Cringeworthy Card Game Calls Out Humanitarians

Cringeworthy Card Game Calls Out Humanitarians

By Taylor Mayol



Because do-gooders need to laugh at themselves.

By Taylor Mayol

My NGO name means ___________ in Kiswahili. 

Poverty porn? Nepotism? From the American People? Sexpats? The players decide the winning answer. 

Take what a self-deprecating, anti-politically correct comedian does onstage, wrap it up in a board game and you get JadedAid. Think of it as “Cards Against Humanitarians,” a word-association card game (and parody of Cards Against Humanity) that lets players “be the cynicism they wish to see in the world.” Players are dealt a hand of cringeworthy answer cards — like “the photogenic orphan,” “vandalizing a Mandela statue” or “U.N. peacekeeper cholera” — and play what they deem the best, or most outrageous, match to the question card. Examples include “Foreign assistance was created to feed white people’s insatiable appetite for ….” Win the game by having the most answers chosen as the best (or funniest) outcomes.

Creators Jessica Heinzelman, Wayan Vota and self-described “honest-to-God African” Teddy Ruge say the point of the game is to laugh at the things humanitarians can’t change and to make fun of the aid industry’s pitfalls. “The other aspect is catharsis,” says Vota. The creators ran in the same so-called technology-for-development circles for years, swapping ideas in bars from East Africa to D.C. One night they got together to play Cards Against Humanity, and it quickly turned into a let’s-take-this-game-and-make-it-our-own kind of night. The result clearly resonated: Their Kickstarter campaign met its $12,000 goal in less than 48 hours.

JadedAid is part of a wider conversation about the problem-riddled aid industry, from the satirical blog Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like to thoroughgoing critiques by academics like Alex de Waal. Vota also runs so-called Fail Festivals around the world, filling auditoriums with hundreds of people to listen as humanitarians explain, in five minutes or less, how they messed up royally. It’s almost like group therapy, and so is the game. The launch party last month in Washington, D.C., drew more than 100 people, and card-design parties are planned this month in 10 cities, part of an effort to build a “global community.” 

Of course, some in the development industry think the game is more WTF than LOL. Like most aid workers, former Peace Corps volunteer Christi Turner experienced moments in Madagascar when everything seemed futile, but she says that you need to get past that — or find a new career: “Jaded people can’t help do the fixing.” For Turner, it’s “somewhat sad” that a game is making money this way.  

Even so, the game tries to recognize its own absurdity. As one reward for pledging monetary support on Kickstarter, you can get one, give one (to an aid worker “in need”) — a sassy play on Toms shoes and other social businesses. Vota says it allows people to indulge in consumerism and “feel better by dumping goods on poor people abroad.” We’ll let you be the judge.