Poop, Sex and Games People Play
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Cards Against Humanity was — and maybe still is! — a cultural juggernaut.
By Shannon Sims
New Year’s Eve 2009, and some nerdy high schoolers are coming up with a new card game. Black Friday 2013, and you’re paying an elevated “anti-sale” price for it. So goes the phenomenon of Cards Against Humanity, the hottest non-virtual game the world’s seen in a while. It’s been called a naughty Apples to Apples, but with earnings estimated at $12 million and a marketing coup that mailed out boxes of bullshit — actual bull feces — to 30,000 delighted, paying customers, the subversive popularity of Cards Against Humanity is, well, something special.
We caught up with one of the co-creators, 28-year-old Daniel Dranove, in his Hawaii pad (via email, sigh) to ask him to explain why Cards is still so popular and what else he’s got up his sleeve. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.
What worked about Cards Against Humanity?
We used to joke that we were selling heroin. People would look through the cards, get a little taste and get hooked. They’d play it with their friends or post it online and spread it for us. The eight of us have been friends for over half our lives now. We have very different personalities, so when we are all excited by the same joke it often means we’ve got something good.
What surprised you about Cards’ success?
I used to be glued to watching orders come in during launches. That was always the moment of truth, when we’d been out of stock for a while and half expected the world was done with us. But sales kept coming in and I never had to decide on a non-poop-related career path.
How often do you play Cards? (Or, do you hate to play it now?)
We still meet (online) three times a week to brainstorm cards and play-test. By the time a card makes it into the game we’ve made every funny card combination with it we can find, broken down why it’s funny, and gone back and forth on whether it’s good enough. We also fly in from around the country to meet in person before finalizing anything. By the end of our creative process we’ve usually squeezed all the fun out of it.
What are you working on now?
Kaitlin (Dranove’s girlfriend) and I made a sex game called Weapons of Mass Seduction that we’ll be doing a Kickstarter for. We made it for each other for Valentine’s Day 2013; we weren’t planning on making it public. But it turned out to be a good game. It’s a little like playing ‘would you rather,’ except you’re guessing what your opponent wants and you win sexual favors if you get it right.
What made Monopoly a classic, and how is gaming changing?
Monopoly is, in my opinion, a terrible game. I think Monopoly is only a classic because we weren’t open to and discerning enough about our other options. A lot of people sneered at fantasy games and nerdiness in general, and we didn’t have the Internet to help us figure out what was good and what wasn’t. Now we’re in a golden age of gaming, and it’s becoming more commonplace for the average person to have played strategy tabletop games. German games are extremely popular and they all have to do with trading sheep for stone and never make the tiniest mention of Hitler’s penis.
Are you worried about how CAH will age?
Not really, no. People like to sit down with their friends, laugh, and tell jokes. If anything, they’ll want the personal connection more as they become more immersed in digital media. I can’t say for sure that we’ll be a classic, but as long as we can make people laugh, we’re golden.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Kaitlin (Dranove’s girlfriend) was a CAH co-founder.
- Shannon Sims, Based in Brazil, Shannon is OZY’s Latin American correspondent and legal voice. In her many lives, she’s taught elementary school in Harlem, managed a hotel in Italy and researched forests in Brazil. A University of Texas law grad raised in Louisiana, she prefers cowboy boots over heels, and hot sauce over everything. Follow Shannon Sims on Twitter Follow Shannon Sims on FacebookContact Shannon Sims