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In Game of Life, cash is out, credit in

Paper or plastic?

That question is at the center of the controversy over Hasbro’s recently updated The Game of Life: Twists & Turns edition.

For this update, Hasbro partnered with Visa and replaced cash with a Visa-branded credit card. Hasbro says plastic reflects the way we make purchases today.

But critics see this as marketing run amok. They worry about introducing children as young as 9 to the world of plastic before they’re ready to understand credit. Card issuers now throw cards at college students without jobs, and critics see the Game of Life’s credit card as a way for the industry to reach kids at an even younger age.

“A bad idea,” says Robert Manning, director of the Center for Consumer Financial Services at New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology.

Manning says consumerism has been creeping into children’s board games in recent decades. We’ve gone from Monopoly, where players invest in properties and accumulate wealth, to Hasbro’s Mall Madness, where the player “who buys the most stuff wins,” Manning says.

Milton Bradley created the original game, then called The Checkered Game of Life, in 1860. That game reflected the grim times of the Civil War era. Players worked their way from infancy to old age, going through good patches in life along with the bad: poverty, idleness and disgrace. Land on “suicide” and you were out of the game.

A century later, the game was lightened up. Now players move through life’s experiences from college, marriage and children to getting hit by taxes, a stock market slump and a career change during a mid-life crisis. The player with the most money at retirement wins. Some parents used the game as a jumping-off point to talk to kids about finances.

Janet Bodnar, author of “Raising Smart Money Kids,” says the Game of Life has been her favorite money game for children, even more than Monopoly. “I played this with my kids. They hated to part with cash. They got the point,” she says.

So Bodnar was dismayed earlier this year to hear of Hasbro’s plan to replace cash with plastic. “Now you don’t even need a banker to keep track of the money,” she says.

With the new version, players insert Visa cards into a gadget where dollars and points are electronically added and subtracted. “I’m all for credit. I just think kids aren’t mature enough to handle it,” Bodnar says.

Others agree.

“Credit cards and ATM cards are just like a magic money tree” to children, says James Roberts, a marketing professor at Baylor University in Texas.

Kids see adults hand a plastic card to someone and get what they want, Roberts says. But they don’t see that you have to earn the money you spend or the fact that those bills come home to roost. “Kids don’t get the connection, and it’s not just kids,” Roberts says.

Hasbro spokeswoman Pat Riso says the new edition recognizes that life is not just about accumulating the most cash. The goal is to rack up points by earning money and undertaking certain life experiences, such as going to college, getting married and buying a house or car. The game allows children to test drive life choices, she says.

“You can’t win the game unless you manage your finances properly,” Riso says.


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