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Forget Zoom happy hours. Here are 4 livelier ways to socialize remotely

Rejuvenate your remote get-togethers with party games, virtual mingling, your best poker face, and more.

Forget Zoom happy hours. Here are 4 livelier ways to socialize remotely
[Photo: /Unsplash]
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I don’t know about you, but around about my thousandth Zoom get-together during this never-ending pandemic, it dawned on me that after using Zoom all week for work, these so-called happy hours were starting to feel pretty sad.

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Luckily, there are more stimulating ways to video-chat with your buddies. Grab a snack, pour yourself a beverage, and prepare to have some fun.

Party games aplenty

If you’ve been around long enough to remember what Crystal Pepsi tasted like, then you may have had the pleasure of playing an innovative and amusing trivia game show-esque series called You Don’t Know Jack. Not to date myself, but I believe the first time I played it was on the ill-fated 3DO console.

Anyway: The franchise has evolved into a full-blown multiplayer games company called Jackbox Games, which periodically puts out “Party Packs” that can be played across console, mobile, and computer platforms.

Its latest, Party Pack 7, supports up to eight players and features five games meant to keep everyone on their toes—kind of like modern-day Scattergories or charades.

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To keep things interesting, each go-round averages about 15 to 20 minutes. The gameplay can be viewed by up to 10,000 spectators, just in case you and your friends are attention-depraved lunatics.

Best of all, only one person in the group needs to own the actual game. Jackbox outlines how to play remotely via several different platforms and streaming video services.

Mingle like you mean it

Remember real-life parties with a bunch of actual human beings? How you’d flitter around among people and groups to catch up?

You can now virtually relive the good old days with Gather, a very cool service that’s half video game, half video call.

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You and everyone else at the party are represented as little controllable avatars that can stroll around and talk to each other. When your avatar approaches another one, the real-life video from your respective webcams will pop up on-screen so you can converse face-to-face. Walk away, and the video disappears. Small talk has never felt so fun!

The service is free for up to 25 users, with paid plans starting at $7 per user, per month, for additional features.

Binge with your besties

Remote watch parties are getting more and more popular, but with so many streaming services available across so many platforms, it’s hard to find a service that works with everything.

If you use the Chrome web browser, the excellent and free Scener extension is about as good as it gets right now.

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Scener works with most of the big-name services—Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, among others—and supports up to 10 people in a room at a time. As long as you and whoever else is watching all have accounts for whichever service, you can watch shows and movies together, complete with live video chatting in the sidebar.

Play poker with your pals

Part of the thrill of playing Texas Hold’em is trying to read your opponents’ faces—something that’s not always possible to do if you’re playing remotely.

The free-to-play Poker Face app (Android, iPhone) looks to change all that, with everyone at the table being represented via video.

It’s just like a real poker night, except without the stinky cigars, the uncomfortable folding chairs, and chip-dip spilled everywhere.