As a shy teenager, Weston Karnes always had a hard time making friends with other guys. It wasn’t until college that he slowly started breaking out of his shell, but even then, most of the meaningful connections he made were with women. “The relationships that were growing in my life had more honest, emotionally engaged conversations, and that existed more with women than with men,” he tells me. “It was harder for me to find guys that I could connect with on a deeper level.”
Karnes continued to struggle with male friendships after college, and even into his 30s while working as a designer in Oakland. One day, though, he was invited to join a men’s group. When he arrived, there were dozens of guys, all significantly older than him, hugging, crying and opening up about the challenges in their lives. There was an awkwardness to it all, but Karnes also recalls experiencing a series of “aha” moments — specifically, he realized how lonely it is to be a man looking for other men to have real, meaningful conversations with.
So Karnes turned his problem into a game: Let’s Get Real, Bro, a deck of cards intended to casually bring out personal discussions among guy friends. Modeled after other question-based games like Ready Set Sparked, which is geared toward women, or the gender neutral We’re Not Really Strangers, Karnes describes his game as “Cards Against Humanity meets your therapist.” But at its core, the intention is to re-create the men’s group experience for others who could benefit from it. “I just don’t think that most guys who need this type of work are going to sign up for men’s groups,” Karnes tells me. “So I wanted something that could be a light touchpoint to open doors to deeper exploration.”
The questions were inspired by men’s groups and mindfulness practices Karnes has dabbled in over the years. He describes them as invitations to ask, “Where am I, and how do I feel?” through prompts like, “In one word or visual, describe how you feel in this exact moment.” Other existential examples include, “If you had a really lame superpower, what would it be?,” “When was the last time you asked for help?” and “You’ve got five years left to live. What changes? Why?”
With each card pulled, players can write down their answers, talk them out or both, and whoever everyone determines has the best answer keeps the card as a point. There are three rounds, and each round is played until someone reaches three points. The deck also includes a card with a coupon code for a free month of therapy with BetterHelp. “This game is about connection, and obviously mental health is a huge part of that. Those two things are really related,” Karnes says.
Therapists like Omar Ruiz definitely believe games tailored toward men can be helpful. “From my experience providing couples therapy, 80 percent of the women within heterosexual relationships have told me that they would want their partner to express their feelings more,” Ruiz says. But he also understands why that can be so hard. “Even in my own personal upbringing, it becomes difficult for most men, within a Western culture, to be vulnerable enough to share their feelings as opposed to sharing their opinions or ideas,” he continues.
Of course, the biggest question is — bigger than any question in the game — will any guys actually play Let’s Get Real, Bro? To help get an affirmative answer there, Karnes has been sharing videos on Instagram of him and other men on his Instagram doing just that. In one, he asks professional hockey player Kurtis Gabriel about a belief he had when he was younger that turned out to be untrue. Gabriel recalls how perfect his mom was growing up and how that made him think all adults were like that. “Man, now that I’m an adult, you see a lot of adults who don’t have things figured out,” he says.
While these clips may not fully capture the cringey feeling of raising such questions in real life, Karnes hopes that enough men will fight through the cringe and use the game as a tool to better relate to each other — and frankly, themselves. “A card game may not work for every guy, and for some, it could backfire in embarrassing ways,” he admits. “But it may be worth trying anyway.”
At the very least, you’ll have something to talk about during your free month of therapy.