There’s an alien assassin disguised as a Teletubbie on the loose. Your roommates are furiously scribbling on their phones. And you’re blanking on the name of Ross’s pet monkey.
Welcome to online college party games: pandemic edition. UNC students are escaping into coronavirus-free virtual worlds to connect with friends during a time when real-world contact is risky.
Whether venturing into the vast void of space in the hit murder-mystery game “Among Us,” deciphering your partner’s illegible scrawl in skribbl.io or joking in Jackbox, students are increasingly turning to online games as replacement for traditional pub crawls and parties.
One of the hottest games is "Among Us." The setup of the game involves 10 tiny, one-eyed aliens that are inexplicably trapped on a foundered spaceship. Randomly assigned, eight of the extraterrestrials are urgently trying to save the spacecraft while two evil imposters are skulking among them, trying to blend in while stealthily sabotaging the ship and exterminating crewmates.
There’s a lot to unpack in this latest gaming sensation. If you’re curious why “Orange” always looks suspicious, how to hop in a vent like “Blue” or wondering why in the intergalactic world the color of your name is red, you may want to heed experienced “Among Us” player Austin Hicks.
Hicks is a UNC first-year who regularly plays “Among Us” who said he’s made a number of real-life friends through the game.
“It's the perfect kind of party game. For almost everyone of us it's our only way to interact with other people in a substantive way,” Hicks said. “You really meet somebody when you play the game and you can't have that experience in real life right now, so it's the closest thing you'll get.”
First-year Hunter Steen is part of Hicks' online crew and is the owner of the UNC 2024 Discord server, an online platform that many students use to chat with one another and host party games.
One of Steen’s favorites is the guessing game skribbl.io.
In skribbl.io, players are given a list of words. One person chooses a word and draws an image depicting it, and then other players attempt to guess what the word is as quickly as possible.
“Most people aren't actual gamers and don't dedicate a lot of time to getting good at games,” Steen said. “And a lot of these party games, skribbl.io in particular, enable anybody to join. You can form real relationships, and it gives everybody an excuse to come together and do something online.”
Steen said he also finds joy in lesser-known gaming sites featuring questionable coding.
“A lot of it is going beyond simple party games and trying to find a niche or just something you enjoy online,” Steen said. “One game my friends and I have played is Garfield Kart. It's an absolutely horrible game, but it's so bad that you can't not have fun.”
Another perennial fan-favorite is the Jackbox Party Packs, which feature an assortment of games ranging from pop trivia to drawing games to cracking jokes with (or at the expense of) your friends. Relationship-risking and guaranteed embarrassment included at no additional charge.
Sophomore Luke Hines said he loves playing “Call of Duty: Warzone” with his friends, although he stresses it’s not a game for weak stomachs.
“Games have virtually allowed me to communicate and interact with friends that I would have not been able to communicate straightforwardly with,” Hines said. “If I was in person, I obviously would have had more connection to them. But it's a way for us to bond even though we are not physically together.”
Hicks said “Among Us” and other games have allowed him to bond with friends, especially since more people have been playing because of the pandemic.
“I'm just very happy that it exists. In my childhood, I always played video games growing up. There's a certain culture that surrounds that, but this transcends that because of COVID, which I think is really cool to think about,” Hicks said.
He added that he thinks gaming will continue to be a means of connection in the future.
“I don't think it's going to die for a little bit,” Hicks said. “But I think that this will be the way we connect going forward into the spring semester, because I don't think we're going back.”
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