Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guess Who?

If you were ever seeking the culprit for racial profiling, you might want to take a look back into one of our favorite childhood board games. When skin color is one of the major defining characteristics standing between guessing the winning character and admitting Guess Who? defeat, it was a key tactic in the art of deductive reasoning. That said, if you happened to have one of the racial minority characters as your card, you were often out of luck--your partner asks, “Is your person white?” You say no, and they’re down to a quarter of the options. Right or wrong, this type of profiling clearly offered its own rewards.

For those of us who were highly experienced Guess Whoers, we knew all the basic profiling strategies. Gender was another popular choice, as the game contains a highly skewed ratio of men to women. As if women didn’t have enough to worry about, they now faced undue discimination and minority status on the Guess Who? board. And if it was a woman unlucky enough to be wearing a hat, forget it--you’d be figured out in 10 seconds flat. Game over.


Residual wide-ranging social implications aside, Guess Who? was beloved by children of the 90s for its simplicity. In contrast to its hard-to-assemble board game counterparts like Mousetrap and 13 Dead End Drive, Guess Who? was an easy way to engage kids with relatively no set-up. After the initial drudgery of clicking all of the flippable cards into place, you simply turned them up, grabbed a card, and began the game.

On the negative side, however, those 90s ads could be a bit misleading. So misleading, in fact, that manufacturer Milton Bradley was forced to include a disclaimer to alert gullible children that “Game cards do not actually talk.” Apparently children were so delighted by the sight of cards conversing with one another that the inanimate cards seemed pretty boring in comparison. What good is a game card if it won’t make witty asides to its row-mates?



For those of us who owned the game or had frequent access to it, the images of characters like David and Bernard are forever ingrained in our brains. So much so, in fact, that I’ve occasionally met people to whom my initial reaction is, “Wow, you look a lot like (insert cartoon Guess Who? character here).” This exchange is not only awkward but sometimes also leads to the person leaping to the immediate defense of their prized moustache, goatee, or bowler hat. Whatever the resemblance, it usually isn’t especially flattering: Guess Who? characters are not especially known for their good looks.

As far as the actual game, Guess Who? is arguably somewhat educational in value. It teaches logic, deductive reasoning skills, visual clues, grouping, and how not to ask stupid questions. That last skill certainly comes in handy, though Guess Who? only managed to develop it with yes-and-no response questions. For those of us prone to open-ended inquiries, we’re on our own. Unless we need to know whether someone is bald or wears glasses, it’s going to be tough.

Guess Who? was a fleeting diversion in that kids could only play it for so long. Children tend to be pretty sore losers, so among younger players temper tantrums were inevitably thrown over losses. Outcry over alleged unfairness usually broke out after a good-sported round or two, but it was usually pretty fun while it lasted.

It may have taught us to oversimplify and break people down into groups using visual cues, but we never thought of it that way. We were all just hoping our opponent ended up with one of the few minority women cards to ease some of our questioning pressure. In fact, Most of us still don’t know how to describe someone accurately unless they are wearing a hat or have some defining facial hair-type feature. Thanks a lot, Guess Who. If anyone we know ever shaves or removes their headwear, we're back at square one on recognition.

15 comments:

nikki said...

The Guess Who? pieces made such a satisfying little click when you pushed them down.

Melanie's Randomness said...

Guess who was like the coolest game ever!! The commercials ruled!

Okie said...

We picked this game up at a thrift store recently. My daughter especially loves playing. :)

Julie said...

Bernard!!!

Man, how I loved that game. The commercial made it even better, though we were always joking about how we were waiting for the cards to speak up. Guess we missed the disclaimer.

Lauren said...

Ahhhhhh, LOVED that game. :)

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, a friend of mine had a snow day (I had already graduated) so another friend and I met up at er house, and we ended up playing hours of Guess Who? It was definitely a Top 10 snow day in my book.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, a friend of mine had a snow day (I had already graduated) so another friend and I met up at er house, and we ended up playing hours of Guess Who? It was definitely a Top 10 snow day in my book.

Carly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carly said...

Whoops, accidentally stuffed up my earlier comment, sorry!

My brother and I re-discovered this game last year and just ended up talking in short-hand by the end of it. "Is it Mr Burns' son?" (card that looked like Rodney Dangerfield), "Is it ginger Colin Mochrie from Whose Line Is It Anyway?" (Herman).

Anonymous said...

I love that you mentioned 13 Dead End Drive! I thought I was the only person who owned that game. It WAS so annoying to set up!

Anonymous said...

I love that the ad had to say that the cards don't actually talk. That cracks me right up.

Sean's Beard said...

Great post. I'd like to share my clearest memory of Guess Who? I was playing against some kid I hardly knew, who picked up a card and immediately said "Oh, I've got the sad guy". Knowing he must be referring to either George or Bernard I knew the game was all but over. But rather than telling him clearly and rationally, "Dude, that was kind of a stupid thing to say. You've narrowed it down to two people for me now and I will almost certainly win. Rather than continue, would you care to pick another card and this time, keep your value judgements to yourself so as to let us both stay in the competitive spirit of this fine game of logical deduction?", I wordlessly tried to snatch the card off him instead (I'm still not sure why I thought this was the best course of action). Of course, the other kid, infuriated, thinking I was trying to cheat (not realising he'd already cheated for me), he tugged back. The card got damaged and the game was ruined. I never had a playdate with him again.

Allie said...

My clearest memory is the arguments that would break out over the gender of Frans. I can only assume Frans was meant to be a man, but apparently we felt otherwise in childhood.

Aaron said...

Having grown up with the game, my friends and I found it in my closet a couple of months ago and decided it could use some sprucing up. So, we invented "Subjective Guess Who."

If you thought that the original game purported profiling, this one is much worse. Players ask their questions based on anything BUT physical appearance. We'd ask questions like, "Did your person play well with others as a kid?" or "Does your person often get strip searched at airport security?" or "Does your person own like fifty cats?" It ends up with some pretty funny - and usually pretty accurate - results. Give it a try next time you feel like reliving your '90s childhood.

Gina said...

this was one of my FAVORITE games a a child :)

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