(Marketwatch) Hasbro will release a version of the classic board game Monopoly designed for the digital age. But financial experts argue the game’s new design could deprive children of important financial lessons.
In Hasbro’s latest edition of Monopoly, gone are the paper money and Community Chest cards. Instead, the board game now comes with a voice-controlled, artificial intelligence device shaped like a top hat.
Designed to prevent cheating, players will now press a button on the top hat and dictate commands, such as paying rent or trading properties. The game is set to be released July 1 and is available for pre-order from Walmart and Amazon.
This is not the first time Monopoly has reflected today’s cashless world. A 2006 edition of the game in the United Kingdom featured Visa-branded credit cards instead of paper play money. Similar versions of the game are also available in the U.S. Last year, Hasbro even released a version called Monopoly for Millennials in which players compete to buy experiences rather than real estate.
The new technology may appeal to kids used to interacting with voice-activated digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana. Financial experts, however, remained on the fence about the game’s educational value.
“It is a mixed bag,” said Laura Levine, president and CEO of the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, a nonprofit that promotes financial education in schools. “Not having access to cash, both real and play money, does make it harder to teach younger kids about money and money management.”
Educators and financial advisers have often suggested that board games such as Monopoly or The Game of Life are important in promoting behaviors tied to saving and budgeting.
By removing the physical element of the game, some argue that Monopoly’s usefulness as a tool to teach children about money is reduced.
“Removing physical Monopoly money reduces the educational benefit of the game by glossing over the important task of learning to manage and count your money,” said Nicole Strbich, director of financial planning at Buckingham Advisors in Dayton, Ohio.
Research has shown that children’s approach to money changes after they are allowed to touch cash — handling money made kids work harder, but also made them stingier about giving money away.
That corresponds with adults’ experiences using cash rather than credit card. Studies have shown consumers spend more when they use credit cards, mobile wallets and potentially even cryptocurrency. The same is true of shopping online or with a smart speaker rather than in person.
As a result, playing with literal Monopoly money can impart important financial lessons. “Bankruptcy is a lot more painful when you have to reach across the table to hand someone your last dollar,” Strbich said.
At the same time, there’s also value in having board games reflect the real world, Levine said. “The reality is this is the world they’re going to grow up into,” she said.
Even as a digital game, Monopoly is still exposing kids to a play version of the real world, she argued.
Parents need to take an active role in promoting financial literacy
Cashless or not, board games like Monopoly shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for having real conversations around money, spending and saving. “Parents can’t expect that games alone will do all the teaching,” she said. “The teaching and learning comes from discussion and guidance. We can use these other tools to make it real and bring it to life.”
And evaluating the lessons that board games impart is just as important as playing them in the first place. Monopoly does encourage strong behaviors such as counting money. But it can also encourage risky financial behaviors — after all, the person who buys the most property tends to win, and that requires a lot of leverage.
“If you feel maximum leverage is a sound financial lesson and strategy, it’s a good teaching tool,” quipped David Harraway, principal at Substantial Financial, a financial planning firm in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Financial experts also emphasized other tried and true methods of teaching kids about money — from paying them to do chores to allowing them to run lemonade stands. Even with these strategies, the onus is on the parents.
When it comes to allowances, Levine advised that parents shouldn’t focus on whether their child is prepared, but whether they are themselves. Forgetting to pay a child or allowing them to buy something with borrowed money after the allowance piggy bank has become empty teaches the wrong lesson.
“If the parent isn’t disciplined, you’re sending the message that it’s loosey-goosey,” Levine said.