14 May Wall Street Journal “Game On” Column Features Not Parent Approved!
It’s so rewarding to see the WSJ “Game On” columnist and neuroscientist Christopher Chabris agree with us that “this kind of game will stretch your mind, and your social skills, in unusual directions.”
Most games revolve around winning. But with party games, the key objective is creating a fun collective social experience.
The classic game Pictionary exploits two facts about human nature: Most people are terrible artists, and everyone suffers from a “curse of knowledge” that makes it hard to accept that other people don’t see your drawing as a perfect illustration of the concept you are thinking of. Charades is the same, but with acting instead of drawing.
The hottest party games today are based on words and phrases. In Cards Against Humanity, currently ranked as the No. 1 best seller in toys and games on Amazon.com, players earn points by coming up with the best ways to complete sentences like “But before I kill you, Mr. Bond, I must show you…” or “Why am I sticky?”
The catch: You have just 10 possible answers, each printed on a white card, and you have to pick one. There is no ad-libbing and no objectively correct answer: Each round’s winner is decided by the “card czar,” the player who read the question or the fill-in-the-blank sentence. The czar answers only to his own sense of humor, and his decisions are final. After each round, a different player becomes czar and draws a new black card with a new prompt for the next round. The game ends whenever the players want.
Cards Against Humanity is a politically incorrect reimagination of the game Apples to Apples, in which the cards contain adjectives and nouns, and your goal is to pick the noun that goes best with the adjective. Both games descend from Mad-Libs, invented in the 1950s, which itself recalled a surrealist pastime called “Exquisite Corpse.” But in those older precursors, the humor was inadvertent: The players in Mad-Libs who supply the words don’t know the story their words are going into, only the part of speech or category they have to match.
In the new games, the humor results from deliberate choices. But players’ choices are sharply constrained: There is one black card per round, and each player has a small set of white cards to pick from. Without these constraints, the game would just be a comedy writing competition. With them, it becomes a brilliant exercise in social intelligence. That sets it apart from most other games, which focus on spatial ability, memory or other cognitive skills.
To win at Cards Against Humanity, you must size up other people’s sense of humor—and the limits of their knowledge. If you’re playing with grad-school friends, answering the James Bond prompt with the card “heteronormativity” is a great play. If your grandfather is the czar, it probably isn’t. Or you may just want to have fun and not care whether your sister-in-law will giggle or gag when you play “lumberjack fantasies,” “dead parents” or any of the game’s many entirely unprintable cards.
The success of Cards Against Humanity has spawned many fan-made expansion packs, with names like Cards Against the Humanities, Crabs Adjust Humidity and (of course) Trump Against Humanity. For players who aren’t old enough for some of the more adult humor, there is “Not Parent Approved,” with cards that appeal to preteen sensibilities: “Boys remind me of…” might be completed with “Unidentifiable cafeteria food.” In any version, this kind of game will stretch your mind, and your social skills, in unusual directions.