Author’s Note: Thank you, Nick, for being ever so kind as to lend your soapbox for me to rant from this month.
Whether you’re conscious of the fact or not, at one point or another we have all been victims of the Monopoly Effect. I don’t know if this exists under another name (perhaps Stockholm Syndrome), but it’s how I’ve come to identify the after effects of playing certain games. Not certain types of games, this isn’t a cover-all for a particular genre or style of game, there are just some games that absolutely embody this phenomena. (That being said, The Monopoly Effect seems very prevalent in board games.) The Monopoly Effect is what happens after one plays a game that brings you to tears, ruins friendships, and destroys families: Once the dust settles, you forget all of that happened, and want to do it again.
The Parker Brothers have a lot to answer for.
To take a closer look at the Monopoly Effect is to peer deeply into the abyss, then have it not only peer back, but lash out with hideous tentacles of hate. Firstly, you might be wondering about the name. Well, my first taste of this wretched feeling was with none other than the Parker Brothers board game Monopoly. We all know about Monopoly, at this point it’s almost impossible not to, and all but a few strong-willed individuals would likely describe it as a “jolly good time.” Those who avoid it have learned their lesson, the after effects having been seared into their brains so as to avoid falling for its vile temptations.
On the surface, Monopoly is a game about purchasing real-estate and creating (what else?) a Monopoly based around property. In reality, the game is about getting an advantage early on before slowly crushing your opponents, financially and emotionally, until you’re throwing fists at one another. When the board has been packed up, blood oaths sworn against friends and family alike, something truly diabolical happens, and with unnerving speed. As though by magic, the turmoil of the last few hours is forgotten completely, and you inexplicably want to subject yourself to it again because you somehow think it was fun. Sure it involved several long, tedious arguments about house rules. Yes, it did result in players exchanging vulgar explicitves about each other’s genetalia. And, of course, the phrase “table flipping” exists for a reason. All of that gets glossed over, however, once The Monopoly Effect sets in.
“Man, I’m not sure how that knife ended up in my ribs but I don’t mind repeating the process to find out!”
There’s something about the game that retroactively removes all memory of the negative aspects, leaving only the idea that “this game is friggin’ awesome!” After awhile you’ll pull it out, dust it off, the vicious cycle begins anew, and it’s back on for young and old in this cut-throat game of capitalism at its worst. It’s as though the game itself is a living entity, feeding on human misery, and using its dark powers to coerce the human spirit into forcefully loving it. There are special circumstances that need to be created before a game starts to take on the Monopoly Effect, however, and it can be hard to pick them out until you’re already under its influence. Like dark, eldritch magics that ensnare the soul of man, it’s more of an art than a science.
First, there has to be competition; players must be pitted against one another, and in such a way that success can only be secured through total annihilation of their opponent. This fight for victory cannot be over quickly either, lest the competitiveness be allowed to simmer down to “fun, friendly competition.” These games have to be drawn out, letting the rivalries fester and degrade into bitter, frightening grudges so that any kind of loss feels far more significant, and deeply personal than it really is. Above all else, there has to be an element of luck; some unavoidable intervention of fate that could instantly, and irreparably undermine all of your efforts, scheming, and strategising in an instant.
Oh, yeah, C’Thuns are toooootally balanced.
Even these aspects don’t equate to being an exact formula. Indeed, these are just the qualities I’ve noticed as being most commonplace in games that emobdy the Monopoly effect, and even then they have to be mixed in just the right way. Most modern MOBA’s seem to have it down to an art-form these days, and online shooters are a hot-bed of malcontent for the Monopoly Effect to breed in. Indeed, I’ve played a number of these games over the years that have flawlessly exemplified the Monopoly Effect, and I’ll briefly recount a few of them here for the sake of posterity.
I’m certain that a lot of you would have seen this coming, it’s the most obvious example of what I’ve been talking about. This game is the Devil. The Devil, I say! Its glittering stars are nothing more than lures for unsuspecting players, drawing them into its tangled web of betrayal and bitter antagonism. The mini-games that serve as recurring, temporary distractions from the backstabbing, or the cascade of bullshit, random occurrences that happen on the board, are but a series of humiliations for all involved.
“Fuck-a you, Bowser, you greedy piece-a shit!”
While moving through the board, it’s possible at any given moment that things could go completely tits up for your character. Maybe you’re extremely close to passing by that Toad who holds a star, the key to cementing your lead, and then you make an unfortunate roll. You land on a Bowser space that not only takes a star from you but makes your portrait red so that when the mini-game rolls around, you’re facing a 3V1 contest. After the savage beating the other players deal you (made even worse if some of those are AI controlled), your closest rival breezes right by you and claims the lead.
Things get heated when you, and the shit-fiend that thought they could take on the throne, get ready to throw down and cave in some skulls with controllers wielded like maces. Meanwhile, the person that’s been trailing the whole game is left alone because they’re not seen as a threat, generally bumbling their way through the match. Suddenly, after reaching the end, that trailing loser gets handed a pile of bonus stars for collecting coins, being a good sportsman, or something else equally asinine and they’re shot miles ahead of the lead. It’s been at least an hour and that unassuming little jerk stole the win away from everyone. Your vision swims, the room becomes hazy, and you can’t quite make anything out of the noise or visual chaos. The blood. The screams.
The sound of controllers shattering against the walls.
Let’s do it again next week, but faster and with alcohol.
Board games are featuring heavily here but that doesn’t mean they’re a necessary requirement of the Monopoly Effect. Like Ouija boards, they just seem to be magnificent at channelling pure malevolence into this world. Talisman, like many other board games, has made the leap from a physical tabletop game to a virtual version, if only to spread its hate-mongering even further than it already has. Don’t get me wrong, I love Talisman, which is precisely why this is a prime candidate for The Monopoly Effect. (Though, if I’m being honest, I don’t consider either the videogame version or the latest edition to be truly Talisman until they bring back the Timescape.)
Played by traditional rules, Talisman’s end goal is designed to make you crush every other player under-heel in order to be declared the victor. If this isn’t done on the way to the Crown of Command, then claiming it demands that it’s immediately put to use by annihilating everyone else on the board. Despite this, things usually start out amicably (unless someone’s holding spell cards, in which case they’ll make themselves a hated target almost immediately.) You’re all weak, pathetic would-be heroes from the get-go, and it’s not unheard of to be facing down a dragon three times your strength after picking up your first card from the deck. Cultivating hatred from your rivals so early on is generally considered unwise.
You know, come to think of it, didn’t Parker Brothers make Ouija boards for awhile, as well?
It doesn’t take long, however, for the seeds of bitter resentment to take root once the pace picks up. Player two picks up a horse-and-cart, you roll a one against a chill-wraith and end up missing a turn. You find a belt of Giant strength, and player four gets lost in the crags. Things are going okay for awhile, but then player three decides to be a dick-wizard and casts “Toadify!” Now you’re a frigging frog that can only watch on helplessly while everyone else pilfers your gear. Then someone gets hold of the High Mage character card (probably that asshole, player three), which just creates a heap of trouble for everyone. You’re now five hours deep into the game, everyone’s forgotten about the Crown of Command altogether, and they’re all lost in their own personal pursuits of vengeance against one another.
God dammit I love this game, let’s go another round.
Fucking. Overwatch. There’s no doubt that this game will be lingering somewhere near, if not sat directly on the top of my “Best Games of 2016” list. It’s everything I wish Battleborn had been (which is to say, I’m still playing and enjoying it, instead of ruing spending money on it.) The character line-up is fantastic, the maps are excellently designed, the combat dynamics are incredible, the music fits perfectly, patches are regular and actually fix things, and updated content is free. Overwatch is, by far and away, the best experience I’ve had with an online shooter in a very, very long time (take note, Gearbox.) I also hate myself every time I play it, as well as just about anyone I interact with during a match.
See how there’s two McRee’s? There shouldn’t be two McRee’s. If I had my way, McRee wouldn’t even exist
At its core, Overwatch’s gameplay is about balanced teams, knowing how to counter character choices, and working together as a group. That can all be tough to manage when you’re playing with people you know while using voice chat, but doing so with online randoms is like herding cats. Asshole cats, ones that acknowledge they can hear you but are going to ignore you anyway, then double stack Zenyatta and act like that’s an okay thing to do. Is the Hanzo on the other team a head-shot machine? Well you can bet your bottom dollar that the Hanzo on your team can’t even find his damn mouse. But wait, where’s Reinhardt? Is he on the objective point? No! He’s charged ahead into the front lines of the other team who’re entirely grouped together – aaaaand now he’s dead!
But what are you doing in all of this? It could be that you’re playing Roadhog, being abandoned by your healer the moment more than one character shows up. Perhaps an enemy Roadhog is defying physics by chain-hooking you through three walls as though they aren’t even there. Has Reinhardt slammed into the doorway beside you, inexplicably pinning you without actually touching your character model in the slightest? Or is it getting sniped from half-way across the map, not by Widowmaker, and not Ana or Hanzo, but by Jessie “NoobCannon” McRee? Why yes, yes it is that last one! He’s just sitting there with that shit-eating cowboy grin, three-shot-killing anything within range, and otherwise stunning anyone who dares come close!
Maybe Tracer has snuck around behind your team and KILLS YOU AGAIN, GOD DAMMIT TRACER, YOU’RE THE WORST.
These are just the examples that come immediately to mind; however, they’re far from the only irritants present in this game. I’m not even a one-show pony, I can switch between a bunch of characters and classes whenever needed, while still playing decently. However, no amount of switching is going to stop a six-stack D.Va bullshit train that’s running an express route right to the objective point. Not a game goes by that the words “FUCKING (insert character name here)!” don’t leave my mouth at least five or six times. And you know what the craziest part is? I’ve sunk nearly 200 hours into this game, with almost a full third of those playing Bastion. No matter how frustrating or lop-sided the match-ups, despite my whining about character balance, whenever someone says “Up for some Overwatch?” Chances are good that I’m already playing it.