2012/12/29

Out the tragedy... fun

It is interesting how a tragedy impresses itself upon the human collective conscience, how it is transformed, in rather unexpected ways. From the holocaust we have books, films, plays. From the financial crisis and its various extensions of financial meltdown we have gotten a Margin Call, a movie with a rather loose grip on reality  (as is the case with most movies) and, I now find, a game called Market Meltdown.

What is it?

The game appears to be based on the antics of a number of rogue traders. In Market Meltdown the players are traders who must make ever bigger bets (as the money they owe increases) in order to stay afloat. The losers are those who go bust first.

Just some fun

It is likely the board game is just good fun, amoral. That is what it is intended to be. It is hard to tell if the game will succeed, whether perhaps people will find it distasteful. But if kids can play computer games pretending to be evil overlords, why not have families play games pretending to be reckless traders. It could be used as an exercise in moral instruction – don’t do this in real life.

But in our hearts

The fact is that there is something about these rogue traders that captures our hearts. Sure, we’re angry with them for being heartless human beings, extensions of a merciless financial sector. But it’s not our money they lost. What a thrill it must be to place such huge bets, to waver between being ignominious Kweku Adoboli or glorious George Soros. (Admittedly Soros was no rogue trader, but his bets were massive and if he were wrong his ignominy would have been as great, if not necessarily prosecutable).

Social commentary

In some sense, the game, with its simplified rules, its exaggerated nature, is a kind of mockery. What were they thinking? We give them, those rogue traders, immortality, not by their reputation, but by frequently reliving their defeat, and laughing at it. Perhaps that, too, is a kind of punishment.

Out of sight

Despite the financial crisis’s impact on people, it being discussed everywhere. Despite the fate of Greece and the entire Eurozone hanging in the balance, I do not think that it is a ripe source of creative inspiration. There are a number of other games inspired by the crisis. Still, I would not imagine that many books of fiction will be written about these times once they are past, that many more films will be made (though there will undoubtedly be some). The halls of finance are just too hard for people to imagine, the dealing and wheedling too obscure, the language too foreign, with certain obvious exceptions, it’s just not exciting enough (although I may be wrong).

It is a pity. Perhaps if we could bring the world of finance to the hearts of people, we could place some heart in finance.

Some references

The game:
  • Clarendon Games, 2012a. Market Meltdown. Available at: http://www.clarendongames.com/product.php?xProd=19 [Accessed December 29, 2012]. Clarendon Games, 2012b. 
  • Market Meltdown Intro. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lq_AdyyiQx4 [Accessed December 29, 2012]. 
The Economist's take:
  • The Economist, 2012. Financial board games: Playing the markets. The Economist. Available at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2012/12/financial-board-games [Accessed December 29, 2012]. 
George Soros: 
  • Wikipedia, 2012a. George Soros. Wikipedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soros [Accessed December 29, 2012]. 
Rogue trader Kweku Adoboli (he is just the most recent):
  •  Wikipedia, 2012b. Kweku Adoboli - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kweku_Adoboli [Accessed December 29, 2012].

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