If you have been to a smallish party in, oh, the last five years or so, chances are someone at that party has at some point brought out the little rectangular black box that holds the game Cards Against Humanity. Created in 2011 as a sort of brash younger brother of the comparatively family-friendly Apples to Apples, the card game is a hit, currently the top seller in the toys-and-games category on Amazon.
Playing the game is easy: There are the black cards, on which are written questions or fill-in-the-blank statements. (An example, taken from a short-lived blog about the game: “Money can’t buy me love, but it can buy me _____.”) And then there are the white cards, which contain potential answers to the questions posed by the black cards. (“Unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks.” “Flying robots that kill people.” “My manservant, Claude.” “That ass.”) Each round, there is a “card czar,” who pulls a black card from the deck; each player must then choose the best white card from his or her hand to go with the black card. The card czar chooses the best of the white cards, and whoever submitted that card wins the round.
But winning the game — ah, this is another matter entirely. Writing recently in The Wall Street Journal, psychologist Christopher Chabris pinpoints the thing too many players of Cards Against Humanity get wrong about the game. It isn’t about coming up with the funniest answers; it’s about coming up with the answers that will be funniest to your current card czar. It is a game of empathy, in a way — a contest in reading people, not a game of demonstrating which player is best at benign violation theory.
For example, in my group of friends (with whom I have played this game more times than I care to count), there is the guy who will always pick the dirtiest answer, no matter how little sense it ultimately makes. And then there is the guy, on the other hand, who very much needs the white card to make sense in correspondence with the black card, regardless of how hilarious the other non sequiturs may be. What the first guy would choose as the winning card would almost never overlap with what the second guy would choose.
Without the constraint of the judge in each round, Chabris writes, “the game would just be a comedy-writing competition. With them, it becomes a brilliant exercise in social intelligence.” Those who are best at the game, then, are also likely skilled at taking the perspective of others. And here you thought it was just about the best application of the card that says, simply: “Bees?”