How to Stay Connected While Social Distancing

Using video calls to stay connected with friends and family

Best Video Call Apps and Games to Play on Them

With social distancing measures in place for so long now, we’re all feeling the emotional toll. Even though businesses are starting to re-open, a certain amount of social distancing will continue to be the norm for a while, and we’ll continue to have limited in-person contact with family and friends. We are social creatures, and lack of human interaction can be damaging to the psyche, especially during these uneasy times. Luckily, technology offers us a bounty of ways to maintain our relationships, and to make our conversations more fun.

The major social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are useful to an extent, but these apps cater to short-form content, not the genuine human interaction that we crave. For that, let’s consider more versatile mediums of communication, like video conferencing apps and games to play on them.

You’ve likely already tried a few such technologies and settled on some favorites, but maybe you’re looking for ways to liven the conversations and make them last longer. Playing games is a great way to do that, and there are lots of them that work well on video calls. Here are some activities to try at your next virtual gathering, as well as other apps you can use for virtual get-togethers.

Free Video Calling Apps

A video call (AKA video conference, video chat, etc.), is the closest thing to an in-person conversation over the internet, so these apps are the best tools we have for staying in touch remotely. There are a number of these platforms available for free. Zoom has proved to be the most popular, and at the onset of social distancing orders, Zoom was commonly waiving its standard 40-minute time limit on free calls, but lately they’ve been sticking to it again. If you don’t want to pay for a plan, but still want longer calls, you might consider another video calling app.

Messenger (by Facebook) has a simple video call feature with unlimited time, but the number of participants is limited to 8. Google Hangouts is one that most Gmail users are already familiar with, but anyone with a Google account can use it for free. Hangouts has no time limit and up to 25 people can be on at once. If you are an Office 365 user, you might find it easiest to use Microsoft Teams, which has similar capabilities to Hangouts. Of course, which app you use depends on what your friends want, too, so you should go with what’s easiest for everyone.

Games to Play on Video Calls

Photo by Lothario Areski, from ZoomJam

Once you and your friends have decided on your video platform, you might want some games to play together. The possibilities are really only by your own creativity, but here are some of the best games to play on Zoom or any other video call:

Classic Party Games

Many traditional party games are easy to adapt to virtual parties, but not all of them. Card games, for example, don’t go very well if you can’t share a deck. But Charades is one time-tested classic that works. Players can individually come up with their bank of phrases to act out. Alternatively you can use a Charades mobile app or online word generator.

Board Games

Board games can also work. For most board games, it’s easiest if each person has a copy and moves all the pieces according to direction of other players. Some games do not require that each person own it, however. Codenames is a popular one that can needs only one copy of the game.

Jackbox

Jackbox is a set of party games perfect for any video calling apps that allow screen sharing (Zoom, Hangouts, Meet, and Teams all do). Drawful, Quiplash, and Fibbage are the names of just a few of the many mini-games available in Jackbox. To get a variety, you’ll need to purchase a “Party Pack.” Each pack has a different assortment of games. Note that if you or a friend already has Jackbox purchased for a video game console, you can use that account to play on the computer as well. Whoever has the account runs the game on their computer and shares their screen, then everyone else plays along by logging in on their mobile phones.

Kahoot!

Kahoot! is similar to Jackbox, but with a greater variety of games and ways to play. It works the same way, by everyone watching a shared screen but playing on their smartphones. It’s geared mostly toward kids and families, offering a mix of learning-based games as well as silly fun.

Role-Playing Games

If you’re a fantasy fan, consider adapting a live RPG like Dungeons and Dragons to a virtual get together. Check out the official recommendations for remote D&D.

ZoomJam

For even more activity ideas, check out the entries on ZoomJam. It’s a running competition for simple games that are tailored to group video calls. You might just find a new favorite party game!

Other Apps for Staying Connected

Houseparty

This is a popular mobile app for video calls, an alternative to FaceTime or Zoom. Unlike those, Houseparty offers several built-in games like trivia, Heads Up, and a game called Chips and Guac that’s similar to Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity.

Netflix Party

Remember back when you could get together with friends and watch a movie? Sharing the couch and a bowl of popcorn is out of the question with social distancing nowadays, but the next best thing is Netflix Party, a Netflix feature that lets you watch a show or movie in sync with your friends, and type messages in a built-in group chat. It’s available as a free Chrome extension, so any Netflix subscribers can use it.

Watch2Gether

Watch2Gether is a website that allows you to watch Youtube, Vimeo, and other online videos in sync with friends. It’s free and fairly easy to use. You can create a “room” in one click, then invite friends by sending them a link. Everyone can watch the same video while communicating in the group chat. This is great for sharing the latest music videos, learning a new skill from Youtube, or doing a home workout together.

These apps and games are some of the best ways to stay connected while social distancing, but certainly not the only ones! Use these ideas as a starting point, but let your creativity take over. You can invent all kinds of games to play on video calls, and make social distancing fun!

Jesse Weber

owner and creative director of Unweary Media

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