Virtual Game Nights Are a Boon to My Soul

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Virtual Game Nights Are a Boon to My SoulIt’s Friday night, and you know what that means. Cue Rebecca Black, friends, because it’s time to get down.

Okay, so hovering around my mid-thirties and with a preschooler at home means Friday nights look more or less like any other night. But there’s always a kind of magic about the end of a workweek, isn’t there? Even during a pandemic — and maybe because of it — Friday nights come as a welcome sigh of relief after the rigors of simultaneous parenting and working. For one thing, the coming weekend means my husband takes over as primary parent.

But the real reason I now look forward to Friday is because it’s game night.

Today marks 16 weeks since my husband and I started sheltering in place with our almost-five-year-old in an apartment that’s half the square footage of the home we sold in January. Trust me: we’re all feeling it. But it also marks the 15th virtual game night we’ve had since quarantine started.

A week after deciding to shut ourselves up at home, my husband and I rounded up our friends — virtually — and created a Facebook group to stay connected. I largely made it so we could commiserate on the state of the world, but that hasn’t quite happened. Probably because we get enough of that from the news and our respective Facebook feeds.

Instead, we mostly use the group to schedule virtual get-togethers, including games. So, every Friday, we gather together via video chat and play games using an online platform. There’s been lots of trial and error, and we’re still working out the kinks. But it’s the highlight of my week.

If a global health crisis can have a silver lining, it’s that you find out who your friends are.

And lucky for us, we’ve got good friends. In fact, thanks to an abundance of forced time at home, we’ve had more game nights with our friends in the last three months than we’ve had in the last three years put together. No babysitters required and everyone’s already home when it ends. Win-win.

Ready to try out a virtual game night to fortify your friendships? Here are some tips:

Set a date and stick to it. We use our Facebook group to set up events. It’s easy to update and it sends out a handy reminder to everyone beforehand. However you arrange your game nights, just choose a reliable method and stick to it.

Pick a platform — but not just any platform. After three months of doing this, we’ve recently discovered that Skype offers the best combination of the features we need: screen and audio sharing, a large limit on call time (four hours a day), and the budget-friendly cost of “free.” Zoom works well, too, but there’s a 40-minute call limit on free accounts that they actually enforce now (the nerve). Google Hangouts is fine for chatting, but the screen and audio share don’t work well with the game site we use. Test out the different options and use one that fits all your needs — and note that it could take some fiddling. My friend group is made up of a half dozen smart, college-educated nerds and we still have trouble getting everything up and running sometimes. Xennial problems, amirite?

Choose your games. We use Jackboxgames.com for games. You can buy bundles of different proprietary games to be played using various platforms. Check for sales. They’re actually having a sale right now on some bundles. Most of the Jackbox games we’ve played have been awesome, with only a few duds. Each of us has bought a couple packs, so we have options to rotate through when it’s our turn to host. One person or couple is the “host,” meaning they set up the call and run the games while the others join in. We’ve played other games, too, using different sites. But Jackbox seems to work consistently well with high entertainment value, so we stick with it. Not your thing? No worries. Just do a search for “how to play games online with friends” (or something similar) and you’ll find plenty of advice on specific game options across the web.

Rinse and repeat. Once you figure out what you’re playing and when, make it a regular thing. We fell into a weekly pattern, but do whatever works for your schedule. The point is to make time for your friends.

Our weekly online hangouts offer a brief escape from what’s going on while helping us stay connected with the people we care about. There are lots of reasons to feel frustrated and anxious these days, but it helps to look for the good where you can. And virtual game nights are a very good thing.

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