100 years ago, there were women designing different games

In 2015, two of the recurring discussions about the games industry are why we have not been able to attract more women to work in our projects and why we don’t use games to investigate a wider range of topics. The former problem is probably related to the latter and, while people try to propose new solutions, I found out the original Monopoly was designed by a woman, over a hundred years ago and her purpose was to defend an economic philosophy. As it often happens, the established companies didn’t like her approach and Monopoly ended up reduced to a meaningless experience.

Apologies for the cheeky copy and paste of this post from the excellent Nicky Case’s blog :

It’s a game pretty much everyone’s played, but it has a fascinating history that few people know. Monopoly was originally The Landlord’s Game, designed by Elizabeth Magie in 1904, to teach the (very obscure) economic philosophy of Georgism.

Yes, we had women game designers and serious games over 100 years ago.

Georgists advocate for a free market and abolishing all taxes, except on land, which should be collectively owned by the public. It’s like Communism and Capitalism had a baby and couldn’t decide who got custody. Like most economic philosophies, Georgism can be complicated and hard to grasp. That’s why Magie set out to make her board game, believing that with learning by doing, she could make people understand!

The Rules:

 

  • The more money you have, the more land you can buy.
  • The more land you have, the more money you get from others.
  • (some stuff about trains and jails)

 

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being dragged into a family board game night, you know how this plays out. Whoever gets the slight edge in the beginning will be guaranteed to win. The rich get richer. Finally, they get a land monopoly, and everyone else is left in ruins. That’s the lesson Magie hoped her players would take away.

(In the 1932 edition of The Landlord’s Game, players could vote to switch rules mid-game. With these new rules, land rent is paid to a public treasury, not another player. In this version, everyone wins!)

Monopoly is obviously very financially successful, but it failed at its original educational purpose. Most people have never even heard about Georgism. Parker Brothers stripped out all meaning and educational value from Magie’s game, rendering it safe and inoffensive. They never did give Elizabeth Magie any royalties or even any credit. They just gave her $500.

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