HKU, Alvin Lam pointed out in his Chinese book of 2016 from Enrich Publishing that there are five bad “teachings” hidden in the game: (a) no real work or effort is needed; (b) only luck is needed; (c) no special choices allowed for individuals; (d) bankruptcy is no big deal, and (e) making gain at other people’s expense. The last one of the five problems may be a little surprising for people in business. Lam mentioned it perhaps because his book was targeted at parents, with endorsements written by school principals and other educators.

It seems unavoidable that money will be associated with morals and even punishment. For some reason, Monopoly has the “Prison” box on the board, where a player goes by hitting the “Go to Jail” box or if a Community Chest Card or a Chance card says so. When that happens, the other players in the game will hurray or even cruelly say, “Serves you right!” It is not unusual that personalities and behavourial tendencies regarding money will show in Monopoly. There are players who are hard-hearted “killers” and there are helpful ones who are willing to lend, producing wonder about money, morals and social behavior.

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