SES Inequality Monopoly


A colleague of mine found this game the Summer of 2012 when we were writing the curriculum for ICD. It’s really a fun way to experience first hand a microcosm of class inequality in real-time. The game involves organizing students in groups of 6 to play monopoly– the only difference from the traditional monopoly experience is that incomes are stratified at the outset of the game. Players’ respective assets at the beginning of the game map on to actual positions in the U.S. income quintile so that some players are poor, some middle-income and others are affluent and rich. One of the group members serves as a recorder and jots down all of the micro-interactions he/she observes that reveal the power dynamics of the group. After the game ends players record their ending assets. As a class we discuss what the game playing experience was like and insights we gained from playing (or watching others play) about class stratification in the real-world. For the past several years students have enjoyed the lesson and they were able to reflect on their experience playing in thoughtful ways that spoke to the lessons aims. It is my hope that after playing, students are able to look more critically at discourses assuming that poor folks are poor because they are lazy or unmotivated and start to interrogate the structural underpinnings of economic inequality. One of the potential drawbacks of a enjoying a game like this is that students may lose focus of the larger meaning and significance of the exercise.  This also opens the door for it to be written-off as “just a game,” minimizing how closely it may reflect the struggles of class mobility. In the future I may ask all students, beforehand, to reflect on and write about how they understand poverty and income inequality so that while playing the game they might be conscious of their positions and the extent to which their gaming experience does or does not reflect those positions.