There once was a town whose bylaws required that the residents play a game: an ancient board game called Monopoly. Since the townspeople were all descended from four families, one representative from each family played the game on their family group’s behalf once per month. And since, as per the laws of the town, each family representative had always played with the same game piece, their clans had come to be known by the names of their assigned tokens. Thus, the town was made up of the Top Hats, the Boots, the Thimbles, and the Irons.
At each monthly game, no matter what had happened the previous month, the players began with a fresh start. All started from the same point on the board with an equal distribution of cash, in the interest of fairness, naturally. Everyone played by the same basic rules, one turn per player, unless the player rolled doubles and could move twice, and so on. This was satisfactory to the players, as reported in the monthly Monopoly Review, published by the Top Hat family for all the townspeople to read and follow the progress of the games.
However, there were complaints, improbably enough. Despite the eminent fairness of the rules, some of the players claimed to be at a disadvantage. The Top Hats politely pointed out that everyone began with the same amount of cash and had an equal opportunity to win the game each month, so if a player lost it was surely a lack of skill and perhaps a bit of bad luck?
The Boot clan, it seemed, was especially upset. In fact they insisted the game was quite unfair: while it was true that everyone started with the same amount of cash, it was also true that the Top Hats always began with Illinois Avenue, B&O Railroad, and a house on Tennessee. What’s more, the Top Hats also had two Get Out of Jail Free cards at the start of every game!
The Thimbles and the Irons both chimed in that they felt disadvantaged by having to buy into each game with a payment of $200 to even begin it, despite being required by law to play in the first place, lest they be cast out of town.
Alas, the Top Hat clan felt much abused by all the griping among the other players. Again they had to stress that all of the conditions of the game were written into the very rules since the founding of the town – that couldn’t be helped. And at any rate, they didn’t agree at all that their clan had an advantage. Anyone at all could buy and sell and win the game, beginning as they had with a fresh slate of equal cash and starting points on the board. If the Boots were so concerned about Illinois Avenue, why, they could make an offer! The Top Hats would be happy to sell, at the right price.
Sure, the Top Hats had won every game for as long as the Monopoly Review had been published, but that was because they simply were better, and tried harder. Perhaps if the Boots or Thimbles or Irons spent as much time studying up on the game and improving their strategies as they did moaning and groaning about whether the rules were fair, they could win a few.
The other players refused to concede. It was high time, they said, the rules of the game were changed. Everyone knew that the Top Hat family had written the rules in the first place. In fact it was said that the inventor of the Monopoly game, the one who included in the town bylaws that it must be played as a requirement for town residency, was the original Top Hat! The Boots suggested they should start the game with the cash equivalent of the Top Hats’ starting property value. The Thimbles proposed that they begin the game on credit and pay their clan’s buy-in only after they passed GO. The Irons went further and requested their buy-in be eliminated outright.
Now the Top Hats were quite offended. There was no need to change the rules, as the rules were entirely fair, and anyway, they were essential to the design of the game, built in for important reasons, by the game’s original inventor. Why should the Boots or Thimbles or Irons get special advantages, just because they kept losing? Why should the Top Hat member playing this month be punished and set back from his usual place, when he’d had nothing to do with writing the rules? He was only playing by them like everyone else, and so should the other players. And in the end, they couldn’t change the rules of the game unless the Top Hat clan agreed to the changes, so that was that.
Tensions rose and rose in the town. I’m sorry to say things got quite ugly at some of the games, as was reported in the monthly news bulletin published by the Top Hats. The Monopoly Review ran stories of Iron players cheating, Thimbles throwing a game to make a point, once or twice a Boots player even attempted to overturn the board. The Top Hats in town were horrified. They could see something had to be done, but none could agree on what to do.
Many Top Hats decided to be nicer to the other clans – perhaps especially the Boots, as they seemed so aggrieved. Some Top Hats even came to games and cheered on the other teams, to boost their morale. Yet none of them, Boots, Thimbles, nor Irons, seemed to appreciate the kindness and sympathy of the Top Hats cheering for them; perhaps, the Top Hats wondered sadly, the others were simply poor sports after all.
A few Top Hats considered some concessions to the other players’ grievances; some conciliatory measures that would mend hurt feelings. Maybe they should give the Boots some extra cash to start the game – not the full equivalent of the Top Hat properties, that would be too extravagant and punish the current Top Hat player unfairly – but $100 or so, perhaps. A few Top Hats thought they should adopt the Thimble idea of letting them play on credit until they passed go. The main thing, of course, was they had to work with the game they had, maintaining order by making only minor tweaks. It wouldn’t do to punish the Top Hats of today for the original Top Hat’s lack of foresight.
But still others in the Top Hat clan felt emphatically that enough was enough; the other players had shown themselves time and again to be not only losers, but poor sports, and if they couldn’t play by the rules, they would simply have to go. In the meantime, one thing was for sure – there would be stricter security measures at all Monopoly games from now on.
Dear readers, I’m afraid I have misled you if I have told this story in such a way that you were expecting a tidy resolution, a moral perhaps… or indeed any resolution at all. The truth is, the ending of this story has not yet been written.