30 fun ways to stay connected through video calls

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September 6, 2020
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30 fun ways to stay connected through video calls

Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced people all over the world to stay at home indefinitely, video calls seemed more a luxury than a necessary means for staying in touch. At the end of December 2019, for instance, Zoom had no more than about 10 million daily meeting participants via its video conferencing platform. By March, more than 200 million participated each day. By late April, that number had risen to more than 300 million participants.

In the wake of the novel coronavirus, video chat apps have become a lifeline for connection—with family, friends, coworkers, teachers, doctors, and even strangers. Zoom is just one of many platforms enabling virtual gatherings. Others vary widely and include Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, Skype, BlueJeans, Houseparty, Discord, Squad, Slack, Google Hangouts, Google Duo, Jitsi, and FaceTime. Facebook, meanwhile, offers video capabilities through products like Portal, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Given the popularity of group video chats, the company is enhancing its services with more Zoom-like features.

The number of video calls can be exhausting, though, as interacting daily via screens can inhibit fresh conversation—not to mention the need to maintain eye contact and to present your best self at all times. Perhaps not surprisingly, “Zoom fatigue” has entered the vernacular.

Fortunately, video chat apps aren’t just for chatting. There are many ways to socialize remotely and heighten the fun factor. Stacker scoured news reports and social media to compile a list of 30 amusing activities, effects, and games that can help you connect over video chat. Some require a little more creative configuring than others, and not all work on every platform.

So prepare the camera and lighting, ping a loved one, and take advantage of the wonders of technology that enable entertaining interactions at a time they’re desperately needed.

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Virtually transport yourself

Use a virtual background, from pop culture or memes, to boost morale on apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Free downloadable backgrounds of images and videos are plentiful on the web right now, including the wall of toilet paper and the couch on "The Simpsons."

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Work out with friends and strangers

Miss in-person group exercise classes? Many yoga studios, coaches, and gyms are live-streaming workouts through video platforms and encouraging participants to keep the webcam on.

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Host a happy hour

At the end of a long day—and aren’t they all long these days?—call up some friends, grab a "quarantini" or another favorite beverage and pull up a chair for a happy hour hangout. Bonus: no need to worry about finding a way to get home safely.

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Hold a virtual dinner party

Eating a meal while sitting across from a loved one, even on a screen, can be surprisingly satisfying. Putting on fancy clothes—or at least not the T-shirt you’ve worn all week—can take dinner to new heights, and so can welcoming Halloween early by dressing in costume.

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Cut your hair with help

If you’re distressed by your growing locks, book a video call with a professional hairstylist who can help guide your scissors. Individual stylists are marketing their services, and you can find others through the website You Probably Need a Haircut.

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Experiment with augmented-reality gizmos

Today’s reality is surely in need of an augment. Why not replace your face with an alien or giraffe on FaceTime? Or cartoonize yourself? You can also install the Snap Camera desktop app to accessorize with Snapchat Lenses on platforms like Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts.

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Play tabletop role-playing games virtually

Just because you can’t gather with friends doesn’t mean you need to put games like “Dungeons & Dragons,” “Call of Cthulhu,” or “Fiasco” on hold. Find ways to play via video platforms or on virtual tabletops like Roll20, which enables video and voice chat.

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Recreate the break room

If you’re missing office chitchat, the Slack app Hallway can help. It lets you schedule hellos with coworkers in timed video chat rooms, and you can launch spontaneous check-ins as well.

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Join a virtual dance party

DJs and dancers have a message for COVID-19: You can’t stop the beat. Search online for virtual dance parties like DJ D-Nice’s popular Club Quarantine and let your imagination turn your crib into a club. Or, why not create your own playlist and host a dance party for family and friends?

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Host a book club

It’s a great time to escape into a good read and discuss it with a group of pals. If getting a hard copy is tough, you may be able to check out an ebook from your public library. No one needs to know if you opt for the audiobook version instead.

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Play online board games

Love playing games like Yahtzee, backgammon, and chess? You can play them with friends on a site like Board Game Arena. Simultaneously log into a video app and split the screen to feel like you’re playing across from each other. Or, use one device for the game and another for the video chat.

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Play physical board games

Find classic games you can adapt to remote play. With Boggle, for instance, you can show the grid of cubed letters on the camera before everyone races to find adjacent words to write down. Battleship is a good option if two people each have a version at home.

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Play charades in teams

All you need for the game is a hands-free way to keep you on camera, a dose of creativity, and a willingness to look silly. Just think of a person, a movie, a song, or a book—charades generators can help. Indicate the category then act it out for others to guess.

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Take part in a group baking session

Baking is big these days, but why bake alone? Pick a recipe with loved ones, gather the ingredients and your webcam, and work through the steps in unison.

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Browse content with friends

If you’re longing to watch YouTube videos with friends or go shopping together like you did before the pandemic, check out the Squad app. It lets you share your screen during video calls.

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Devise a scavenger hunt

Grandparents can challenge grandkids to a scavenger hunt; instruct them to search for three yellow items around the house and show them on video, for instance. Pals can have a timed competition to bring back items that start with every letter of the alphabet. Jimmy Kimmel’s scavenger hunt can inspire.

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Play party games

Houseparty offers a handful of multiplayer games to enjoy while video chatting. You can find a bigger selection on Jackbox Games—someone just needs to buy a game and share their screen on a platform like Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Discord. You can keep an eye on each other while using phones as controllers.

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Read to a kid

Children can get restless on video calls, but a good story and expressive reader can keep them settled and entertained. Oxford Owl offers free ebooks for kids ages 3 to 11, and your public library may also have a selection. Not sure how to do it? Check out authors and celebrities who have filmed themselves reading books.

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Host a trivia night

Zoom likely didn’t create breakout rooms for teams to collaborate during trivia competitions, but they sure are convenient. Come up with your own questions or buy a trivia night kit. Either way, invite competitors who will stay off oh-so-convenient search engines during play.

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Watch Netflix content together

Yes, you can video chat while separately watching Netflix shows and movies. But to watch in perfect sync and enable group chat, you and others can install the Chrome extension Netflix Party. It works on desktops or laptops, but for a similar experience on mobile, try the Rave app.

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Attend a class

Feed your curiosity by taking a course taught via Zoom. Spanish conversation classes and a course on the evolution of jazz were among the spring offerings of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UCLA, for example. Many art studios and music teachers are offering classes over video now as well.

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Put on a puppet show

A virtual puppet show can be a fun way to engage with kids over video chat. Grab or make some hand puppets, concoct a tale, build a set, and unleash your inner puppeteer. 

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View Instagram posts with others

Instagram has introduced a new feature sure to enliven video chats as well as posts. You and your friends can now scroll through saved, liked, and suggested photos and videos on Instagram together.

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Organize a talent show

Got talent? Don’t worry—the bar for entertainment is low these days. Get a group together and ask musicians, magicians, gymnasts, comedians, and anyone else who’s up for performing to show their stuff. 

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Tour a museum with friends

You can take a virtual tour through museums like Musée d’Orsay, Paris and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Share your screen on a video app and explore the collections with friends and family.

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Play music together

Yes, lags on video platforms are a problem, but no need to aim for perfection. Making music with others via video can be a delightful activity. 

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Take a walk together

Walking can boost creativity, which is a conversational asset in high demand during the quarantine doldrums. Plus, being able to view someone else’s surroundings—a new sight!—can be downright uplifting.

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Play Mad Libs

Remember Mad Libs from your childhood? You ask someone to share words, like nouns or verbs, that are left out of a Mad Libs story. Hilarity ensues when you read it back with the new suggestions, like it does in the bit on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

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Complete a crossword puzzle together

You can share your screen as you work through an online crossword. Or, go old school and collaborate as one person reads the clues and fills out the puzzle on paper.

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Be part of a celebration

Weddings, birthday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations, and bridal showers are among the special occasions shifting to video platforms. While not ideal, even live-streamed festivities can bring joy to everyone in the virtual room.

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