Connecting Kids through Video Games

One of the most important things for me during this quarantine has been to find a way to keep my kids connected to their friends and extended family. Before the stay-at-home order, we only used FaceTime and Skype to keep in touch with their grandparents. The kids never FaceTimed with their friends, because why would they? They saw each other all the time.

Early on during this quarantine, we would encourage our kids to FaceTime their friends from school. It didn’t go like we imagined. It involved a lot of awkward staring, leading us to prompt them. “Ask them what they’ve been doing during the quarantine.” “Ask them how they like doing school online.” Sometimes we would schedule Zoom calls with multiple friends, and it was an interesting phenomenon—the more kids, the more blank stares and awkward silences. 

I wondered if there was a way they could play something together that everyone would enjoy. That led me to find Jackbox Games, a series of games that can be played remotely online. I remembered the game You Don’t Know Jack by the same creators in the 90s, so I decided to check them out.

I’m a bit technologically challenged, but I figured out that you could buy these games and play them on Steam, a gaming platform for Macs and PCs. We tested them out with our own family, and once we got the gist, we started playing with people outside of our household. It’s pretty easy—we host a Zoom call and share our screen, and our guests can watch on their computer and play along using their devices as controllers for the games.

The games are simple to learn and very funny. You can buy them as standalone games or party packs, which have five games each. We started by purchasing the party pack based on the game descriptions. I never meant to buy more than one party pack, but we ended up buying all of them. Not every game they have is for kids, but most have a “Family Friendly” option in the settings that will filter out anything that might be inappropriate. Every game we’ve played with this setting has been perfectly suitable for kids, although most games involve reading, so if you’re playing with younger kids, they might have to team up with a parent.

We now have game nights with other families, and both of our kids host a “playdate” at least once a week and play with their friends. The kids usually play on their own for 90 minutes or so—a great break for us parents (we actually started paying for Zoom so we wouldn’t be limited to 40 minutes). And it’s been a great way to keep in touch with people. Our kids are playing regularly with cousins who live far away, and that’s one of the silver linings of this quarantine. Before this happened, they would only see each other once or twice a year and never communicate aside from that. It’s really brought our extended family together. And we like to invite my mom so she can enjoy watching her grandchildren play.

Right now the kids are enjoying a “dating” game called Monster Seeking Monster in which monsters try to find love with one another. Not our favorite, but the kids are crazy for it. They played it with their friends twice in a row yesterday, and I’ve never heard them laugh so loud. 

We used to try and play a lot of games in our house, mostly traditional board games, and despite our best efforts, they often end in wounded pride or sometimes even tears. Don’t get me started on the Cheaters Edition of Monopoly, a game my kids beg to play despite the fact that they inevitably end up yelling and fighting by the end of it (if we ever do get to the end). These games are more about pure entertainment, and the kids seem to get that. There are never any hard feelings or resentment about who wins. It’s really a win-win for all of us because we always end up laughing together. And that’s a welcome thing during these times.