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If you have ever been to Vegas, you will no doubt remember the sight of people sitting at slot machines, putting in their tokens and pulling the arm, or more likely pushing a button, over and over again. What’s most remarkable about many people sitting at casino slot machines is how little fun they appear to be having. So many look so serious or detached over it. From an outside perspective, the whole thing resembles nothing so much as a publicly sanctioned compulsion. Sometimes I think that after losing a fair bit to the slots, those sitting at them keep spending their money in a desperate attempt to break even and forget that the original goal was entertainment.

If you can picture this, you can get a pretty good insight into how the game Cars Monopoly has devolved at our house. Simon got the game for his birthday, and it was/is his favorite board game at present and was a brilliant choice for him. Unfortunately, we’ve reached the point where his “favorite” board game is bringing out some obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

The game is a simplified version of Monopoly with cars as properties and a track with a car that replaces the dice. It’s cute; the makers knew how to distill the game down to its essence and make it kid appealing, no doubt about it. However, Simon is leeching all the fun out of it. He spends most of his turns worrying about who will land on Nigel Gearsley or Lightning McQueen, the Park Place and Boardwalk of this iteration. He’s begun to memorize the number of spaces between spots on the board, so sometimes he will groan over a turn (his or mine) before a car is ever moved on the real board. And he’s so eager to get to his turn that he will often move my car for me so he can get down the business of obsessing over whether he’ll spin the number he needs to land on Nigel or Lightning.

I have explained and demonstrated to him that owning Nigel and Lightning do not assure victory. I’ve lost while owning that monopoly. He’s lost while owning that monopoly. We’ve both won without owning either property. And yet, no matter how many times I review this information, the next game will inevitably begin with “I sure hope I spin a X so I can buy Nigel Gearsley.” It’s exhausting.

Then there’s the money. On the one hand, I’m grateful to the game for teaching Simon how to add and subtract in his head. Whenever he passes go or collects rent, he tells me his new bank balance without counting the bills. Similarly, when he has to pay rent or buy a property, he can quickly tell me how much money is left in his coffers. He’s even learned the basic principle of savings:

“I only have five dollars. So I don’t want to land on Nigel Gearsley now, because then I’d have zero dollars. I really need you to land on some of my properties first. I think I should have 10 dollars before I buy Nigel. Maybe 15. 20 would be best.”

Isn’t that awesome? The first time I heard it, I was entranced. Now, however, I get a bank balance as it relates to Nigel or Lightning after every single turn. And that’s after he’s already spent time analyzing what he has to spin to land on Nigel or Lightning, what I have to spin to land on them, or what either one of us would have to spin to avoid Nigel or Lightning.

And then! Yes, an exclamation point already because it’s going to get worse, after a full trip around the board or more than two transactions, Simon stops play to count his money. So here I sit, trying to play a cute little kids’ game with my son, and here he sits amid a pile of money awash in math and stress. This isn’t fun!

In fact, it’s gotten so out of hand that I’ve taken to cheating when we play. I “forget” to pay myself when I pass go. (Lately he’s caught me and has begun to run the bank since “Mommy is silly and forgets.”) When he’s not looking, I put a few of my bills back in the bank. I have, heaven help me, shoved bills up my sleeve or in a pocket. And if my spinner lands on a line, I choose the number of places that will cost me the most money. Anything, anything, to end the game.

A week or so ago, I thought it was important to win with regularity to reinforce earlier lessons about sportsmanship. At this point, I don’t care about any of that. I’ve begun rationing the game. If that doesn’t help, we might “lose” it for a week or so. Really, I’ll do whatever it takes to break the current cycle and get us back to having fun with it again.

One Response to “Un-amusing Family Amusements”

  1. Amanda says:

    @Rita: as long as he doesn’t start pretending to shoot himself in the leg…

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