Well, folks, happy quarantiversary. It’s been a year since we were all grounded and sent to our rooms. Have we learned our lesson yet?

Just like every petulant teen who got in trouble, we’ve found new ways to communicate, keep in touch, and connect with the people who matter in our lives—despite the circumstances. And yes, these days, that new way involves video chatting, which has taken some getting used to, am I right?

Ahh, the family video chat. Raise your hand if you had that moment where you and your family are all staring at the cameras and wondering what to do. Your mom’s camera view likely starts at her nose, and your brother is definitely chatting on his phone even though he’s pretending to pay attention to what the family is saying. Then, everyone is waiting for someone else to talk. And then, everyone talks at the same time. And then, everyone gets silent again. And then your mom says “Wait, can you hear me?” And, well, the whole thing is just freaking awkward.

That’s what I thought.

Thank goodness for online games, the virtual-social-lubricant for this, the year of COVID.

These online games (or adaptations) are a fun way to spend video time with your family and not actually have to… you know… try to talk to them in a meaningful way.

Side note: When my mom first got online (which was shamefully way too recently), I sent her an instant chat message. She immediately called me and asked what it was. Then asked if the instant chat somehow meant I could see her. I explained the concept of instant chat (“it’s like a phone call with text!”) and sent her another message, saying “Did you get this message? LMK.” She replied with, “Yes, I got your message. RSVP.” Facepalm.

With that in mind, I have included a “Can My Mom Do This?” rating for each recommendation. 

Game On(line)!

If you want to go old school, there are a few IRL games that work well even over video chat. My favorite is What’s Yours Like? You can get a physical copy of this game at the store or on Amazon, but it’s pretty easy to just make up answers as well. 

Choose someone to leave the room briefly. Everyone else is given a word or phrase (if you have the game, pick a card, and show the card to the rest of the players). The chosen person comes back and has the rest of the players describe what their version of that word or phrase is like without using the actual word. For example: if the word is “Garage,” people might say “Mine has a car;” “Mine needs to be organized;” or “I don’t have one.”

Side note: Depending on your family, this game runs the risk of going sideways fast. My family (my parents and my children included) are completely inappropriate and we definitely play that way. For example, when I recently played with my family, the answer phrase “My Backyard,” resulted in fun clues such as: “Mine is always neatly trimmed;” “Mine grows wild and out of control;” “Mine has poop in it;” “My husband really likes mine;” “I have toys in mine.” Ahem. We are terrible people.

But if you are decent human beings, unlike me and my relatives, this can be a fun, family-friendly way to pass the time.

Two truths and a Lie is exactly what it sounds like, and chances are, if you’ve ever done a corporate offsite or teambuilding event, EVER, then you’ve already played this. You list three things about yourself, one of which is untrue, and everyone has to guess which one is the lie.

Another low-key, low-tech online game that is worthwhile may be something you played in college. Never Have I Ever is an easy game to play on video chat and can be kept multi-generational-friendly as long as you remember you’re a responsible adult and don’t make it a drinking game. In the family-friendly version, you take turns listing things you’ve never done and anyone who HAS done that thing puts up a finger. Your mom may learn more about you than she needed – or wanted – to know, but it can still be entertaining.

Lastly, a scavenger hunt can be a fun, fast-paced action game. Put up a list of odd, weird stuff and every family has to collect as many items as possible within a timeframe. Show them off on camera at the end of the time, and the family with the most items wins.

Can my mom do these? Yes. Every one of these old-school concepts work very well, even for the technically challenged.

Phone Home

There are a few phone games that you can play with a group that may be worth your while. My family enjoys Psyche – a series of fast games made by the folks who brought you the Ellen Show. There are a variety of games, and individual ones come in and out of being free, but they range from variations of general trivia to how well do you know your friends/family games.

Evil Apples is basically Cards Against Humanity in phone-app form. So, if you have a family like mine, it’s fun. If you are decent human beings, unlike me and my relatives, skip this one.

Can my mom do these? Yes, all these games are very straight-forward and easy to understand, but I had to talk my mom through the install, and it takes some coordination to get a group to play the same game at the same time.

All Online, All the Time

These games require folks to have their own device, be able to connect online, and they work better if you also have a communication platform at the same time (like Discord or a video chat).

Among Us is all the rage right now. And it’s not loads of fun. Think about the old-school murder mystery parties where someone “among us” is the killer and everyone has to figure out who it is. BUT, while you are doing that, everyone is also given a list of individual tasks to do. It’s great training for future psychopaths to hone their ability to come up with an alibi on the fly, but also just a fun game.

Can my mom do these? Not a freaking chance. She’d get lost just trying to get out of the cafeteria because you have to alt-tab to see the map, and that, right there would be too much for her… God-forbid trying to explain to her how to empty the garbage chute or connect the wires. Generally-technically-savvy folks? Have at it.

If you enjoy Pictionary, definitely give skribbl.io a whirl. You can set up a game for a private group of players, each taking a turn drawing the clue and the other players have to guess. It’s simple, basic, and fun.

Can my mom do this? I have not tried this with her, but I’ve played it with others, and I have faith she’d be able to figure this out after a round or two. However, she’d complain about the choice of three images and the basic tools you have to draw with. Ignore the whining and play anyway.

Lastly, Jackbox.tv might be my favorite online, multiplayer, family-friendly game right now. If you know the game “You Don’t Know Jack,” then you know the premise of this. There are seven variations of the party pack, where you can play approximately five different games in each version, and all the other players need to do is go to jackbox.tv and type in a code.

My favorite games from these series are “Quiplash,” where you are given prompts and have to type in answer, and everyone votes on the best one;Dictionarium,’ where you make up definitions for words, and “Blather Round” where you play a sort of “MadLibs” to describe a person, place, or thing, and players have to guess based on your combinations of ready-made phrases.

Can my mom do this? She can definitely do the three games I noted above. Some of the other games in each pack are more involved and comprehensive, so we haven’t bothered trying them.

Side note: Jackbox is primarily family-friendly, and there is probably a setting you can turn on to keep it clean. We didn’t do that. My mom ran out of time with one of the answers when we last played, and she got a Jackbox generated response. This resulted in her describing her 15-year-old granddaughter’s favorite past-time as “orgies.” Maybe online games don’t make family video chats less awkward. Sigh.

Happy quarantiversary!

If you have online, family-friendly (or not) games to recommend, please post them in the comments below!

About Lily Winters

A full-time copywriter, Lilly Winters lives outside Washington, D.C. in a house full of animals—which include her husband and teenager. Under a different name, she’s written a book of short stories, a Young Adult novel, and was most recently published in Gravity Dancers. Lilly Winters isn’t posting her real picture because it’s possible she is currently wanted by the Mexican drug cartel. It’s also possible she watches too much Ozark.

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