We might be launching a series of good talks with good people, or we might not. For the purposes of this blog post, let’s say we are. To kick off Talks With Interesting People, I sat down with Max Temkin, co-creator of Cards Against Humanity, April 24, 2014 in Chicago, Ill. We talked about important things of all sorts, like the relationship between comedy and technology, and how it all comes together in the delightfully offensive and even-more-delightfully analog Cards Against Humanity.
Below is the transcript of the video segment above.
Baratunde: I’m in this town to speak at a programming conference and talk about how creativity and technology having this close relationship, but you are known most for a card game. For an analog, tactile experience, where people have to be at the same physical table. I’ve got to smell somebody else’s nasty breath. I might get spat upon, and that is so different from where money and attention are flowing as far as new interactive experiences. Cards Against Humanity is highly interactive. What gives with the analog game? Tell me about your choice there, given your age.
Max: Going into cards, it was to some degree, it was a challenge that we had to overcome, that we were doing this very old fashioned thing that maybe was a little bit out of time and like you said, it wasn’t like…people weren’t clamoring to play card games or whatever.
As we’ve gotten a little older and more mature and learned more about it and seen its place in the world, I actually think it was a secret strength of the game. To some degree, we made this thing for ourselves long before we had any idea of sharing it with people, and it answered a need that we had in our lives, which was we wanted a reason to hang out with each other in real life and have a human experience that was not mitigated by screens, or text, or typing…
Baratunde: I’ve got four screens in front of me right now by the way.
Max: Right, I know, but that’s our lives. I’m not saying anything bad about that because that’s how I spend 18 hours a day, staring at glowing rectangles, but we did have that need of we wanted this way to connect with each other, so that was part of it, that you’re going to have this great social experience with people.
People often tell us, like when I talk to them about cards, like, “Oh, I’ve had the best time of my life. We went out to a bar, and we were laughing, having fun.” The secret is cards is actually a very small part of that. It’s really just that it was the impetus for you to like…
Baratunde: Connect with these people.
Max: Yeah, go out with people, make a plan, show up at the bar, be with each other, not be looking at your phones. That is a good experience with or without cards, but I’m glad that we were able to push it with…
Baratunde: You’re like a catalyst.
Baratunde: I experienced it in a big fashion at Thanksgiving. My sister lives in Lansing. She’s got a big community of friends there. I don’t see her much, much less them, because when I do, I try to sneak in and out. I want to maximize my time with her. There were probably 20 people, and we took over the restaurant. We put tables together. It slows the game down a lot.
I don’t recommend 20, by the way. It’s almost too much because people get long conversations going, it breaks up the group experience a little, but it was insanely fun. It was how I met people, too, so it was an interesting way to get a window into your personality, like [inaudible 07:07] forth, how are you explaining things.
Max: We never thought of it as like an icebreaker game, and even that word makes me nauseous. I just hate…
Baratunde: It’s a getting to know you for your coworkers, for trust gains.
Max: It’s like when you’re in college and someone’s like, “Let’s play an icebreaker game,” you should flee for the door.
Baratunde: They probably want to add more ice to this experience.
Max: Yeah, but cards always kinds of work. It has that weird, peculiar effect of when you meet new people, you think…I have a lot of social anxiety, and one of the things I worry about is like, “Am I going to say the wrong thing? Is this person not going to like me?”
Baratunde: So you made a thing that forces people to say the wrong thing.
Max: Yeah, it doesn’t force you, but it gives you permission to talk about things that wouldn’t necessarily…you’re saying out loud…the game is a framework that lets you say things out loud that you might not otherwise say to people, and there’s a certain tension there, but that’s comedy.
When you create that tension and then people laugh, there’s like the tension and the release of the tension. It’s like, “OK, we’re all cool.” Everyone can laugh at these things. We’re all aware of these…
Max: Yeah. It’s like taboos or even the things that normally divide people, and it’s like, “We’ll put it all on the table. Literally, it’s right there. I’m going to say it out loud.” I do think, yeah, it is a pretty good shortcut to just cutting through all that bullshit.”
It’s always nice to edit an interview so it ends on the word “bullshit.” If you want more bullshit from Max, he’s on Twitter. Stay tuned to the Neat blog. We’ll be adding more segments from Max that address racial privilege, the creative process, and how Cards reverse-trolls its haters. Special thanks to Harper Reed and the team at Modest for letting Max and me yell inappropriately in their offices for this interview.