How to host virtual hangouts and stay connected during COVID-19

Although we might have to spend a lot of our time in isolation, there are many many ways of remotely keeping in contact with others. Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels.

It’s been quite a long year and because of the pandemic, our social lives have slowed down since it isn’t safe to be hosting gatherings with friends and visiting each other. Though we may have to spend a lot of our time in isolation, there are still many ways to stay in touch with people virtually.  

Aside from being used as a virtual classroom setting, Zoom is a great way to host video calls with your friends. I’ve used Zoom to hang out with friends who I haven’t seen in a while so we can catch up with each other’s lives. You can also use Zoom to host game nights or movie nights, since you can screen share a show, movie or a game to your friends. 

Gather is another virtual space you can use to interact with other people. When you load into Gather, you’re presented as a pixel sprite on screen that can walk around and talk to other people if you get close enough with them. It supports video and audio input, and you can customize both your sprite and the space you’re gathering in by adding or removing objects, minigames and more. It functions as a great virtual space for work, school or social gatherings. 

Zoom pairs well with a lot of different games that don’t already support video and audio input, but Backyard offers a lot more. It works well in a browser, and it supports audio and video, so you can hear and see your friends in real time. The best part? It has loads of games to choose from. You can create a lobby and the host can pick from a wide variety of party games like Mafia, Pictionary, Cards Against Humanity, Secret Hitler, Codenames and more. If you don’t have enough people for party games and you’re looking to do something with one other person, Backyard also has crosswords, chess, Scrabble and word scrambles. It’s all perfectly free, and probably one of the best ways to video and voice chat with friends while playing some great party games. 

If you have a solid group of friends who would be interested in party games, there’s also Jackbox Games available on different gaming platforms like Steam and Epic Games. Jackbox Party Packs often cost around $25 to $30, and though they’re not free, they are a great investment if you think you’ll be hosting many game nights. Each party pack is different and contains five different Jackbox games. Paired with Zoom, you can stream the game to your friends and everyone can hop in and participate using their phones. For starters, I’d recommend “The Jackbox Party Pack 3” because it has classics like the hilarious “Quiplash 2,” the spooky “Trivia Murder Party,” the intense drawing game “Tee K.O.” and more. Most games support as few as two players and as many as eight players, but after hosting many game nights, I’ve learned that the ideal number to play with is five to eight players.  

So what are you waiting for? Text your friends and start making plans for that next virtual hangout.  

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