Cards Against Humanity

A lot has been said about the controversial party game Cards Against Humanity, some positive and some sharply negative. If you were to ask me what I think about this Party Game for Horrible People (the game’s tag line), here is what I would contribute to the conversation.

Back when I was doing ministry among a very conservative, “innocent” crowd, the family game Apples to Apples was the go-to social activity. I would grin and bear it, but playing Apples to Apples always made me feel so bored. There wasn’t enough spunk or grit to Apples to Apples. Then came Cards Against Humanity.

Cards Against Humanity is definitely a more gritty version of Apples to Apples. And I definitely am far more entertained by it, so it’s sort of an improvement on Apples to Apples. But at the same time, it has received a lot of criticism for being racist, misogynistic, ageist, ableist, and obscenely sexual, among other sins. And I can understand why.

Realistically, most of the cards are not objectively racist, sexist, ageist, etc, in and of themselves (though to be clear, the sexual ones are unmistakably vulgar). But the fact that they exist means that people who have those tendencies (or who live in ignorance of what it means to be someone in another people group) find an easy platform for expressing insensitivity and even hate under the guise of a joke or a good time.

I’ve found that the context of who is in the room (and who plays what card to which question) makes a great difference in the tone of the game. In a mixed crowd where not everyone knows the background and motives of everyone else in the room, there is a lot of potential for hurt feelings, brokenness of trust and relationships, and the formation/solidification of harmful stereotypes (against other players and against people groups represented on the cards). And anyone who points any of that out is seen as a kill joy without a sense of humor.

I recently brought my set of Cards Against Humanity back to a handful of my “innocent” friends, and as a precaution I removed all of the cards I thought this crowd would be embarrassed or offended to read. And without those cards, the game turned into an only slightly more PG-13 version of Apples to Apples. It turns out that Cards Against Humanity really relies on those shockingly disturbing cards to keep people entertained. Without them, the game was just so-so. Since most of my regular crowd doesn’t mind a little shock and disturbance, and since most of them share my distaste for overt and covert racism, sexism, etc, to play this game with them (without removing most of the disturbing cards) is to play with irony and with satire.

I haven’t decided if I can universally recommend Cards Against Humanity. It really depends on you and the people you may play the game with. If you haven’t yet experienced it and are interested in giving it a try, my advice:

  • Try before you buy. Before you spend the money on it, make sure you actually like the game enough. If you don’t have a friend who owns it, you can search for it on YouTube to get an idea of how it works and the levels of offensiveness it can reach.
  • Know your crowd. This is not the game to play at a party where you don’t know a lot of people or where they stand on social issues.
  • Filter out the cards that you don’t feel comfortable with.
  • Stand up against any bullies who use this as a platform for their hurtful opinions.
  • If it gets out of hand and people still insist on playing, give yourself permission to sit the rest of the game out or to go home.
  • Try a version that has a specific theme. The marriage version Cads About Matrimony was a much better hit with my various groups of friends, and it was a lot of fun even after removing the shocking cards.

Good luck in your research of Cards Against Humanity! I hope that what you find out will help you move forward in your ability to care for and have fun with all kinds of people, even if that means sitting this game out.