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Game's street theme upsets NAACP

Critics say Ghettopoly, populated by pimps and prostitutes, sends the wrong message to players.

MARCUS FRANKLIN
Published October 4, 2003

In the past decade, fans of the board game Monopoly have enjoyed a variety of themed editions.

Elvis. Coca-Cola. I Love Lucy.

But not everyone is amused by a new game modeled after Monopoly in which the objective is "to become the richest playa through stealing, cheating and fencing stolen properties."

In Ghettopoly, created by a 28-year-old Saint Mary's, Pa., man, miniature crack houses and public housing projects replace the green houses and red hotels found in Monopoly. A silvery pimp, marijuana leaf, crack cocaine pebble and machine gun, among other symbols, substitute for traditional pieces such as the top hat, thimble and shoe.

The game, sold locally at Urban Outfitters in Ybor City, has prompted the presidents of the St. Petersburg and Hillsborough County chapters of the NAACP to demand the retailer stop selling it. Darryl Rouson, president of the St. Petersburg chapter, plans to write the company and request it stop carrying the game.

"It's really sick," Rouson said of the game. "What would be going through a young adult or teenager's mind if they're playing this game to win? The message that's being reinforced in the mind while you're playing, there's nothing good about it, there's nothing humorous about it."

On Friday, a manager at the Urban Outfitters on E Eighth Avenue who would not give his name for publication said company officials told him Friday they planned to stop carrying it. The store has been selling the $32 game for about a month.

Urban Outfitters Inc. is a Philadelphia-based company that sells men's and women's clothing and shoes and apartment wares to the young adult market. On Friday a woman at corporate headquarters who said she was the switchboard operator said officials had instructed her to send press inquiries to voice mail. The woman said public relations officers were told not to answer their phones.

David T. Chang, a University of Rochester graduate who moved with his family from Taiwan when he was 8, said he wanted to create a game with the kind of "urban edge" found in video games such as Grand Theft Auto, Palm games such as Dope Wars, and rap, a genre that often details violence and drugs.

In the top-selling Grand Theft, the player, using dozens of weapons, carries out jobs such as stealing cars, shooting pedestrians and drug dealing.

Chang, who wouldn't say how many he has sold, said Ghettopoly embraces a variety of ethnic stereotypes. For example, original properties such as Park Place, Boardwalk and Pennsylvania Avenue have been usurped by Weinstein's Gold and Platinum, Ling Ling's Massage Parlor, Creme of Sun Yung Gai, Trailer Trash Court and Chico's Bodega.

"I can't see how people are taking it seriously," Chang said. "It's satirical. It's satire about stereotypes in this country. If you're going to say my game is offensive, then take a look around, there's a lot of offensive things out there."

Mark Morris, a spokesman for Hasbro Inc., the company that owns Monopoly, said it sent Chang a cease and desist letter in June. Chang has not responded to the company, Morris said.

This week, the company issued a statement about Chang's game: "We find this game to be reprehensible and a violation of our intellectual property rights. We have no record of ever being contacted by Mr. Chang and never gave him any approval to produce this game."

Hasbro has a licensing agreement with USAopoly to create themed editions of the 68-year-old Monopoly, Morris said.

Chang wouldn't say whether he planned to stop making the game. In fact, his Web site says a Redneckopoly and Hiphopopoly are forthcoming.

In traditional Monopoly, a player gets $200 from the banker for passing GO. In Ghettopoly, the loan shark gives every player $200 who passes Steal$$$ "because that playa just robbed him." Hustle and Ghetto Stash cards say things like: Your (prostitutes) had a very good night. Collect $150. Or: You just sold 4 vials of crack. Collect $80.

"There's nothing humorous or light about death and destruction that drugs and drug dealing cause in our neighborhoods that one should profit in parody," Rouson said. "It's an affront to the sensitivities and sensibilities of ordinary families already struggling to raise their children in a culture that's becoming more permissive and lax."

If the company refuses to stop selling the game, Rouson said he would enlist national, state and regional NAACP officials for a possible boycott or prayer vigil in the store, he said. "I don't think any self-respecting store concerned about their image would carry it."

Carl Lavender Jr., executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, alerted Rouson to the game, which he said disturbed him.

"It should be pulled from the shelves," he said. "It's biased, racist and exploitive. It does nothing to promote contemporary urban culture. ... It should never be in the hands of children."

- Marcus Franklin can be reached at mfranklin@sptimes.com or 727 893-8488.

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