Culture

6 fun ways to play, chat and hang with others online

Ideas for being together-apart with your family, friends and neighbours.

Ideas for being together-apart with your family, friends and neighbours

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Across Canada, we're currently being asked to practice social distancing and — except for workers in jobs deemed essential — to stay home, as much as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to 'flatten the curve'. 

As a result, most of us probably haven't seen any friends, romantic partners, or family members outside of our immediate households for several weeks. With coffee dates, happy hours, and dinner parties — not to mention holidays and religious celebrations — on hold indefinitely, maintaining our social networks and spending time with loved ones suddenly looks very different for the coming months than what we are normally used to. 

But, people are getting creative, and with the help of technology, we're finding ways of spending some quality time together virtually. Here are some sites, apps and plug-ins that might make connecting (only) online a little more fun: 

Houseparty 

A video-chat platform that's been around for a few years, Houseparty works on both mobile and desktop and lets you talk to up to eight friends at once (the max on Whatsapp and FaceTime is four) — the app can tell you when a contact is online and when a friend is near you, depending on your privacy and location settings. You can switch between "rooms," which can be made private or not, and there are even a few simple, built-in games like Quick Draw! and Heads Up!. 

Tip: You can record the "party" and send your offline friends a Facemail video message — a relatively new app feature.

Jackbox Games

Jackbox's streaming party games work for both in-person gatherings and remote competitions. The most well-known are Drawful 2 (which is currently free until April 10), Fibbage and Quiplash, but there are over two dozen individual games available on the site and up to 10,000 players can join each game. To play together remotely, you'll also need a video conferencing service or co-streaming product (instructions here). Other buzzy multi-player games right now include Mario Kart Tour, where you can compete with up to seven friends using your phone, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a new Nintendo Switch game. 

Netflix Party

Stream the latest Netflix releases in sync with friends by installing this free Chrome-browser extension on your laptop or desktop; a chatroom sidebar lets everyone share commentary or socialize while the show is playing. It's an entertaining way to watch a buzzy new series, or simply spend time with people you miss. You can even set up simultaneous video chat on your phone with the same friends, if you want to share audio and video reactions with the group. 

Tip: Want to watch another streaming service like Disney+ or Hulu with friends? Try Kast instead.

Scrabble GO and Words With Friends

Board games are a social staple for all ages. Apps like Scrabble GO, launched earlier this year, and Words With Friends allow for friendly back-and-forth competition that doesn't necessarily require everyone to be online at the same time. Plus, with the online versions, there are multiple ways to play each game, and you can always find someone new to compete against. Other popular, free online board games include Uno and Settlers of Catan

Zoom 

It's no secret that Zoom has been a popular tool for video-conferencing while people #stayhome. (If you're not familiar, The Verge has a good primer on how to set up an account and host meetings). In recent weeks, it has exploded in popularity for everything from university lectures to virtual happy hours. A basic account is free and there are more features than Google Hangouts or FaceTime — for example, you can use CBC's Schitt's Creek backgrounds, turn into a vegetable, or celebrate your love of memes to spice up your next (social) call. However, the app is not without its security issues — so stay up to date and do what you can to protect your privacy.


Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

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