Monopoly and the Meaninglessness of Life
We live in an age of increasing emptiness and depression. While there are many contributing factors for this phenomenon, the classic American board game Monopoly offers an indispensable lesson. Let me explain.
Imagine I invite you over to my house to play Monopoly. When you arrive, you notice a strange setup. The board, money, and game pieces are all on the table. But so is a basketball, snorkel mask, donuts, a kitchen knife, and a TV.
Making Your Own Rules
Before you take the first turn, I announce that the typical rules no longer apply. You can roll the die and take a turn according to the traditional rules. Or you can simply do whatever you want: dribble the basketball on the kitchen floor, use the snorkel and go for a swim, turn on the TV, or eat the donuts. Since you know the goal of Monopoly, you decide to pull out hotels and place them on Boardwalk and Park Place.
When it’s my turn, I dribble the basketball over the board to disrupt your plan. Frustrated, you fix the board and refill your properties with hotels. I then take the board and throw it in the pool. It wouldn’t take very long for you to consider the game nonsensical. Why?
A Meaningless Game
The simple answer is that the game has not point—it has no purpose. Our successive moves are meaningless, because there is no objective meaning to the game. Philosopher J.P. Moreland explains:
“If the game as a whole has no purpose, the individual moves within the game are pointless. Conversely, it is only in light of a game’s actual purpose according to its inventor that the individual moves within the game take on significance.”
According to Moreland, this thought experiment reveals two important truths. First, in a game like “Monopoly,” if there is no purpose to the game, then individual moves don’t matter. There is no point in even taking a turn.
Second, if there is an inventor for the game, then to play the game appropriately and correctly, we need to know how the creator intended the game to be played. In fact, misunderstanding the point of the game can bring confusion, frustration, and loss.
Living In A Meaningless World
This is where we increasingly find ourselves as a culture today. There has been an assault on the idea that God has designed the “game of life” to operate a certain way. Rather than conforming our lives to the plan of the Creator, we invent our own. We live for material possessions, flat stomachs, social media fame, and pleasure.
No wonder there is so much emotional and relational emptiness. No wonder there is so much addiction and depression. If there is no purpose to life, then does it really matter what we do? We can try to pretend our lives have meaning, but like the imaginary game of “Monopoly,” each move is ultimately pointless.
A Game with Meaning
The Christian worldview offers a different perspective. First, there is a purpose to the “game,” and thus individual lives matter. Your life matters. And second, real freedom comes from orienting your life according to the plan of the Creator rather than living according to your feelings or whims.
Our increasingly secular world wants to get rid of God and then act as if our lives still matter. But this is misguided. In fact, it’s like trying to play a game of Monopoly when people invent their own rules.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.