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Online platforms help put the 'social' into socially distant gaming

Socialization is a bit of a luxury these days, but as Buffalo gamers get creative, it doesn’t have to be. From video chatting apps, to role-playing games gone virtual, online platforms grant the gift of game night without leaving the house. While it might not be the same as grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend or getting the group together for dinner, these online platforms are putting the “social” in social distancing.

Jackbox games

Jackbox is a favorite because of its easy-to-use format and versatility. If your friends are like the people I play with, game nights are a pretty regular and tend to go on for hours. Jackbox keeps online get-togethers exciting without getting stale, with an assortment of games to choose from in each pack.

For example, the game “Quiplash” is a battle of wits, asking simple prompts that two players respond to, and the rest of the group votes on the better answer. “Drawful” tests players’ artistic abilities by giving them a strange prompt to draw. Each player then anonymously guesses the name of the drawing while also trying to fool other players into selecting their answer.

In “Earwax,” players do their best to describe a prompt by choosing a few sounds from a hilarious list.

To play with friends, one player has to own Jackbox and create a group video conference like Zoom or Google Hangouts. Then, that person can start a game on their laptop and cast his or her screen so everyone else can see. Lastly, all players will be using their cellphones as remote controls by searching for in their browser, and typing in the four-letter room code from the host’s screen.


Picture the avenue where video chatting meets simple online games; that’s Houseparty. This app gives you notifications when your friends are online, or “in the house,” and you can join them for everything from an online group video hangout, to a quick game of trivia. Once a group is all “in the house,” they also can lock it so that others don’t join.

“Heads Up!” is a guessing game, where players partner up and give each other clues to guess each card. “Chips and Guac” is basically Apples to Apples, where players submit a card that one person chooses as best fitting to their prompt. In “Quick Draw!” one player has a short amount of time to draw each prompt, aiming to get the most amount of correct guesses from players before the clock runs out. And then, there’s typical “Trivia,” where players can choose between categories including pop culture, animals and '90s.

Dungeons and Dragons

Some fantasy lovers have taken this tabletop game to the virtual platform. Similar to the traditional DND game, each person still creates his or her own character, but can do so digitally through a site called D&D Beyond. Throughout gameplay, players can refer back to their character tab to check their health or equipment levels. Game moderators can host DND sessions through Roll20, an online virtual tabletop. Much of the gameplay takes place in players’ imaginations, but game moderators can also use Roll20’s grids to represent battlefields, moving around players’ tokens during combat.

If players do not already have them, the site also offers 20-sided dice for their use. To have live discussions during gaming, players also use Discord, a video conferencing app geared more toward gaming with more emphasis on voice chat and less on video. To begin a session, players can set Discord up with their group by opening up a voice channel, and letting it run in the background during the DND session. For dramatic effect, Discord also allows players to queue music in the background.

Animal Crossing

There are few things more socially gratifying right now than interacting as an adorable animal in a virtual town. Animal Crossing for the Nintendo switch is a calming, colorful and simply designed simulation game where you can visit other people’s towns or islands. It’s therapeutic as it is, but lately, people have taken solace in it for socialization. By connecting to the internet, players can visit each other’s islands, exchange items, recipes, fruits and shop in each other’s stores. Simultaneously, they can connect via Discord or Facebook messenger.

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