How almost getting canceled inspired me to make a card game about forgiveness
“Hate. It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.” –Maya Angelou
Call me naive, but when my colleague, Dominic Campese, and I shared our board game about privilege and system oppression on Twitter, we didn’t expect to get canceled. No, instead of finding support for our novel approach to a complex concept, we were met with choruses of “this ain’t it, chief!” and “you’re garbage people’’ from hundreds of supposedly well-meaning internet activists. They didn’t want to hear any of our explanations or reasoning, we were terrible, terrible people with a terrible, terrible idea and that was that. What fools we were!
Being canceled is stressful. After spending years developing and testing our game, I was shocked to find that people that we thought we were making the game for were so offended by it. Maybe we really messed this one up.
Thankfully, the many knowledgeable folks who had actually tested and played the game thought we had done things the right way and encouraged us to move forward. I’m happy to report that not only was Reality Check: The Game of Privilege successful in its fundraising campaign, but it’s now being used by universities around the world to help educate about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
But after being in a position where I was perceived as having done something wrong, I thought more about how we treat people who have done something wrong, what justice in America means, and what path we create for wrongdoers to apologize and seek forgiveness. This led to me my new card game about forgiveness: Apology Tour.
In Apology Tour, players take on the role of either Haters or Supporters and put a wrongdoing public figure on trial. Players use argument cards to engage in rhetorical battles and convince the opposing side to either forgive or send the apologizing wrongdoer to the figurative guillotine of public shame (like a Twitter ban for life or worse). With Like and Dislike cards, the game plays like UNO blended with our often absurd social media discourse. Yeah, this is it, chief.
On the surface, Apology Tour plays like a comical gameshow of public opinion, but its meaning goes much deeper…
It may not surprise you that justice in America is all about punishment. Not public safety. Not rehabilitation. Justice in America = Punishment. The American Law Institute’s highly influential Model Penal Code, which has been adopted into law by many States, views the primary reason for sentencing someone for wrongdoing in America as punishment. This is validated by the United States Supreme Court, which has stated that because people have the ability to choose between good and evil, punishment of evildoers is just*. Think of any popular television show or movie in America: justice is retribution. The bad people were bad and they deserve to be punished. Is it any wonder with all of these indicators influencing what justice is, that so many of us in America view justice this way?
“We live in a society based on disposability,” writes Dean Spade in his book about social organizing called, Mutual Aid. While Spade was discussing how groups might better succeed in making change, it’s an apt assessment of the American justice system and many of our views of what justice means.
In our disposable society, when people do bad things and make us feel bad, they’re simply bad people who then deserve to be cast away, shunned from society, punished, and incarcerated. When someone has erred we seek punishment first. We all applaud when the bad guy gets his comeuppance.
Granted, forgiveness is not something that comes easy. “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive,” astutely wrote C.S. Lewis. In Islam, as in many religions, forgiveness is not something that is owed or required, nor does forgiveness justify a horrible act. But forgiveness is seen as a higher way. In Christianity, followers are called to extend God’s grace to sinners and be willing to forgive. But just because we aren’t always able to forgive, does that mean we should punish?
I know that you, like me, are more complex than our worst actions. Someone who commits an “evil act” is not an inherently evil person. As Martin Luther King, Jr. explains, “the world is unjust and sometimes we cannot avoid being part of that injustice.” Surely, this sounds more correct?
So why do we view justice in America as punishment?
When we look outside of America, we see so many prominent examples of alternative approaches to justice. Many Scandinavian countries — like Norway — view justice not as punishment, but instead as an opportunity to rehabilitate and heal. When someone does something wrong, the goal isn’t to punish, it’s to help that person so that they no longer are a threat to society. By treating people as complex and not disposable we free their potential for doing good in the world.
In essence, this discussion is what Apology Tour is all about. I hope that people can walk away from Apology Tour having a laugh at the absurd fun of bad arguments, shaming each other, and sending public figures to the guillotine, but also be willing to ask themselves tough questions about how we treat others (and also ourselves) when we’ve done something wrong.
*Highlighted in Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society