Cards Against Humanity is “a game for horrible people” — it says so right there on the box. The comedy card game works the same way as the game Apples to Apples, but with far more lewd jokes about politics, pop culture, sex, and so on. Before it was a Kickstarter success, Cards Against Humanity was available for free — DIY style — on a website. Ten years later, it’s the flagship title for a multimillion-dollar game company.
But as the game has grown from a lark designed by a group of friends into a large and lucrative business, Cards Against Humanity employees have been speaking out about why it’s challenging to work for a company that made a game for “horrible people.” In the past few weeks, multiple former employees of Cards Against Humanity — the company and the game have the same name — have shared stories on social media and with Polygon about what they characterize as a racist and sexist company culture that disproportionately affected Black employees. Sexual assault allegations against co-founder Max Temkin have reemerged, too.
Now, Temkin has “stepped down from the company and will no longer interact with staff” as of June 9, according to a Cards Against Humanity spokesperson. Temkin remains “a one-eighth shareholder,” but will not receive a salary.
“A few years ago, we reduced Max’s managerial duties in response to complaints from staff, but it is now clear that we did not fully appreciate the severity of the problem,” the spokesperson told Polygon via email. “We are incredibly sorry, and we know our apologies are not enough.”
Polygon spoke to 21 former employees and contractors and eight other colleagues with knowledge of the company and its culture, which they described as having been perpetuated by members of the company’s leadership in ways that trickled down throughout the office. Many of the people we spoke to wished to remain anonymous in fear of retaliation or because they’d signed nondisclosure agreements, and pointed to co-founder Temkin as a harbinger of the culture. Several employees described having been fired for confusing or unexpected reasons shortly after raising concerns about discrimination at work. Multiple former employees told Polygon that the lack of a human resources department was an open joke made around the office, which helped instill a culture of fear for Cards Against Humanity’s most vulnerable workers, often people of color, queer people, and women — specifically, Black women and non-binary people at the company.
Reached for comment, Cards Against Humanity issued statements on the allegations. “Some of these accounts are true, others are not, and a few we are continuing to investigate,” the co-founders said. The company posted the full list of questions asked by Polygon in a statement posted to its website and linked on Twitter at 1:26 a.m. EDT. In its answers, Cards Against Humanity acknowledged problems in the company’s culture and denied other claims, including specific allegations regarding the racist and sexist culture at the company. We’ve reprinted some of those answers throughout the story.
Cards Against Humanity’s eight co-founders — Temkin, Josh Dillon, Daniel Dranove, Eli Halpern, Ben Hantoot, David Pinsof, David Munk, and Eli Weinstein — wrote the jokes on Cards Against Humanity’s initial set of cards. These eight childhood friends, all white men, created the game in college before putting it up on Kickstarter in 2010. Cards Against Humanity’s Kickstarter campaign ended up blasting past its $4,000 goal, earning a total of $15,570. Cards Against Humanity is now the bestselling card game on Amazon. In the 10 years since its Kickstarter campaign, barely anything has changed about the game — except for the cards.
As Cards Against Humanity rose in popularity, and the team came up with expansions, the company established a writers room, where employees and contracted workers would generate card ideas. Multiple former employees told Polygon that Cards Against Humanity specifically hired a diverse team of writers to vet old cards and write new ones. However, multiple sources told Polygon that the partners wanted to minimize the role of the writers publicly, creating the image that the founders were still the primary voices behind the cards.
Cards Against Humanity is a game that lets players joke about heavy topics and social taboos, without the heaviness of actually being a terrible person and saying these terrible things. Here’s how the game works: A player pulls a “black card” from a pile; the card features a phrase with some words missing, Mad Libs-style. The other players fill in that blank (or blanks) from their own personal piles of “white cards,” which have a bunch of random words or phrases — cards that range from silly to graphic to loaded. Oftentimes, a white card might not be outright offensive in a vacuum, but when paired with a certain black card, it certainly could be described as such. For instance, if the black card were “What’s the next Happy Meal toy?” people could toss out white cards like “Dead babies,” “Harry Potter erotica,” “Child abuse,” or “Pac-Man uncontrollably guzzling cum.” The holder of the black card chooses the funniest response, and the player who submitted that white card wins the round.
Cards have been consistently rotated in and out as cultural touchstones change and expansion packs are added. There is a Geek Pack. A Design Pack. An Ass Pack. A Pride Pack, Period Pack, and Theatre Pack, among many, many others. And then there’s the “Bigger, Blacker Box,” a large black storage container that players can purchase to store their extra packs, with a title that is emblematic of the racially and sexually charged humor embedded in the game. It’s more explicit when you find the card hidden in the Bigger, Blacker Box: “The biggest, blackest dick.” The newer Bigger, Blacker Box has another secret card: “A dick so big and so black that it is a problematic stereotype.” And the 69-inch, $100 storage box adds another: “The even biggest, blackester dick.”
Cards Against Humanity has also occasionally pulled cards deemed too offensive, sometimes after public outcry. That’s what happened in 2014, when a player named Jonah posted on Tumblr about a card he found objectionable: “Passable transvestites.” Jonah’s post gained a lot of attention with folks wondering how a card that was so clearly transphobic could make it into the game. In an interview with Splinter, Cards Against Humanity co-founder Max Temkin said the team didn’t think about how these jokes might affect other people when he and his fellow co-founders originally wrote the cards.
“It’s embarrassing to me that there was a time in my life that that was funny,” Temkin told Splinter in 2014. He said the company tries to use its jokes to “punch up,” not down — taking aim at the power systems that marginalize groups of people. This hasn’t always been the case, however. There have been multiple cards removed from new editions of the game, cards like “Date rape,” “Surprise sex,” and “Not giving a shit about the third world.” But these cards don’t just automatically disappear when they’re pulled from the lineup. Thousands of them are still circulating in decks bought by fans in years past; they just won’t be put into new boxes anymore. And still, cards like “Child abuse” and “Trail of Tears” remain, bought in packs as recently as this year.
Several former staffers at Cards Against Humanity described to Polygon how problems began to emerge in the writers room as it diversified, particularly when writers would suggest cards that might appeal to a wider audience — i.e., beyond white people. Three former employees told Polygon that Black writers would consistently get their card ideas about Black culture shut down. Writer and comedian Ali Barthwell pointed to card ideas like “Denzel” and “Shonda Rhimes,” and was met with questions from her colleagues such as: “Would players even know who they are?” Regarding Rhimes, Barthwell said leadership had other questions, too: “Is she fat?”
A Cards Against Humanity representative said the “Denzel” card was added to the game “as part of the Fifth Expansion.” They included a photo of the card alongside a few others: “A good sniff.” “My genitals.” “A face full of horse cum.” “Penis envy.”
Nico Carter, an improv comedian and writer who previously worked in the Cards Against Humanity writers room, told Polygon that leadership sometimes ignored Black writers’ concerns about potentially harmful cards. He said there was an instance where head writers wanted to add a card that included the phrase “the N-word” to the game. Carter said he challenged the idea; another employee who was present in the room told Polygon the same.
“It felt like there’s some sort of weird power trip,” a former employee, who was in the writers room at the time, told Polygon, in describing Temkin’s behavior. “There’s also just some sort of complete unawareness that he’s talking to a Black man about the N-word. And he’s the boss of this card company. This is one of those moments where everyone’s in shock, and I look back at it and I’m like, ‘Why didn’t I leave? Why didn’t I just leave right then?’”
That card never made it into the game. In the Cards Against Humanity spokesperson’s retelling of the interaction, “several people of color” said they were uncomfortable with the card. The spokesperson said the partners rejected the card on Aug. 4, 2018. They shared a screenshot of a Slack conversation in which Carter approached Temkin about the “n-word card.” Temkin said he was “extremely clear on [Carter’s] viewpoint,” and pointed him toward other employees at the company, before noting he was “glad” the card was rejected.
(Update: We’ve edited this story to better describe the proposed card, “Saying the N-word,” and Temkin’s reaction to the card.)
Carter thanked Temkin for listening and said he’d email Temkin regarding the card.
Of the eight co-founders, Temkin was the one who spent the most time at the Cards Against Humanity office, sources said, but multiple former employees said they felt the other founders were also complicit in the culture of the office.
In another instance, Carter said he approached the lead writers with concerns about a family-friendly version of Cards Against Humanity. Carter told Polygon he was concerned that the game would appeal only to middle- and upper-middle-class white children. Some of the cards suggested to appear in the deck were “The maid” or “The housemaid,” Carter said.
“I was just like, ‘Can we at least try to make it “The housemaid riding a gnarly wave,”’ because if we just say ‘housemaid,’ you’re ultimately relying on the American id, and the American id, when they think housemaid, thinks a brown or Black woman.’ What you’re doing is forcing people to make fun of that image and you’re not changing it in any way.”
(Update, June 29, 2:10 p.m. EDT: While Carter had characterized these cards to Polygon as ones that were “were coming into the game and being put in,” Cards Against Humanity said it “found no card with either the words ‘maid’ or ‘housemaid’ in any play-tested version of the game, or in the free version.”)
(Correction, July 13, 11:24 a.m. EDT: Carter clarified that he had not intended to imply that the cards were final cards for the game — just suggestions. Polygon has updated this section to reflect Carter’s original intent.)
Carter continued: “The power of the game, the power that that room has, can change those images. They can try to empower people that might not otherwise [have power]. They can punch up.”
Two former employees recalled these encounters in interviews with Polygon. One source told Polygon that being a person of color at Cards Against Humanity felt like having three different jobs. “It’s such a hard job for a person of color to have to do the work that their white co-workers are doing, but at the same time, also have to defend your work and try to explain to a white person how a joke is problematic,” a former employee said. “It’s like having three different jobs.
“And just, walking around outside and getting profiled, it can really rile you up and make you feel passionate,” the source continued. “And I feel like whenever people of color are passionate like that, they get deemed to be mentally ill, or they’re labeled something that can easily fix the problem and erase it from view. That’s kind of what I felt like I saw.”
A Cards Against Humanity spokesperson pointed Polygon to 14 cards “that reflect Black culture, history, and perspectives.” The spokesperson said the company will continue its goal of “making Cards Against Humanity a game that speaks to everyone.” In a follow-up message, Cards Against Humanity’s PR representative emphasized that the game has “well over 100” cards that “reflect black culture, history, and perspective,” and that the 14 cards were merely a “favorite” sampling.
(Update: We’ve updated this paragraph to include a follow-up from Cards Against Humanity.)
Three former writers that Polygon spoke to didn’t feel like this was a priority at the time, however.
Part of the job included writers sorting through old cards and weeding out the ones that were offensive or outdated. A lot of problematic cards were removed, a source told Polygon, adding that a lot of them stayed even when writers had problems with them. Part of this process was adding notes on a spreadsheet, a copy of which was obtained by Polygon, that was essentially a master list of cards. Writers added anonymous notes providing their thoughts on the cards. Sometimes, the comments would be as simple as “meh” or “could be more specific.” Other times, writers called out cards that felt racist, sexist, or problematic in some way. Multiple writers noted in the spreadsheet that there are few Black people in the game that aren’t generalized “as a monolith” — the cards “African children,” or “A sassy black woman,” for instance — or reduced to body parts, like the various “black dick” cards and another that read “Toni Morrison’s vagina.”
“The feedback was partly heeded, but when the owners didn’t agree or didn’t like our opinions, they would just ignore them,” Carter said. The Toni Morrison card was eventually removed from the game.
A Cards Against Humanity spokesperson told Polygon the company “made no attempt to minimize the writers’ contributions.” It continued: “We will be more proactive about promoting their talent. We are considering ideas for crediting everyone who contributed to a new product — either online or on the packaging — in a similar way to TV credits. We’ll work with our writers room on this.”
Employees of color who worked elsewhere in the company voiced similar concerns when speaking to Polygon. Theresa Stewart, who worked at Blackbox — a shipping logistics firm then owned by Cards Against Humanity — described her departure in September 2017 as “an escape.” For the year she worked at the company as a user experience designer, Stewart said she experienced a workplace environment that instilled fear in her and others, a product of what she described as a toxic culture that largely impacted people of color and women.
“I say ‘escape,’ because the language we used as women at the office was the same language women who are abused use,” Stewart told Polygon.
Stewart feared speaking out about what she and others experienced at Cards Against Humanity due to potential retaliation inside and outside the workplace. Cards Against Humanity, which is headquartered in Chicago, is a citywide institution — it often felt like a hub, said Stewart. The eight co-founders have “influence and friends in high places” in all sorts of industries, like design, gaming, and podcasting. Cards Against Humanity also has its own theater, Cards Against Humanity Theater, which frequently holds community events. This extends to the Chicago Board Game Cafe, which Cards Against Humanity opened this year in the city. When people took to the streets to protest police brutality earlier this month, the restaurant served free meals to “neighbors and protestors.”
“I was afraid to speak up not only when I worked there, but also when I left because of the influence of the company,” Stewart told Polygon. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find a job. Or worse, I would get taken to court and be bled dry.”
The Cards Against Humanity representative detailed the email exchanges between Stewart and the company’s COO, who worked as HR at the company. After sharing the email exchanges between the two, Cards Against Humanity apologized via its PR representative for “not creating a workplace where she felt comfortable bringing concerns forward.”
(Update: We have updated this sentence to clarify that this apology comes from the company as a whole.)
“As we conduct our third-party HR review, we hope to use this as a learning experience for how we can do better in the future,” the representative said.
On June 6, Stewart started the hashtag #CAHisover in a Twitter thread where she discussed some of her experiences at the novelty card game company. In subsequent tweets, Stewart wrote about the “race and gender dynamics” at the Cards Against Humanity office, describing a work environment hostile toward Black employees. She told Polygon she experienced a barrage of microaggressions — including having to introduce herself to leadership multiple times, and being confused for other Black women at the company — and a culture of fear. Other staffers and colleagues familiar with the company’s culture told Polygon that Stewart’s allegations matched up with how they felt about the company, each one affirming the overall picture of a racist and sexist culture that permeated throughout all levels of the business.
Employees and friends who described having challenged Temkin on ideas — even minor ones — said they felt they were risking retaliation from the Cards Against Humanity co-founder, and in some cases, believed that they had been retaliated against. Oftentimes, these sources said, the retaliation was subtle. Four former employees and two colleagues said Temkin might stop speaking to the person who’d challenged him for days or weeks, or leave them out of decision-making meetings. Three former employees said he would yell at other employees, and that women on staff often spoke on Slack about the most private places to cry after these encounters with Temkin. Three former employees told Polygon that at least one woman on staff had a “safe word” with Temkin for when he got too hostile.
Former employees we spoke to described feeling like Temkin had an insurmountable amount of power over their work and social lives. Upsetting him risked your job, but also, who you could keep as a friend, they said. One former employee, Elaine Short, who worked directly for Temkin in the early days of Cards Against Humanity, said Temkin attempted to assert control over her dating life on multiple occasions. Short told Polygon that Temkin “polled” the office — which then included six or seven people — on whether they were comfortable with Short dating a person who leased a desk at the office’s shared working space. Temkin said the office was not comfortable with it, and that she would have to stop seeing the person or both would get “kicked out,” according to Short. “For me, that meant not just income, but also my future as a writer,” Short said.
Regarding Short, a Cards Against Humanity spokesperson told Polygon that “others in the office complained that excessive flirtation was making them uncomfortable.” They continued: “While we do not know the full details of what Elaine was told, we believe her recent report that Max dealt with this matter poorly. We apologize to Elaine and the officemate for how this was mishandled.”
Another source told Polygon it was “clear” to Cards Against Humanity staff that they should not “do or say anything that might upset Max.” The former employee characterized Temkin’s punishments as “long-lasting, vague, and deeply passive aggressive.” Multiple other former employees expressed similar sentiments. Former colleagues and friends of Temkin said this behavior was consistent outside of work, too.
The spokesperson acknowledged Temkin as a “well-connected person in the world of Chicago games, design, and comedy.” They said they “understand why anyone would be afraid of speaking out against a prominent figure in their industry,” but said they received “no reports of Max retaliating against employees or former employees in response to complaints about him or the company.”
From the beginning, Cards Against Humanity and its related businesses, like Blackbox (which is now owned by AdMagic), lacked any sort of structured human resources department. The former employees who spoke to Polygon all agreed that, because of the lack of HR, they often felt confused about who to go to with problems. Nicholas Markos holds a position as chief operating officer at the company. In this job, he oversees HR, finance, operations, and legal for Cards Against Humanity and Blackbox, according to his LinkedIn profile. Given the small size of the company and its informal culture, several employees told Polygon they were concerned about bringing complaints to Markos, specifically because of his closeness to the founders.
A Cards Against Humanity representative told Polygon that the company “retains a dedicated HR contractor” as of January 2019. They confirmed that Markos handled HR work prior to the hiring of that contractor, saying that “the responsibilities of HR were divided between our COO and another staff member whose job responsibilities included HR duties.”
Former employees said the lack of infrastructure felt like a point of pride for the company. Cards Against Humanity positioned itself both publicly and privately as a cool, laid-back company — a multimillion-dollar venture that grew out of a tiny startup. The fact that the founders were eight actual friends likely contributed to this casual atmosphere, which ended up being something that worked both to the company’s detriment and advantage.
Despite the lack of structure, there were perks to working at Cards Against Humanity, such as access to podcasting studios and the office — a place so beloved to employees that some chose to hold their birthday parties there. There were also the informal perks, like social connections or the potential to collaborate on new projects with interesting people. Many former employees described working at Cards Against Humanity as a dream job, whether it was writing jokes in the writers room or working on back-end support.
But former employees who spoke to Polygon also said that the system, or lack thereof, backfired, and that the unorganized chaos of life in the Cards Against Humanity office caused problems.
Multiple sources said that the lack of HR was a running joke in the office. Barthwell, who worked as a writer at Cards Against Humanity, said the jokes were common — down to small things like getting something for the kitchen or making a repair. “We would be like, ‘Hey, who can we talk to about getting this thing?’” she said. “And it was like, ‘Well, there’s no HR, so what are you going to do?’ — joking.”
The lack of an HR department added to what sources described as the culture of fear at Cards Against Humanity. Former employees, some of whom worked there as recently as 2019, suggested that this was an ongoing problem throughout the company’s history. Former employees told Polygon that the company lacked a clarified system for workplace management.
Employees would joke about the stumbling success of Cards Against Humanity and its status as a “cool” office, but the lack of infrastructure allowed for inappropriate behavior and also gave employees no formal recourse to address it.
However, the company’s lack of infrastructure appears to be changing. Secret Hitler co-creator Tommy Maranges told Polygon that he spoke to Temkin the week that former staffers’ complaints about the company’s culture arose. Maranges said that Cards Against Humanity will bring in “an outside HR person to evaluate whether this is only a problem among ex-employees or whether there are current employees who still have issues.”
Cards Against Humanity is hiring “an independent third-party HR consultant to audit and improve” its HR practices, a representative told Polygon. “Staff will have the opportunity to confidentially share any concerns with this outside firm.”
“We grew from four people in a one-room co-working space to a large office with about two dozen staff over a short period, and our HR systems did not keep up with our rapid growth,” the spokesperson said. “We are sorry for not setting up dedicated HR sooner.”
Maranges also told Polygon that Temkin said he’s “stepping back” from “all” his work at Cards Against Humanity. Maranges and his colleague Michael Boxleiter, with whom he founded Secret Hitler publisher Goat, Wolf, & Cabbage, asked Temkin to step down from their company, too. Temkin complied, Maranges told Polygon, and will no longer be involved in Goat, Wolf, & Cabbage.
A Cards Against Humanity spokesperson confirmed to Polygon that Temkin is stepping down from the company, but will remain a one-eighth shareholder.
Temkin and Cards Against Humanity had not spoken publicly for the two weeks since the new allegations came to light on social media. Two former employees, Tom Dyke and Kevin Budnik, posted their resignations on Twitter on June 17. Dyke noted on Twitter that some Cards Against Humanity employees “are staying and forcing management to make lasting changes.”
Leadership, however, remained silent as others distanced themselves from the company. On June 19, Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo organizer ReedPop said in a statement posted to Facebook that it would “no longer be working with Cards Against Humanity” at C2E2 or any other ReedPop shows, citing the allegations “brought forward regarding Cards Against Humanity and Max Temkin.” Likewise, Do By Friday podcast co-hosts Merlin Mann and Alex Cox, the latter of whom is a Cards Against Humanity employee, posted an episode on June 10 stating that Temkin will no longer appear on the show.
“Obviously, it is not my place to tell Max what to do, but since I do consider him one of my best friends, I have rather pointedly counseled him to please address these allegations truthfully in public and right now,” Mann said on the podcast.
Kickstarter backers for Magic Puzzles, which is co-created by Temkin, have also been posting comments on the campaign asking to cancel their pledges. Hundreds of backers have asked for refunds and received them, but there’s been no update addressing the allegations. A total of 62,284 backers pledged more than $3.4 million to the Magic Puzzles project.
Cards Against Humanity replied to the allegations more than two weeks after Stewart’s initial #CAHisover tweet.
In 2014, a person now identified only as Magz posted a private message on her Facebook page, asking her friends to stop sharing posts about Temkin, someone she described as her “rapist.” Someone passed this message along to Temkin, who responded with a public message on Tumblr. Temkin also posted Magz’s original Facebook post in full:
Several people that I went to school with have posted a Baltimore Sun article from 2012 about the success of Cards Against Humanity, a popular indie party game created by a Goucher alum.
That is my rapist.
Having his face pop up on my news feed unexpectedly in any context has the capacity to ruin my day. Seeing him praised in the press is giving me a panic attack.
He should not be held as a good example of the excellence that Goucher grads have, can and will continue to achieve.
Temkin said he had a “brief relationship with this girl in college,” acknowledging Magz’s post and noting that his dorm room was next to hers. He called the allegations “totally, patently false,” and said that his lawyer told him he had “a clear case to sue this woman for libel and get a restraining order.” Temkin added that he did not want to pursue that course of action because, he said, “I have no desire to bully or harm her.”
Temkin ended the post with some steps for “moving forward,” in which he wrote that he will “continue to be a feminist and advocate for women’s rights to the best of [his] capability.” He also said that Cards Against Humanity had previously removed the rape jokes from Cards Against Humanity “years ago,” and that the company would “continue to use the game as best we can to ‘punch up’ and not ‘punch down.’” Temkin concluded the post noting that he “could use a hug.”
Following Temkin’s post, Magz responded with her own public allegations. In a now-deleted Tumblr post, Magz said Temkin sexually assaulted her during her freshman year of college — Temkin’s sophomore year. She described the assault as an “almost textbook example of a ‘crime of opportunity,’” but did not include further details about the assault.
Reached by phone on June 17, Magz recounted the assault to Polygon. Magz asked to be identified only by that nickname, citing harassment she faced online following her original allegations. Magz told Polygon that she fell asleep in Temkin’s dorm room after hanging out with friends there, and woke up with her pajama pants off. She said she froze out of fear as Temkin performed oral sex on her. A second source who lived across the hall from Temkin and was present in the room ahead of the incident told Polygon that Magz had confided in her a week later about the assault.
In interviews with Polygon, five former classmates of Magz’s recalled being told about the allegations. Three of those sources recalled Magz telling them that she woke up to Temkin touching her without her consent after she’d fallen asleep in his dorm room. Four of the sources didn’t recall the specific acts involved in the assault. Two sources specifically recalled Magz telling them about her underwear being removed and Temkin touching her without her consent.
“I definitely told him to stop multiple times,” Magz told Polygon. “But I had a freeze reaction. I was frozen. I couldn’t move. When it finally finished, he had the gall to ask me if I came.”
Temkin provided the following statement to Polygon when reached for comment:
“Today, unfortunately, a false allegation has reemerged and as I have publicly done before, I continue to maintain my innocence. I have never sexually assaulted anyone and I was shocked when this same false allegation was first shared in 2014. In 33 years, no one else has ever accused me of sexual assault or any other non-consensual behavior.”
A Cards Against Humanity representative declined to comment on questions regarding the sexual assault allegations. “We do not know the truth,” they said. “We believe that all claims of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and we know that it takes incredible courage for a victim to speak out.”
Although some people had misgivings about Temkin’s statement in 2014, most people in the games industry appeared to move on from the allegation and continued to work with Temkin. In a blog post titled “Ending my relationship with Cards Against Humanity and Max Temkin” published June 8 on Medium, Feminist Frequency founder Anita Sarkeesian expressed regret about her own decision to do this.
Sarkeesian detailed what she described as her own complicity, writing about how she “continued to be friendly” with Temkin despite the allegation. Sarkeesian said she accepted donations from Temkin even though she felt conflicted about it.
“I looked around at our mutual friends and didn’t see anyone else having a problem, so I gave myself permission to think that there wasn’t one,” Sarkeesian wrote. “I did not realise that they were doing the same to me; they were looking at me, and since I didn’t seem to have a problem, they too assumed there wasn’t one.”
Sarkeesian said she confronted Temkin in 2019 about the sexual assault allegation, explaining that “if he genuinely wanted to work towards repairing the harm he’s caused, I would try to help.” Temkin responded by saying he wanted to “keep [their] relationship intact,” and Sarkeesian said she then “urged him to take a couple of days to reflect and then to get back to me so that we could make a plan.” Instead, said Sarkeesian, Temkin proceeded to unfollow her on all social media platforms and never spoke to her again.
Temkin responded in a similar way when XOXO Fest co-founder Andy McMillan approached Temkin about the allegation and his response to it in 2014. McMillan told Polygon (and tweeted) that Temkin denied the allegation — saying that he’d kill himself “if his life was destroyed” — and ultimately said he’d consider issuing a more appropriate apology. Temkin did not end up issuing a further apology or statement, however. Instead, said McMillan, Temkin unfollowed him and XOXO co-founder Andy Baio on Twitter, and they never heard from him again.
Magz told Polygon that she’s grateful that people are listening now, but that it’s frustrating, too. “I think what’s been so frustrating and infuriating is that people did read what I had to say,” Magz said. “They just didn’t think it was bad enough. None of it was bad enough. And I’ve had to remind myself not to trivialize my own trauma.”
Multiple former employees of Cards Against Humanity told Polygon that they were expected not to discuss the allegation, either. One source said talking about the allegation was “a social taboo,” and that people understood that it would “negatively affect your ability to stay there and work out of the office.” Three separate sources who had worked in the Cards Against Humanity writers room said that this “taboo” affected their jobs in an explicit way — they were told they couldn’t make jokes punching up at rape culture because of the 2014 allegation.
“They said, ‘Google him. See why we can’t do it,’” Barthwell told Polygon. “That was sort of the tone. Like, when you Google him, this is already a thing that comes up. They don’t want any more attention on this issue and around the game. I remember one of the head writers saying, ‘Why do you think he does so much charity and nonprofit work?’ He wants to change the narrative about himself.”
A separate former employee told Polygon a similar story: Nothing could be posted to Cards Against Humanity’s social media channels that could be related back to the 2014 allegation, all in an effort to avoid upsetting Temkin. “It was expected that we would protect him from having to ever publicly address those topics, and we never addressed it internally,” the employee said. Likewise, the employee said that talking about XOXO, from which Temkin was banned after the allegation in 2014, was taboo, too — especially when Temkin was around.
A Cards Against Humanity representative told Polygon that employees “freely discussed the accusation against Max at the time and since then, without retaliation.”
“We understand why some staff could have felt uncomfortable speaking about these topics, and we hope that Max’s absence will help address this going forward.”
Though Cards Against Humanity is a game for “horrible people,” as the marketing says, the company actually does a lot to reverse that image. The company is known for its public statements and charity drives in favor of left-leaning causes, often delivered in the form of public pranks or stunts. Cards Against Humanity launched a campaign in 2017 called Cards Against Humanity Saves America. It was a holiday promotion wherein the company raised lots of money — $15 from 150,000 people, for a total of more than $2 million — to “save” America from what the company described as “injustice, lies, racism, the whole enchilada.” The company used some of the funds to buy “a plot of vacant land on the US/Mexico border and retain a law firm specializing in eminent domain to make it as time-consuming and expensive as possible for Trump to build his preposterous wall,” it said on its website. This, of course, was in response to the President Trump’s efforts to build a wall on the border.
Likewise, in 2018, the company gave away a pack of cards, the Midterm Pack, to registered voters in six different congressional districts. The packs were free for people in those districts, and $5 otherwise. There were also marketing stunts, like the Cards Against Humanity “For Her” set, which was the same exact game, but in a pink box. It cost $5 more — that was the joke, a riff on the “pink tax” for items marketed to women. Proceeds from the sales of that set went to EMILY’s List, a nonprofit organization that supports pro-choice Democratic women politicians
Alongside other silly stunts like buying islands or castles, Cards Against Humanity has also given multiple women full scholarships to college as part of its Science Ambassador Scholarship program, which is funded through the Cards Against Humanity Science Pack.
People close to Temkin and Cards Against Humanity said the internal company culture was confusing for many, since Temkin and the company were so public about allyship and progressive causes. One source said that he believed Temkin felt passionately about these causes and genuinely did want to advance the rights of other people, but that it didn’t excuse the behavior described by multiple employees at the company.
Barthwell told Polygon that she noticed that much of Cards Against Humanity’s charity work related to women in STEM, or to giving a “middle finger to Trump or Republicans.” Nothing was explicitly anti-racist or with a real social justice alignment, and so employees of color weren’t necessarily surprised by the racist culture and microaggressions that they said pervaded the company. “I never felt like they were doing work for stuff in Chicago, like on the south or west sides of Chicago,” Barthwell said. “Like, organizations addressing racial inequality.”
Stewart detailed one instance where Cards Against Humanity attempted to do a “reparations” day — payment to descendants of enslaved people in America. Stewart, the former UX employee, said the reparations were intended to be part of the Cards Against Humanity Saves America campaign. Stewart and a white co-worker sent an email to the Cards Against Humanity co-founders with reservations about the idea. In the email, they wrote that the reparations day could be perceived as a stunt, and the “definition of punching down.”
Stewart said Temkin responded only to the white co-worker to thank her about speaking up on the topic. He defended the idea by citing the partners’ Jewish background. “One interesting piece of background on this… all of the partners are Jewish, and most of our families have received monetary reparations from the German government because we had grandparents and family members killed in the holocaust,” Temkin wrote in an email that Stewart shared on Twitter. “That money is part of how I paid to go to college. That’s why we support the issue.”
The reparations day was refocused as a general wealth redistribution program, where Cards Against Humanity gave 10,000 people $15 and 100 people $1,000.
“I understood the irony,” Stewart told Polygon. “It was hard to grapple with the publicity stunts, funding to feminist organizations, asking Obama to be their CEO, and then get on a call with Max Temkin and Ben Hantoot only to be dismissed for your concerns about making the office a better place.”
Correction: We’ve edited this story to correctly attribute the tagline on the box.