Did you seriously just play that card?

We've gotta think twice about Cards Against Humanity


Prompt: White people like _______.
Response: Finally finishing off the Indians.

The entire room winced.

“Damn, that’s horrible!”

A few chuckles slip through the guilt, and we’re onto the next pairing:
Prompt: White people like _______.

Response: Whipping a disobedient slave.

We’ve probably all heard of Cards Against Humanity. I bet most of us have played it, too.

To catch you up, Cards Against Humanity is a game that asks each player to pair a white descriptor card from his/her hand to a common black fill-in-the-blank card that lies face up on the table. Self-described as, “a free party game for horrible people,” it’s an extremely crude version of Apples to Apples. The phrases on the cards range from “Catapults” to “Homeless people” to “The Trail of Tears.”

For some, the strategy lies in pairing cards that make the most sense:

Prompt: What’s that sound?
Response: The Big Bang.

For others, it’s about nonsense pairings:

Prompt: What’s that sound?
Response: Bees?

But the game takes a hard left when somebody stirs the pot:

Prompt: What’s that sound?
Response: Child abuse.

Some of my friends rave about this game. My roommates uproariously play it with friends over drinks. My extended family bonded over a round last summer. As you read this article, the game box sits on the reception desk where I work.

I hosted a friend for a weekend visit last fall—a black, female friend. I showed her Cards Against Humanity and asked if she’d ever played before.


I gave her the box to check it out. Upon sifting through the deck, she froze after reading a descriptor card that said, “A black male in his early 20s, last seen wearing a hoodie.”

She looked at me, stunned, and uttered, “How can you play this game?”

I defended it.

“I…I don’t know. The game kind of excuses prejudice and offers an outlet where we can laugh about all of it. Nobody actually means what the game suggests, you know?”

That didn’t go well. I could sense Cards Against Humanity cut her deeply. We played this game that exploited the Trayvon Martin case, and suddenly, my friend felt vulnerable and apprehensive towards her hosts.

To be clear, I perceive my roommates and I as some of the most receptive and open individuals to welcome anybody through our doors. We cooked meals and ate together, included my friend in conversation that weekend—I even gave up my bed. But that incident was enough to make her shudder about part of the culture in my house, and we talked about Cards Against Humanity for a long time afterward. It didn’t surprise me to hear she had never played before.

I wonder if my roommates and I would have played the Trayvon Martin card with my friend in the room. In fact, I wonder if we would ever play the cards that targeted certain groups if members of those communities sat at the same table. Would it pass to play the “token minority” card with a person of color? What about the “binging and purging” card in the presence of someone who’s had bouts with an eating disorder?

But those cards get played on a regular basis, right? The deck is stacked with insensitive cards. So then, what conditions make it OK to play those cards in a regular game? Who sits at the table during those games?

Humor gives us an opportunity to highlight social injustice, but we’ve got to understand and feel the issues to poke fun at them—that’s absolutely essential. These cards get tossed around the table, and we steal a laugh; but when do the uncomfortable conversations begin?

Prompt: I got 99 problems but _______ ain’t one.
Response: Dead parents.

I wonder if everybody in that game has two living parents. What if somebody doesn’t? How should he or she react when that card comes up? Both of my parents live happily together in Minnesota, and I can’t imagine losing even one of them. I don’t understand that pain. I might even laugh at that card.

Prompt: I drink to forget _______.
Response: The profoundly handicapped.

I don’t consider myself disabled. My able body and mind allow me to function relatively “normally” in society. Do I take this for granted? Definitely. Perpetuating this punchline within Cards Against Humanity only further widens the gap between myself and communities of disabled people outside the game circle. We aren’t alike, so stay over there with your disability while I laugh about you with my buddies.

Granted, I don’t want this mentality. But it grows subconsciously through Cards Against Humanity. The game enables me to create the punchline with a response card at the expense of “The profoundly handicapped,” and I likely neglect a difficult conversation about what it means to be disabled.

In all honesty though, Cards Against Humanity has authored some incredibly funny cards. I dare you to give me an instance where “The mere concept of Applebees” isn’t hilarious. Or how about, “Peeing a little bit?” Unfortunately, these cards are few and far between.

Let’s take a peek at a handful of response cards that target other groups: Mild autism. A big, black dick. The Jews. Heartwarming orphans. The hardworking Mexican. Roofies. A sassy black woman. Amputees. Italians. Praying the gay away. Copping a feel. The unstoppable tide of Islam. Eugenics. The Three-Fifths Compromise. Alcoholism. Brown people. Rehab. Helen Keller (a write-in from a group in my community that plays on occasion).

Where are all of these targeted communities at the Cards Against Humanity games? Do they play it? I don’t know. But typically, all groups I’ve seen play Cards Against Humanity are composed of white, college-educated, able-bodied, cisgendered, privileged individuals. We hardly feel any microaggressions inflicted by our society, so who are we to make these kinds of jokes?

Granted, I don’t believe people play this game because they’re racists and bigots. I do believe, however, that many who play are blind to the implications of the game itself. After hearing from my friend last fall, I continually encourage a critical eye towards Cards Against Humanity within my community. We can’t care about a problem unless we know it exists.

Cards Against Humanity holds the best-selling slot for Amazon.com’s toys and games category. For a progressive society that aims to dismantle prejudice and social injustice, this game has been seriously overlooked.

Perhaps I’m an over-sensitive, wet blanket. Over-policing the world can paralyze us—it’s not healthy. If we head down that road, we might wake up one day afraid to speak because we could offend somebody. Personally, in picking and choosing social injustice battles, this one is worth fighting.

With my sincerest endorsement, play Cards Against Humanity if your community unites around the game. But if and when you play, look around at who sits with you.

Check yourself for what privilege you have, who you target and whether or not you could play that card in front of anybody—especially the individuals who identify as such.

It’s time we took a different angle on this game, and I hope you’re open to the idea.

Colin Marshall is an MSU alumnus and video director at WDBM (88.9-FM). Reach him at colin.marshall91@gmail.com.

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