I haven’t played Monopoly for several years, but I do remember this: I never wanted to be the iron. You wouldn’t really want to be the thimble, either, but at least the thimble has a bit more of a sense of cheekiness and fun about it than the iron. Being the iron was one of the major boardgame “don’t”s of my childhood, right up there with landing on a pink Games and Hobbies square in my very out-of-date Young Players Edition of Trivial Pursuit, which seemed to solely feature questions about characters from 1970s issues of Bunty magazine. Everyone wanted to be the dog, or the car. There were a few other people who said they wanted to be the top hat, but they were usually either being polite, or just trying too hard to be alternative.
With this in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this week Monopoly’s manufacturers, Hasbro, have announced that they have finally seen sense and decided to retire their iron playing piece – which, let’s face it, didn’t even look like the kind of iron anyone in this country had used since the early TV dramas of Ken Loach. In one sense, its replacement, a cat, makes a lot of sense: cats have long been fighting a war against irons and the sterling work that they do, which is so one-sided it’s essentially now just a snotty victory waltz. Only this morning, one of my own four cats, Ralph, rubbed salt into the wounds of the irons once again by sitting on a shirt that one had made very neat, rendering it creased again, and, as an extra “in your face” gesture, leaving a fur-glazed leaf stuck to its chest pocket.
In another sense, I wonder about the wisdom of Hasbro’s decision. Have they truly thought it through? Cats have already taken over the internet. Is giving them the opportunity to buy property not just offering them yet another way to assert their supremacy over us? The Monopoly cat clearly isn’t one of those easygoing cats who sleep all day, either. It’s got a pretty evil look about it, and obviously doesn’t intend to mess about. The most charitable thing you could say about it is that its collar has been fitted with what seems to be a nice big bell, which could be a precautionary measure in case Monopoly decides to add any bird-shaped playing pieces in the future, but is probably just another way for it to loudly display its dominance over all the other playing pieces.
We only have ourselves to blame for this. The cat was voted in via an online poll, ahead of such other proposed new playing pieces as a helicopter and a guitar. This is a bit of a no-brainer: a person only has to spend two minutes on YouTube to realise that, as great as helicopters and guitars are, cats kick their arse quite comprehensively. You now have to feel sorry for the dog, who’s spent decades feeling kind of good about itself, knowing that it just has the edge over the car and the battleship, owing to the warm companionship it can offer that they can’t. It will now live in fear, fully aware that the Monopoly cat, for all its apparent snootiness, will be able to turn on the charm when it needs to. Hasbro’s decision is going to change the culture of Monopoly on a much bigger scale. In short: everyone’s going to want to be that cat, and it’s going to get ugly.
I wonder if the only answer is to open the floodgates completely, and let the rest of the cute animals of the internet in to even matters up. Monopoly’s playing pieces have been open to change in the past. In the middle of the last century, its original rocking horse, lantern and purse pieces were retired. That they were not replaced with a bouncy castle, a modernist mushroom lamp and a clutch purse shows that the makers of Monopoly are willing to experiment, rather than just reflect the onward march of technology. The thimble and top hat have had a good run, but could it hurt anyone to replace them with a hedgehog and an otter? As for the shoe, it has clearly seen better days, and it’s perhaps time it stepped aside and faced up to the fact that its nowhere near as cool as a capybara. I would like to comment on the wheelbarrow too, but I’m not sure I really feel qualified to. My family’s secondhand edition of Monopoly didn’t have one. In fact, I only fairly recently found out that Monopoly even featured a wheelbarrow, and it came as quite a shock. I don’t know what exactly that says about the wheelbarrow’s PR. Whatever it is, it’s probably not good, but nothing a tiny metal owl couldn’t fix in a jiffy.
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