Cheating at Play, Cheating in Life?
This essay originally appeared on the Institute for Family Studies website.
I didn’t cheat. Neither did my brother or my sister. Both affirmed this adamantly when I asked them if they had ever cheated at Monopoly when we played as children.
We spent endless days hovered over the dilapidated old card table set up temporarily in the far corner of the living room in the home where we grew up. A relic from the past, its turquoise surface was scuffed by use; one leg failed to catch. So accustomed were we to the wobbly leg that we took turns bolstering that side of the table with our knees, our eyes intent on the colorful Monopoly game board before us.
Oh, how we loved that game! We especially loved when the west winds swept across the heartland and whipped up a snowstorm that isolated us for days. During that time, in a simpler, slower slice of life, we relied on the likes of Parker Brothers to occupy our time and space.
We weren’t alone. Introduced in 1904 and redesigned for Parker Brothers by 1935, Monopoly became the leading proprietary game throughout the western world. Acquired by Hasbro in 1991, Monopoly is now licensed in 103 countries and played globally by more than a billion people. The game and its themes are tweaked occasionally to “unlock the full potential of the brand.” Thus, this fall we’ll be introduced to Monopoly, the Cheater’s Edition.
The cheater’s edition? Not to worry, we’re assured. Most rules of the classic Monopoly game will remain the same; however, the new version will include “cheat cards” within the Chance and Community Chest, that encourage players to do just that: cheat.
Hasbro representatives admit it is a darker version of the game. The decision to introduce it follows a company-sponsored survey that revealed nearly half of game-players attempt to cheat while playing. And nearly 70% of players report never reading the rules at all; roughly a third create their own, and most pass along “house rules” not found in the official rulebook. The company, therefore, “simply gives fans what they crave.”
Supporters of the new version might deem it gamesmanship or sport. I contend it’s more. After all, there is a close connection between youthful attitudes and behavior regarding cheating and continuing patterns of dishonesty as an adult. Unfortunately, what behavior one chooses while passing time during a raging snowstorm could, in fact, lead to the adoption of the belief that it’s okay to bend the rules, not just in a game of Monopoly, but in other aspects of life as well.
According to research on ethics conducted by the Josephson Institute, children that cheat by high school are:
- More likely to cheat on taxes, lie to customers or a spouse, or to otherwise “bend the truth”
- Five times more likely to approve of cheating “to get ahead”
- Four times more likely to deceive an employer or make unauthorized copies of music or videos
- Three times more likely to keep the wrong change
- Twice as likely to lie or cheat a spouse regarding “something important”
- “Compared to prior generations, Millennial teens consider cheating ‘normal’– just part of what it takes to get ahead.”
As children, my siblings and I played Monopoly with a number of friends and neighbors; not all played by the rules, and when they deliberately swindled the bank, miscounted spaces, or made choices outside the rules we knew so well, we called them out. Sometimes we stopped the game. “It’s no fun playing with cheaters,” we explained. There were consequences for cheating. We didn’t want to be labeled as cheaters, and we certainly didn’t want to be shunned by others who might refuse to play with us if we cheated.
Just as cheating is learned behavior, so, too, is not cheating. Children take their lead from adults. Unfortunately, only one-third of students say they’ve had a serious talk with their parents about this issue, according to an ABC News poll of students ages 15-17.
One might say I stretch to relate cheating at Monopoly to dishonesty as an adult. I think not; kids learn at play. Hasbro knows this. Hasbro’s goal for other games includes “teaching life lessons.” Their goal for the Cheater’s Edition may be honorable too, as they point out their “hope that cheaters will be caught, suffer consequences, and make amends for their actions.” Therefore, I won’t judge the manufacturer or discount the game before playing it. Who knows, it may introduce a whole new dialogue about cheating—and be a fun game to boot?
To deal with the issue of cheating in a world that sometimes doesn’t take it as seriously, here are a few recommendations for parents:
1. Help children define cheating. Some of us may not think it’s a big deal to cheat at a board game or to cheat on a test or even taxes, yet most of us still abhor the idea of cheating on a spouse. Overall, cheating means bending or breaking rules that are explicit, or that veer from an unwritten code of conduct based on morality, ethics or custom. Cheating is inclusive, defined as: deceit, fraud, trick, swindle, hoodwink, dupe, scam, bilk, or double-cross, rip-off, fleece, shaft, hose, sting, gyp, bamboozle or sucker, as well as stray, two-time or play-around when tied to fidelity. None of these definitions should sound good to a child!
2. Establish standards for character and integrity in your family. “We don’t cheat at our house,” and “we play by the rules in our family.”
3. Discuss the consequences of cheating. The lack of integrity—even at play—destroys relationships and reputations. My brother, sister and I didn’t want to play with those who cheated. Even today, we remember the names of those who did cheat. The “choice to cheat” results in an erosion of trust and undermines future credibility: “I can’t rely on this person to be honest.”
4. Nurture children to do “the right thing.” Winning or losing is secondary to how one plays the game—and playing by the rules results in byproducts of self-esteem and self-respect.
5. Above all, set an example. Too often, parents inadvertently model dishonesty by offering false excuses or by instructing a child to lie on their behalf —even a white lie—to avoid a difficult situation. Ultimately, parents set the bar for their children in terms of how to live an honest life that can serve as an alternative to what the culture may be teaching.
I’m hopeful the cheater’s edition of Monopoly will somehow encourage a generation of game-players to play by the rules despite the rules of the game!
Rhonda Kruse Nordin researches and writes on family issues and is a senior fellow with the Center of the American Experiment.