During her GX3 talk entitled “Games Will Warp Your Mind and Turn You Gay (or They Could)”
Naomi Clark — a veteran game designer with Lego Digital Designer and professor at the NYU Game Center — mentioned a recent study in which scientists found that games like Cards Against Humanity actually reduce racist and sexist attitudes by prompting and requiring players to say offensive things, thus making them more aware of their own unconscious biases and prejudiced thoughts.
Clark said, “Playing roles inside games can influence our own sexual and gender identity. It affects the development of these categories and how we come to understand their relation to ourselves.”
In her talk, Clark noted that humans have found enjoyment through games since the beginning of time, evolving games from literally “throwing bones” with holes in them to complex story-telling presented through illuminated screens. But games still hold the same goal — to win — and yet a secondary goal fewer people realize — to help players socialize.
“Games and playing [are] common throughout the different species in our world,” Clark said. “[They’re] used as a way to experiment with goals and abilities, trying things out in a safe and much more adorable manner.”
In Cards Against Humanity, the goal is to be as hilarious as possible by deliberately inserting offensive words and phrases into otherwise innocuous statements. When players snicker guiltily at mentions of The Holocaust or groan and grow quiet at responses like “a serial child molester”, it teaches them the limits and boundaries of bad jokes and whether they’d get away with such offensive jokes in other non-game contexts.
Clark aded that humans are the only animal species that sets rules on their play and get upset about cheating. We put value in the way we execute these games and it is this approach that enables us to get a better reward. One could conceivably cheat at Cards Against Humanity but it’d be pretty petty considering the game’s un-seriousness.
Rather, Cards Against Humanity also teaches players about their peers’ particular senses of humor: maybe one player may love poop jokes, another may dislike any mention of rape or violence. Knowing players’ tastes can help competitors tailor their responses and win the game — the developing their emotional acuity and social understanding.
“Engaging in games is equal to sharpening your claws,” Clark said. “If you have claws you need to sharpen them. By playing we are sharpening our brain’s capacity to achieve any given goal.”
Neuroscience proposes that our brain is plastic in a sense. Neuroplasticity (as it’s called) is our brain’s ability to change and re-form its physical structure to better enhance its day-to-day functions. Taking this into account, games that focus on spatial awareness and puzzle solving trigger changes inside our brain’s core, creating new and easier neural pathways to achieve these goals. The brain exercises and becomes more able. Nintendo’s Brain Age franchise (a collection of mini-games that test memory, spatial reasoning and reflexes) is based on this idea.
But video games affect more than just our hand-eye coordination and reflexes. “Turns out that games can affect our attitudes and biases, our beliefs about the world,” Clark said.
She continued, “Even though games will not turn the straightest man we know onto the gay side of the force, we still know that with gay gamers like me games have been instrumental in helping with the understanding of ourselves. How we understand and explore and play with all these possibilities.”Cards Against Humanity mental health tabletop games