Added On: Sunday, November 04, 2007

What you can learn about life from monopoly

The Parker Brothers' game of Monopoly is one of the most popular board games in the world. The 1999 Guinness Book of Records said that over 500 million people have played it at least once. Almost certainly most people reading this article will be familiar with it.

Monopoly is not only a very interesting game, but a good analogy for how to live a successful life. It has a number of official and unofficial rules, some well-understood strategies, some less well-understood strategies, and a large element of chance.

A player who understands the game better than others will have a high chance of winning, but not a guaranteed one. Because a dice decides how players move around the board, it can create a significant disadvantage even for the most skilled people. Thus, the closer players are in skill, the more they must rely on chance to win.

And there's a depth of skill that can be gained. The most obvious strategies aren't necessarily the best ones. For example, knowing which properties give which return on purchase can give someone an edge in deciding where to spend their money.

Most people just buy anything they can get their hands on, but some properties return higher levels of rent in comparison to the cost of houses on them. So a player who understands this and has calculated the returns has an advantage.

But this is not the only area where advantage is to be gained. Most players will spend more time in jail than on any other square on the board over the course of a game. Players must roll a double to get out of jail, so if you own a property that's on a double following jail, other players are disproportionately likely to land on it.

The point of this is to show that many of the games we play in life are similar to Monopoly. They have well-understood and less well-understood rules, and also well-understood and less well-understood strategies. They also often contain an element of chance.

In most cases when you're struggling to get by in the real world, how well you understand the game compared to other players will give you a big advantage, but luck will also play a part.

Take the game of business. In free-countries, the basic rules are well understood. The aim is to make money, and the way to do so is to provide something customers want that you can sell at a profit. The laws governing business are there for everyone to read.

But as well as official rules, there are also unofficial ones. You may be able to get a tax advantage by finding a loophole in the revenue laws, for example. Or you may be able to spot an area where the laws are about to be changed, that will provide you with opportunities other players have missed.

The strategies of various players also vary immensely. Generally, those who understand the game do better, but not always. Many businesses succeed just by being in the right place at the right time, but even with this element of chance, it's usually the more sophisticated players who end up winning.

Love is another game with similar attributes. The aim is to secure the most suitable partner. The obvious strategy is to make yourself as attractive as possible. Many rules are well known - get caught committing adultery, and you'll be disadvantaged. While others are less well-known - knowing what drives us to be attracted to obviously unsuitable partners.

While there's an element of chance involved - how naturally attractive you are - there are also many ways you can become a more sophisticated player. And once again, it's the smarter players who usually succeed.

Much of success in life revolves around understanding that we're engaged in a series of interlocking games - business, love, investing, status, careers, politics, parenthood, and so on. That's not to say the consequences of playing aren't serious, or even dangerous. Just because they're games, doesn't mean they aren't played hard and for keeps.

Two main elements take a part in how well we'll do in these games - our level of understanding and chance. And often, it's the more sophisticated players who'll win, with chance deciding which one of them will walk away with the juiciest prizes.

As in Monopoly, whining about the game being unfair, throwing tantrums or reckless cheating are bad strategies - unlikely to lead to success.

Instead, you can trounce most of the other players simply by putting more effort into becoming an experienced player. Practice and study are the way to ensure the best rewards are likely to come your way.


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