There was a group of students near the vending machines playing a game, and they responded to my approach in pursuit of a Diet Coke by becoming suddenly silent. Clearly they didn’t want me to hear what they were saying. It was awkward, but I let my hand linger over the button to see if I could learn anything. Then one of them blurted out, “We’re playing Cards Against Humanity!“
My heart sank. I could only mutter, “Well that’s unfortunate.”
“Why?” one of them asked, slightly indignant. I wasn’t expecting that. Their silence at my approach meant they knew an adult wouldn’t approve of their playing, at a church youth conference, a game dubbed to be “for horrible people.” I suppose it’s a fair question though.
“Because it’s really offensive,” is all I could answer. It was awkward again, and I couldn’t take it, so I took my Diet Coke and left them to the game I’d just insulted them for playing.
Leaving the vending machines, I felt the need of some justification for pouring cold holy water on some teenage fun. I’ve never actually played Cards Against Humanity, so I did a quick search for commentary that would support my judgmental intervention and found this useful description of the game play, which includes the unambiguous assessment:
It’s what mainstream white culture has done for generations and the framework which Cards Against Humanity deliberately provides is one that encourages it further. In an age of greater awareness, where more and more people push for social change, this game is winking at you and telling you it’s okay to indulge those backward prejudices. It’s just fun, it says. It’s ironic, it says. And for the white male designers of Cards Against Humanity, who are primarily selling it to white male players, a lot of these belittling, dehumanising concepts are just a bit of fun rather than real issues that affect them.
If you’re wondering if any of the kids I caught playing were non-white, they weren’t. This was a group of white teenagers who a few hours earlier had clapped and hooted during worship when the preacher charged them to take a faith-based stand against racism. Now here they were indulging a game in which racial prejudice is part of the setup. I was near despondent about it, not to mention embarrassed that I’d walked off and left the game in progress, not to mention disappointed that my ministry with teenagers has produced students who feel comfortable playing such a game.
I spotted the owner of the game about an hour later and asked him if he would please not bring the game out again. I muttered something about it going against the values of the conference, something that felt both judgy and weak at the same time. He politely agreed.
Too little too late.