Monopoly: 'Real Life' Edition

Image of Monopoly board

By Zachary Nelson
The Digital Future Lab (DFL) has changed the game… of Monopoly. Students are now playing the popular board game using different rules that help demonstrate how wealth inequality effects individuals over time.  

The biggest change is that all players start the game off in different social classes. This means everyone has different amounts of money, levels of debt, tax rates, starting properties and the ability to buy more properties. The game also introduces a randomness factor where players could end up getting cancer or losing their job depending on a roll of the dice — simulating a real-life disaster. 

“I created these new rules to teach students about systemic issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Aina Braxton (law, economics and public policy ’12), the DFL’s lead producer and audio director. “In normal Monopoly, everyone starts with the same amount of money and advantages, but that’s not how real life is.” 

The DFL is a collaborative student and staff studio that makes games and podcasts and prioritizes diversity and inclusiveness as part of its core mission and message. They don’t just talk about how they are diverse; they educate others on what equity is. 

Students in the lab played the game with the revised rules and other changes as part of a diversity discourse program, which has students pay attention to a social concern each week.  

“Every Friday, the DFL takes time to do an activity that focuses on equity and social issues. We’ve watched documentaries, listened to music and attended cultural club events,” said Nathan Evers, the DFL’s art director and a founding member of the studio.  

The gamers were surprised by how much they began to play into the characters they were given.  

“The players who started off as rich in the game always seemed to band together against the poorer players,” said Derek DeLizo, the studio's lead designer and a senior in the electrical engineering program. “The rich players bought as much property as possible and focused on winning the game. The players who started the game poor or in jail focused on survival instead.”  

When studio members discussed what happened with players, they also noticed how much the game affected them psychologically.  

“The students who started with a lot of wealth began to get cocky and entitled, as if they had earned what they started with. At the same time, the poor players just wanted to quit the game because of how much it was stressing them out,” said Sophia Mallouk, an environmental studies major. 

“I learned a lot playing this game,” said Steven Roberts, the quality assurance lead and a UW Bothell graduate (computing and software systems ’17). “It taught me to look outside games and look for deeper meaning in everyday interactions. Not everyone starts at the same spot in life, but we can all do our own part to level the playing field.” 

DFL logo with Monopoly banner