Visual Style: Symbolic Meaning Behind Monopolys Board Tiles

Updated: May 4

Visual style refers to the visual elements of a game and can be broken down into more detailed areas such as abstract, photographic and symbolic. This blog post will focus on the symbolic aspects of games and how there meaning is determined in relation to our culture and society. If you have not already looked then check out the other blog post on abstract and photographic.

Can you name any of the images?

Symbolic images focus entirely on the communication of meaning through visual symbols. At an extreme level, letters and numbers can be considered symbols that infer clear meanings…There is a theoretical hypothesis called Semiotic Analysis that attempts to explain the definitions given to certain signs and symbols based upon behaviour, language and culture. In relation to games, these theories are important to us as because they expose how a sign or symbol communicates its meaning.

Monopoly is a classic board game that has sold an estimated 275 million copies, in around 114 countries. But have you ever thought about its connection to our culture and society and why it is so playable? let's analyse the signs and symbols used within Monopoly, by exploring the wider connection to our society and culture. Remember that at an extreme level, letters and numbers can be considered symbols that infer clear meanings.

  1. jail tile, ignore the text and look at the colours being used. In the United States, prison uniforms are often a distinctive orange colour with a white t-shirt worn underneath, this makes the prisoners more identifiable should they try to escape. Monopoly was first produced in the United States and has many cultural connections to it, that can be seen throughout the game.

  2. Go to jail tile, again ignoring the text you can see that the image depicts a male in a navy blue uniform. Navy blue is known to symbolise importance, confidence, power, authority and is often the uniform colour of many enforcement agencies throughout the world. In addition to the uniform, the male is pointing while blowing a whistle, reinforcing that authoritative look and meaning.

  3. Community chest tile, The community chest tile is an interesting tile, the chest represents the text perfectly but there is a deeper meaning behind the chest. A community chest also commonly referred to as community trusts or funds, help raise money from a particular community for the purpose of charitable giving. The first Community Chest, "Community Fund", was founded in 1913 in Cleveland, Ohio.


Now let's consider the overall tile locations, events and timings of them, in relation to our own society and culture. Looking at the board, how do you think the game is reflective of our society and culture?

There are many factors to consider when analysing a game like Monopoly, here are a few observations that you might agree or disagree with:


  1. Estates or housing areas are segregated by economy “class”...in some cases, the super-rich, are a street away from the poor, for example, Old Kent Street and Mayfair.

  2. The Jail tile is located in the poorest area of the board whereas the police guard tile is placed in the wealthier area of the board, the jail and police tiles sit diagonally opposite each other, highlighting the connection between them.

  3. The movement of the game pieces are clockwise, relating to the passing of time, this again could relate to monthly or a weekly calendar.

  4. Passing the GO tile rewards the player with pay. Pay comes at regular intervals regardless of how you perform...this could relate to a monthly or weekly income which is probably salary based.

  5. The income tax tile is soon after the pay/GO tile - suggesting that tax is one of the first drains on your income. We all pay taxation when we receive our wages in real life, however, in the game some players may avoid paying tax, this could also be true within our own society.

  6. The super tax tile is located in the richest area of the board, there are often huge debates on tax within our own society relating to many aspects of wealth or company profits.

  7. There is a limited amount of land that is available for purchase within the game, this pushes the tile prices up, which is the same in real life, the less of something there is the more valuable it tends to be.

  8. The cost of land depends on the area you are buying it in, again this is reflected within our own society as certain areas are worth considerably more, meaning only the super-rich can afford to purchase them.


Understanding the use of signs and symbols is very important to a designer if you want to create a product that players connect too and understand easily. This blog post, hopefully, has provided you with a broader understanding of signs and symbolism used within games.

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