CAH Cards


Cards Against Humanity (2009) – Accessibility Teardown (NSFW)

Context of Document

This is not a review of this game. You will find the review linked in the introduction.

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then please stop reading now. This will not be the blog for you, and we have no interest in debating with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

If you like what we're doing with Meeple Like Us, please consider liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, and sharing our content on Reddit and your own social networks. We appreciate every thing you do to help us get the word out!

Version reviewed

English UK edition v 1.7

Introduction

Cards Against Humanity can be a fun experience, even though it’s not a great game – that’s why we gave it 2.5 stars in our review. Those with impairments are just as likely to be terrible people as those without, so let’s see whether or not Cards Against Humanity is a game that everyone can use to recreationally blood let their own horrible demons.

Visual Impairments

This is one of the few games where colour blindness simply isn’t an issue, and its down to the austere, minimalist card design. Every card uses two colours – white and black. Answer cards are white background and black text, question cards are the other way around. Contrast is extremely high, and there are zero issues of accessibility with regards to the palette:

Colour Blindness 1

Colour blindness from the front

That’s the only two colours in the card-set. It would be difficult to get it wrong:

Colour Blindness 2

Can I see it from the back?

Nonetheless, here’s our first absolute pass for colour blindness.

Similarly for other visual impairments – contrast is extremely good, and the choice of striking white and black mean that as long as there is some ability to discern colours, its easy to know what cards you’re looking at.

Text on the answer cards too is clear and free of visual clutter, but there is a missed opportunity. There is so much white space on the cards that it seems strange nobody thought to make the font bigger. There are a few cards where that would mean the length text sequences don’t fit, but to be honest they’re also the kind of cards the deck can most afford to lose. The writing isn’t incredibly small, but it could do with being bigger to support those with visual impairments.

A larger difficulty with the cards is that you have ten of them in your hand at any one time, and any card can be played for any question. There’s a need to be able to visually ascertain the entirety of your hand at any one time, which can make things complicated if visual acuity is limited. It’s also necessary to be able to consider each answer card in relation to the question cards that have been played. Larger text would have meant that it wasn’t necessary to use magnifiers and the like to evaluate sensible play.

Card Font

Like my penis, would have benefited from being a bit bigger.

Nonetheless, for issues short of serious blindness, this is a reasonably accessible game for those with visual impairments. We’d recommend it for most people, although we’d also suggest a little bit of flexibility on hand-counts to ease with the play. Some of the optional house rules in the slim instruction sheet would be suitable for this.

Cognitive Accessibility

There’s no need for long term memory management in CAH – everything you need is right in front of you at all times. However, there’s a fair bit of cognitive processing that goes into ascertaining play. Many of the cards allow free-form association, and the connections implied by particular question and answer combinations may be abstract or tenuous. Some combinations may also require a little bit of general knowledge to understand what the joke is. This puts something of a burden on meaningful play. This is compounded by the relative obscurity of some of the references. Minor cognitive impairments wouldn’t be significantly impacted, but those with severe impairments may find it difficult to make plays that are likely to score points if the intention is actual competition. This can be alleviated by removing scoring entirely, which is a thing we’ve previously recommended for Dixit.

Similarly when playing as the Card Tsar, the best plays are the ones which are most clever, but there’s a lot of fun to be had by varying the scoring criteria (funniest, most surreal, most disgusting, whatever) and this could be meaningfully employed to reduce the overload from ‘best’ plays. However, it is also the Tsar that picks what the winner is by the criteria they themselves set, and they need not justify their answers. It can resolve down to something as simple as ‘which of these do you like the most’.

Cards Against Humanity is recommended in this category.

Emotiveness

We wouldn’t recommend Cards Against Humanity in this category. Not even a little bit.

The whole core of CAH is designed to trigger laughter via outrage and shock, and many of the cards are *very* shocking. It’s not a game where there is direct competition or frustrating play, but it is absolutely full of extremely upsetting content for those with even a moderately sensitive disposition.

We wouldn’t even say that this anti-recommendation is limited to the usual category of emotional and behavioural disorders – we don’t recommend this game for anyone that has any kind of trigger issue. It’s inevitable that whatever the issue of emotional upset may be, it’s going to come up in the game. There are many cards in the deck that relate to rape, child abuse, transphobia, homophobia, religious discrimination and more besides. More than the cards themselves, as we discussed in the review it can be difficult to ensure the right context for play. Considering the nature of the game, it can be hard to differentiate comedic card choice from an actual endorsement. Much of the emotional upset that can be associated with the game is part of the social payload. You can be upfront about the fact that it’s possible to make a joke about something without believing it, but it can be difficult to convince others of that. It’s especially difficult to do that retroactively, as it almost always comes across as a post-facto justification rather than a fundamentally understood element of the magic circle.

A very careful curation of the game players is needed to make CAH work. It’s entirely possible that even a single wrong choice can create an escalating situation of anger and upset as players take umbrage, and then others get defensive – this can easily spiral out of control in even the best of situations.

You can modify the deck, of course, to remove cards likely to cause the most offence – but CAH is at its core a game of overcoming these kind of limitations. The right card played with the right question in the right way can set off a chain of mental associations that terminate down a dark alley of horrors. It’s not really possible to tell in advance where that alley might go. Say for example you remove all the cards explicitly about child abuse, and then someone plays the following:

Child Abuse joke

It’s not like that. The children were just serving drinks.

The implication here is that children were at the orgy, which might be funny, but absolutely brings the play back to the forbidden, taboo issue of child abuse.

Say you remove all the references to children?

Another child abuse joke

That’s uncomfortable in more ways than one

For those who aren’t aware, Jimmy Savile was a BBC TV personality that died recently. He was perhaps most famous for his show Jim’ll Fix It in which he granted the wishes of the children that wrote in. If they wanted to go to Disneyland, he made it happen. If they wanted to meet a celebrity, that’s what he’d arrange. After his death, it was discovered that he was a seriously disturbed pedophile and had abused many of the children that made their way on to his show. There’s nothing explicit about child abuse in that play, but where else is your mind going to go? In attempting to censor the deck, you’d need to be able to think through every possible combination of cards, because getting rid of the obvious ones won’t cut it. You can try an enact a table house-rule that certain topics are off-limits, but then everyone is constantly aware of the looming elephant in the room. It seems a counter-productive strategy to try and make someone feel comfortable by forcing everyone to explicitly consider their personal trauma every time they look at their cards.

Seriously – only play this game with people that are dead inside.

Physical Accessibility

The only significant issue that raises its head in terms of physical accessibility is the size of each hand. Ten cards is a lot, and you need to keep track of the text on all of them. The card-holder I have is large enough to comfortably hold half of a hand.

Half a hand of cards

You’re only going half-way to hell now.

There’s no complex hand management required though, and being a card game it’s reasonably easy to arrange the layout of play to minimise physical discomfort.

It’s recommended strongly in this category.

Communication

There are no serious communication issues here – you can play the game in grim silence if you like. In fact, we’d recommend you do that just so you don’t need to formally acknowledge the horrible thing you’re doing for fun. Once you’re done playing, disband the group forever and join up with new social circles where nobody knows your shame.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

Well, the best thing you can say about Cards Against Humanity is that it’s an equal opportunities offender. But you’d be lying, because it really isn’t.

It’s true that most sociological groups get a bashing in the cards, but it’s a game that’s designed to offend and there just aren’t the same range of ways to do that with those that are white, straight and male. As Louis CK once noted in a monologue, ‘I’m a white man. You can’t even hurt my *feelings*’.

As such, while an effort is made to be inclusive (in a manner of speaking…), the deck does have a distinct tendency to ‘punch down’. Mental, physical, sexual and racial aspects are all fair game in the cards but they’re definitely skewed. The game does come with blank cards which you can use to modify it to add in your own answers, but I suggest that there is little you could provide that would provide the same sting as, for example, ‘a robust mongoloid’. Consequently, even given cards where there’s considerable creative leeway to play combinations, the intersectionality of outrage is almost always going to skew towards minorities. There’s a rich tapestry of offence in here, but certain threads aren’t a major part of the stitching. Even those cards that ‘punch up’ against dominant socioeconomic norms can be played sarcastically to undermine valid complaints regarding institutional misogyny, systemic racism, or the fundamental economic imbalances that result in poverty.

Cost wise, you do pay a lot for what are essentially a pack of cards with mean words written on them. More than this, the novelty quickly wears off and this creates an incentive to purchase the many expansion packs. You don’t get a lot for your money, and what you do get doesn’t last an awful long time.

We can’t really recommend Cards Against Humanity in this category.

Intersectional Issues

We have the two usual issues here – card management is difficult because of the size of the hands, but you can house-rule these down to smaller and more manageable limits. Making use of the house rules that allow for cards to be discarded when drawn would make this a more feasible solution. But, since CAH requires a minimum of three players, and since it gets notably better with more players, we have the usual set of issues that go along with supporting dropping in and out of play. It may not be possible to do this without the game stopping, and even if it is it will likely have a very noticeable impact on the quality of fun for everyone that’s left. This can create a pressure for those that may be in physical or emotional discomfort. They may feel under an implied obligation to continue on with the game. The lack of a definitive end-point too means that players may feel uneasy about saying they want to bring play to a final conclusion – it’s not necessarily possible to grin and bear it until it’s all over, because there’s no obvious point where that occurs. The game ends when everyone decides it ends.

Otherwise, there is limited intersectionality in the issues we’ve discussed – even the hidden hand element isn’t a major difficulty because we are dealing with a game of communication and personal perceptions of humour. Usually it’s perfectly feasible to play whatever you like without worrying about what it actually means to other players. It’s rare that support is needed in terms of understanding the implication of particular cards. The game also has its own baked in authority figure with the Card Tsar, and nothing is lost in the game if the Tsar is responsible for taking cards from players or their card holders and playing them on the table. This may become difficult if an impaired player becomes Tsar, but it’s easy enough to ‘outsource’ the physical duty while the tsar concentrates on the judging.

Conclusion

It’s not a complex game at all, and the austerity of the visual design means it’s actually quite accessible to groups that may find other card games, such as Dixit, to be very difficult to play. This is how we break it down:

Colour Blindness A+
Visual Impairment B
Emotiveness F
Fluid Intelligence B
Memory B
Physical B
Socioeconomic E
Communication A

That gives us the following radar chart:

Radar Chart

Cards Against Humanity radar chart

Really, the only thing about CAH that is fundamentally inaccessible is the entire core of its design. It is aggressively anti-inclusive in its theme, language choice, and the topics it will tend to address. However, if you’re happy enough to put yourself through the cruel crucible it creates, then you’re likely to find yourself well placed to do so.


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