Cards Against Humanity: Our Sin in Black and White

Richard Clark reviews a card game that crosses all the right lines.

Written by Richard Clark / Published on September 24, 2012

When I introduced myself to the creators of Cards Against Humanity and explained that I was from a website called GameChurch (“we look at games from a Christian perspective,” I told them) and was interested in talking to them about their game, they hesitated nervously. “I’m not sure this is the sort of thing you want on your web site.”

I was way ahead of them. I had become familiar with Cards Against Humanity as it was being talked about for months beforehand on Twitter, game sites, and other outlets. I knew the idea behind the game, and I was more than willing to risk exposing my virgin eyes to a few dirty words for the sake of taking the game on a test-drive. I knew the game could be disturbing, but I wasn’t convinced that it was wrong in and of itself.

"The game causes us to sit back and think about that for a moment. All of a sudden we’re thinking about the timeless nature of gender discrimination or racism."
The game plays like a more specific version of Apples to Apples: the “Card Czar” plays a black card, which asks a question or has a blank to fill in. Something like: “___________. That’s how I want to die.” Then, each player chooses one white card from the ten in their hand to answer the question or fill in the blank. Those cards might say things like: “Winking at old people,” “Hurricane Katrina,” “A Bitch Slap,” “Doing the Right Thing,” or something much much much worse that I simply can’t (okay, won’t) reprint here.

The result is an unending series of hilariously shocking answers to seemingly benign questions. The first time I played the game was at a boardgame convention with several other writers and staff members from Gamechurch. In fact, it was the first time any of us had played the game.

The truth is, it’s an art finding the right crowd to play a game that contains cards that would make the most hardened sailor blush. Playing with a group of people that know one another well and that understand one another is essential, and at times you may understand a prospective player well enough to know they should probably abstain altogether, for the sake of keeping the peace and avoiding potentially awkard situations. To be honest, before playing with one group of friends, I decided to do a bit of modding, removing some of the more sexually explicit cards from the deck.

But why even bother? Browsing through the cards is a whiplash-inducing endeavor, forcing you to face the existence of some of the most unpleasant and unholy acts, events, and items you can imagine. What’s the point of making a game that spotlights the things we ought to hate?

TRUTH – white people are totally into “keeping Christ in Christmas”

Cards Against Humanity is unique in that it is wholly about ideas and their implicit power. Its stark black and white design gives the game a decidedly neutral stance toward any of the ideas that may exist on its cards. White privilege, Harry Potter erotica, Kanye West, and God are all given equal treatment, which is to say that the players are given complete control over their treatment. It’s as if we were given a list of everything in the world and instructed to sort through them, casting judgment or offering praises respectively.

But the questions we answer with those items frame these judgments for us. More often than not, those questions setup opportunities for honest and unabashed reflection on our humanity: “What would grandma find disturbing, yet oddly charming?” “What did the U.S. airdrop to the children of Afghanistan?” “Daddy, why is mommy crying?” These are brutal questions with even more brutal possible answers: “Rehab,” or “Brown People,” or “The Glass Ceiling.”

The game causes us to sit back and think about that for a moment. All of a sudden we’re thinking about the timeless nature of gender discrimination or racism. We’re acknowledging the genuine life-altering pain that comes as a result of drug abuse or broken families. Oh, and we’re laughing a lot too.

That last part there, that’s the part that really makes us uncomfortable, right? That we’d be considering such deeply serious and tragic things while laughing and having a good time seems wrong.

“I’m going to hell for laughing at that,” someone says.

“Dude. Not Cool.”

Cards Against Humanity, a self-dubbed “party game for horrible people,” appeals to those who are honest with themselves about the nature of their own world and their own soul. We are horrifically imperfect people, and the problems are so big and seemingly insurmountable that when placed before us in unavoidable black and white letters, the only response that makes any practical sense is to laugh at the absurdity of it all. At least, for tonight.

Still, tomorrow we won’t be laughing. Then what, I wonder?

About the Author:

Richard Clark is director of editorial development for CT Pastors and Preaching Today, a co-founder of Christ and Pop Culture, and has written for Unwinnable and Kill Screen. He can be followed on twitter @TheRichardClark.

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  • Superesc

    Admitting I am a terrible person is not very funny when I also admit someone died for how terrible I am.

  • Sean Motola

    Cards Against Humanity is an amazing game. I have a blog devoted to expanding the game further. I update regularly with downloadable PDFs you can print out and integrate into the game.

  • Michelle Mic Mic Sweeney

    What I don’t understand is how people can laugh at the expense of other people’s pain. Maybe it’s just because they are privileged suburbians who haven’t suffered but babies being burned alive is not funny. Children who are adults now whose mothers and fathers will never see their wedding because they died in a gas chamber isn’t humor. As Christians we are a new creation in Christ the old things have passed away, therefore why are we being okay with being horrible? Why are we condoning our sins for the pleasure of a laugh instead of fighting it with all our power. If Jesus said to cut out the eye if it makes you sin what makes you think that we should approve our sinful nature and feel free from it? Sin is a chain that bides us from what really matters and we should be able to have fun and enjoy entertainment but at the same time we should not be okay with sin.

  • A Random

    I was brought here by a Reddit post, If you would like a view from someone who is agnostic. Sin is just a word, everything that you know are words to describe something so you understand what people are saying. Playing a game is not a sin, no matter how bad it is. Laughing at it is far from it to. If you can accept for an hour or 2 of your life that this game is going to be terrible in every way possible and just have fun with it your not gonna be going to hell, or have sin follow you. If you can’t handle the raunchy humor of the game then you shouldn’t be playing it. The creators pretty much say “Hey guys this isn’t for everyone, this game is Raciest, Sexiest, and every other EST out there.” Laughing at something that’s bad or mean or anything like that isn’t a sin.

  • 2hens

    For an agnostic, you seem to speak from authority on what Christians believe and how they ought to conduct themselves. I think in your world sin is just a word, but in a follower of Yeshuah world it’s best to ask ourselves (when defining what is sin) if we would feel comfortable doing _____ if Yeshuah was standing right there. The answer becomes very clear if we are honest with ourselves.

  • Platypus

    He’s right though, it’s not a sin. Un-Christian? Yes. A sin? No, not if you are not mistreating another human being.

  • Kell Brigan

    Ben Hantoot, a developer of the “game,” described how playtesters would leave the “game” sobbing. He said he was “OK” with that, because it proved the game “worked.” Sounds like harm to me. More specifically, the people who are laughing are doing some psychic vampirism on the suffering of the people who are sobbing (even if they’re not immediately in the room.),d.eXY

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  • Matt Martin

    Yeshuah is right there, thats what ominpresent means.God is always there everywhere and inbetween.

  • MurphsLaw

    We become that which we celebrate.
    Auschwitz, Aids… etc.
    What a hoot.