How a bawdy online game is helping friends stay connected during the pandemic

How a bawdy online game is helping friends stay connected during the pandemic

11/28/2020 5:03:00 PM

How a bawdy online game is helping friends stay connected during the pandemic

'All Bad Cards,' a free online game reminiscent of 'Cards Against Humanity,' can bring friends together during the pandemic — especially friends who like raunchy humor.

Advertisement“All Bad Cards” can be played while the participants are chatting on a Zoom call — replacing that face-to-face interaction that most of us lost because of the pandemic.For my group of friends, the games are usually intermixed with conversations about events of our week or grousing about the polarization of our country. Often the games are interrupted by a family dog barking in the background, an internet connection failing or a wineglass tragically going empty.

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After the game launched in April, it surged in popularity, quickly overwhelming its small server, said, the game’s creator. The game site has been getting up to a million page views a week and up to 10 million minutes of usage a month, he said.If Lauer’s numbers are accurate, “All Bad Cards” is about as popular as some of the

. “,” in which players control worms that consume glowing dots, and “,” which features round cells that try to eat a jelly-like substance, put up similar numbers, according to Comscore, an analytics and marketing data company.Advertisement

“All Bad Cards” isn’t even Lauer’s day job. The 31-year-old is a senior engineer at Bungie, the Bellevue, Wash., video game developer behind “Halo,” “Myth” and “Destiny.” He said the idea to launch “All Bad Cards” came to him during a conversation with his sister-in-law when stay-at-home orders were first announced in Washington state.

“We were talking about how difficult it was that we couldn’t see each other, and how it’s crazy that everyone in the world was going through this same struggle,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to do something normal together?”Lauer said he made “All Bad Cards” as a tribute to “Cards Against Humanity,” one of his favorite games.

The creators of “Cards Against Humanity” did not respond to a request for comment.AdvertisementAt first, Lauer asked players for donations to help recoup the $700 a month it cost him to rent the server space. The game’s popularity grew, and costs went up, so in August he stopped asking for donations and began running ads via Google on the game’s website. The game remains free to play, although people can pay to remove ads or access expansions.

Lauer declined to say how much revenue the site is drawing but said it’s enough to cover the cost of the now-increased server space.“My plan when I launched the site was to pay for it out of pocket as long as states were mandating quarantine because I knew a lot of people would be out of work or bored at home and would need some kind of emotional reprieve,” he said.

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He was right.AdvertisementFor the last several months, my weekly “All Bad Cards” games have been like a regular gathering among friends at a bar. We joke. We tease. We tell bawdy jokes and we laugh, forgetting for a couple of hours that the world seems to be coming apart around us. It’s a taste of those human connections that the pandemic has robbed from us.

My regular group is made up of two therapists, an emergency room nurse, a community college instructor, a caregiver and a sales account manager, among others. On the game website, we give ourselves less-professional-sounding monikers like JoJo Rabbit, Gale Wild, Mr. Ed and Cactus Carlos.

Players take turns reading prompts, which are structured as fill-in-the-blank sentences. Each other player looks at the response options on the virtual cards in their hand and picks one they think fills in the blank in a funny way. The prompt reader’s favorite wins the round.

The prompts are usually very staid. One example: “I love ____, it gives me such comfort.”AdvertisementBut the potential responses can be hilarious. Some of the more family-friendly options:◆ “a turtle in a turtleneck”◆ “Ted Bundy’s sweet side”◆ “a messy colonoscopy”

◆ “clapping when the plane lands”To win on a regular basis you need to gauge the sense of humor of the person reading the prompt. Are they crass and vulgar or highbrow and dry?Lauer said writing the prompts was more difficult than writing the responses because the prompts have to make sense when a verb, noun or a plural noun is dropped into the blank.

“One of my favorite cards I wrote is just the word “moo,” which doesn’t make any grammatical sense with the prompts, but it always gets a big laugh,” he said.What’s going to happen to such games once the pandemic ends? Experts agree that Americans will probably continue to connect with one another via online games and video chats because the technology has made it so much more convenient and faster than it used to be.

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“If connection is the goal, now we also have other tools where we can connect with people we care about in other ways,” Rutledge said. “In the end, they make our relationships richer.”Advertisement Read more: Los Angeles Times »

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