24/09/2020

The game has become a kind of living record of Microsoft, updated over the years to include incidents that make the news or circulates among insiders.

If you ever find yourself at a Microsoft team-building event — or just hanging out with some of the so-called Softies who work there — you might end up playing a few hands of “Bedlam.” 
The card game, which plays like “Cards Against Humanity,” is named for the infamous reply-all email chain apocalypse that brought down the company’s email server for two days in the late 1990s. It was created by longtime Microsoft employee KC Lemson, and is packed to the brim with inside jokes that reference the everyday joys and common frustrations of what it’s like to work there.
To play, you first draw a black card with a prompt, like “What should I blame last year’s bad review on?”
Then, every player puts down a white card in response, which have potential answers like “a racist chatbot,” referring to the infamous episode when Microsoft Research had to take down an AI-powered Twitter bot named Tay after it was taught to post racist messages, or “writing off a multi-billion dollar acquisition,” a clear reference to Microsoft’s ill-fated purchase of phone manufacturer Nokia.
The person who put down the prompt chooses their favorite answer, and points are awarded. You can download the core game and the two Microsoft “service packs” here, if you want to print out your own cards and play along.
—BedlamCardGame (@BedlamCardGame) January 14, 2020
A version of Bedlam has been around since 2014, but Lemson – a 20-year Microsoft veteran otherwise best known as the creator of the ninjacat, Microsoft’s “unofficial mascot” – this week shared cards from the latest edition with Business Insider. You can see more of those down below this story.
The game has since become not only a pastime for Microsoft employees, but a sort-of living record of the company, updated over the years to include new incidents that make the news or circulates among insiders. Lemson estimates she’s sold as many as 1,200 copies in the past five years and that the game has been played by 10,000 people. 
“That’s why I love it so much. I’ve given this company almost half my life and this game is celebrating the company. You have ups and downs, and good things and bad things,” Lemson said. “It’s really a box of history.”
How Bedlam started
Lemson worked in the Windows and Devices Group in 2014 when she started the game, inspired by a Tumblr called Ladies Against Humanity – another Cards Against Humanity-style card game but “by ladies, for ladies.”
Friends and coworkers got together to come up with a few cards and ended up with 90 in the first few hours. Lemson found a card production company online and made the ideas into an actual game.
“We were snarky,” she said. “We were making fun of Microsoft – we love the company – but we were making fun of ourselves.”
She joked that there was a time when she thought she might get fired, or at least receive a “harshly worded email.” But when the company held an internal charity auction, she decided to put up four boxes to raise money. They sold to her fellow employees for $1,500 each. A charity Bedlam tournament, held in a Microsoft cafeteria not long after, raised $2,500, Lemson said.
It wasn’t long before Microsoft wanted to stock the game at the employee store in its Redmond headquarters, where workers can buy discounted software or t-shirts and other company swag. She sold the game there at-cost, and even made a Windows Phone app for the game.
A changing Microsoft
The game has become something of a barometer for shifts within the company.
Lemson has had to change the game because new hires don’t understand some of the references. She’s working on what she called an “old-timers pack” for people who were around in Microsoft’s earlier days. Lemson estimates the game has been updated five times, often with suggestions from players.
Over time, Lemson started to incorporate new cards that she says speak to the direction of the company, including its efforts in cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and a cultural change at the company said to have been led by CEO Satya Nadella.
The game’s current version includes a base game about the general tech industry, designed to be more accessible to people outside Microsoft, and two expansion packs specifically for Microsoft employees and watchers. 
Below is a sampling of Microsoft-related Bedlam cards. Many of them are very insidery or technical — (Lemson says that two of her favorites are “refactoring code to add an abstraction layer” and “refactoring code to remove an abstraction layer.” We picked out eight that should make more sense if you’ve never worn a Microsoft employee badge.
Check out some of the newest Bedlam cards: