Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect Human Sanity
Apropos of little, there is a totally-in-no-way contentious inclusion of Cthulhu Monopoly as an example of successful Cosmicist gaming. The world of tabletop gaming has become awash with “Cthulhu” themed titles. If you need a break from your classic Call of Cthulhu RPG, why not crack into Cthulhu Pandemic, Cthulhu Yahtzee, or Smash Up's aptly named Obligatory Cthulhu Expansion. It would seem that Lovecraft's most dreadful Great Old One has awoken from its slumber! The stars are finally right—for lucrative licensing deals.
The Great Dreamer may be experiencing a pop fame like few Horror icons ever have, but how do these seeming cash grabs interact with Lovecraft's fiction? At first glance, it would seem that Cthulhu Monopoly has little to do with Lovecraft's Cosmicist philosophy. Cosmicism, broadly, is a philosophy that posits that humanity has no significance when viewed from cosmic timescales. That history, not in the human sense, but in the cosmic sense, will erase the impact of human existence and that even if beings exist that can operate on such cosmic levels, we have little hope of meaningful interaction. Lovecraft's monsters, such as Cthulhu, exemplify and give body to these fears and tensions. So, why doesn't Park Place instill the same fearful awe? Because it should.
Monopoly began its life as The Landlord's Game. Created in 1903 by Elizabeth Magie, it was intended, as the modern name would suggest, as a critique of concentrated land ownership and monopolies. Magie created The Landlord's Game as a way to teach the socialist single tax theory. In her original game, players would win by having the most money after each player had gone around the board five times. There was also a rules variant that allowed players to play for “prosperity” wherein all players would win when the player with the least amount of money had double their starting amount. As the story goes, Charles Darrow (No relation. I’m of the Darrow Chemical Company family.) stole the idea from Magie, renamed it “Monopoly”, and popularized the game as we know it today.
The modern Monopoly is stripped of its socialist roots in favor of a moral-light celebration of unregulated economies. This is where Cthulhu and Cosmicism begin to enter into the picture. Monopoly, and all its variants, use the core board game mechanic called “roll and move.” It’s exactly what it sounds like, you roll the dice, you move. Roll and move is often used as a pejorative. It’s seen as a mechanic that strips skill in favor of random chance. While that may make for a more frustrating game—compared to the “movement points” system found in games like Arkham Horror—it does make for an outstanding Lovecraftian experience. Monopoly, like Cosmicism, fundamentally undermines human agency. Your strategies entering into a game of Monopoly aren’t under your control, but rather at the mercy of random die rolls. A capricious, thoughtless system of random chance propped up with the illusion of human agency—it’s hard to imagine a more Cosmicist scenario. Beyond the mechanics, Monopoly is underscored by a Cosmicist take on unregulated markets.
. Think back to the times that you have played monopoly. Usually, the winning player establishes their victory in the first few trips around the board with the rest of the players merely picking at each other until that dominant force consumes them all. This is the part of the intended critique of The Landlord's Game. That capitalism, specifically this unregulated monopoly of a common resource, is inherently unfair—or unhuman. This is deeply Lovecraftian. In Monopoly, humanity is insignificant. Only market forces matter. There is no mechanic that rewards a particularly ingenious player. There is only who has market dominance and who, therefore, must be consumed. There are ambiguous taxes and random moments of luck in the Chance and Community Chest cards, but those are rare by design and hardly ameliorate the acquisition of a monopoly. This is Cosmicist. No human action changes the course of Monopoly. You are as much a pawn of the mechanics as you are their player. In a system wherein player choice hardly matters, and the actions of the game go on with minimal input, it’s hard to miss the Lovecraftian overtones.
Cthulhu Monopoly might be less of the shameless cash grab during the Great Cthulhu Boom of the 2010’s and more an accidental alignment of an inherently Cosmicist system and Lovecraftian mythos flavor. Perhaps it is not so much that Monopoly, however appropriate it would be, dressed itself in the Mythos to sell more units, but that Cthulhu finally pulled back the curtain and revealed Monopoly's true, Cosmicist nature.
Take a ride on the Reading,