Maybe I've become a full-on Grinch since going into quarantine, but I’m really getting over the initial Zoom happy hour hype. I’ll admit, circa week one, maybe even two, the whole “let’s have a drink over the computer” thing was a much-needed reprieve from the news cycle and unknowns facing our global community. We were all doing the best we could to maintain social ties, and some semblance of normality, given the limitations of poor internet connection and the unavoidable cacophony of everyone speaking at once. But now, on Day One Million, where everyone already knows the answer to the once earnest “How are you?," the basic Zoom cocktail hour has simply lost most of its novelty and charm.
I miss my friends and extended family dearly, and feel immensely grateful that I have the ability to connect with most of them online. That said, I got to the point where I began dreading the possibility that Zoom might grant our calls unlimited time to chat (the free version only allots 40 minutes). While virtual socializing could never replace the real thing, my resistance to embracing this temporary change was troubling. Shouldn’t I want to see as many people as I can and enjoy catching up for as long as possible? Am I the only one out there experiencing a bout of Zoom Gloom?
In the last week or so, though, the virtual cocktail hour and I have really turned a corner. It was around this time that basic calendar invites for “catch up happy hours” were replaced with activities, themed-events, and casual conversations on Houseparty. I started looking forward to these calls once again, remembering that they are intended to feel like a treat, rather than a chore. Whether you’re starting to feel a bit antsy during your group Skype calls or are simply looking for a few ways to liven up your next Google Hangout, here are a few ideas I’ve been using to nip that Zoom Gloom in the bud:
Perhaps my friend group is particularly keen on game nights, but almost all of our virtual parties—and real life hangouts, for that matter—involve a game or two. I’ve really been enjoying the app Houseparty for its casual nature (the app alerts you whenever one of your friends is “in the house”) and built-in games like Head’s Up, Trivia, and Pictionary. You never know who is going to show up, and the games are only a few rounds long each—perfect for a quick midday or pre-dinner brain break. I’m also particularly fond of online games like Quiplash, Bidiots, or even Kahoot!, which simply require that all players sign in with a game code to engage in a little friendly competition. When all else fails, though, a few quick rounds of Hangman utilizing Zoom’s drawing feature (taking a sip for every letter guessed incorrectly!) or a screen-sharing group crossword puzzle, can help break up the monotony of a bare bones happy hour.
In our everyday lives, the idea of making a Powerpoint presentation for fun doesn’t really seem that fun at all. However, under these very unusual circumstances, it has become a weekly pleasure learning something new from, and about, my friends. At the beginning of each week, anyone who is interested “signs up” to give a short lecture on a topic of their choice. The lessons can really be about anything your group finds exciting, from “A Comparative Analysis of The Popularization of Vine vs. TikTok” to “A Critical Look at Timothée Chalamet’s Best Lewks.” The world is your oyster (and your classroom!)!
As with real life cocktail parties, a few rounds of drinking games like “Cheers to the Governor” and beer pong (which works surprisingly well over video call!*), or a themed adult beverage usually help get things going. Last week, a friend threw a “Skype Sake Bomb Soirée” and I am currently planning a bottomless mimosa brunch for this weekend. With a little more coordination and planning, you could arrange a group beer tasting with some of your local favorites, or your very own "paint and sip" class. The best part is, everyone who is interested in drinking supplies their own booze, and the need for a designated driver is no longer!
*[Ed note from Leslie: I asked Natalie over Slack to elaborate and she said, "Both parties set up a BP table per usual, setting your computer up at the far end where your opponent would normally stand. And then you just play as you normally would! If you sink a cup, your opponent has to drink the respective one on their set." Done and done.]
Getting a little uninspired in the kitchen? Watching an obscene amount of The Great British Bake Off (🙋♀️)? Assign your entire friend group the same five basic ingredients everyone already has anyways (think: rice, eggs, salad greens, peanut butter, and chocolate chips), set a timer, and see what happens! Even better, scrap the idea of asking everyone to use the same ingredients, and challenge them to utilize five items that they haven’t reached for in the last two weeks (or the five that are about to spoil) in an effort to minimize waste. While you won’t be able to taste your friends’ creations, you can still judge based on appearance, description, and ingenuity.
If you’ve been missing the act of getting dressed each day, consider setting a fun outfit theme for your next virtual get together. I’ve attended a video call in my high school prom dress for a “blast from the past” game of trivia, a Zoom yoga class which required that I add on an accessory of choice at the start of every flow, and a Google Hangouts birthday party where we all had to dress up as the birthday girl we were celebrating. It sounds and feels kind of silly, and that's exactly the point! Something about dressing up, even if in a costume of sorts, helps to shake up our loungewear routine and put a smile on everybody's faces. And these days, the more smiles, the better!