How to hang out, have fun with friends – virtually

Staying socially isolated doesn’t mean you have to cancel your social plans. You just need to adjust them a bit.

If you’ve got a webcam and an internet connection, you can still host dinner parties, happy hours, game nights, karaoke sessions and more. We’ve got some technical advice for ways to get set up and share your screen.

Before you begin, know to expect some technical difficulties. Try to have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Most of us aren’t video-conferencing pros.

Getting set up

If you want to see or hear your friends, here are your options.

Phone call. You can always call people and use speakerphone. If you have friends or relatives who don’t feel confident setting up a webcam, hearing their voice is better than nothing.

FaceTime. If you both have Apple devices, you can FaceTime. You can set it up as a one-to-one video call or set up a Group FaceTime with up to 32 people. (Group FaceTime requires newer devices and an updated iOS; check Apple for full requirements.) If your hands are going to be occupied and you’re joining from a phone or iPad, make sure you’ve got a stack of books ready to lean your device up against.

Google Duo. If anyone in your planned get-together doesn’t have an Apple device, Google Duo is basically an Android version of FaceTime. The app is free to download. Up to eight people can join a Duo call.

Skype. Up to 10 people can join a Skype group video call. Skype is free to download and works on phones, tablets and computers with webcams. If you’re playing host, it’ll be easier to set up the call if you’re on a laptop or desktop computer, but other participants don’t have to be. Add your friend’s Skype contact name. Then click on their name from your contacts list before clicking the camera button in the upper-right corner to start the video call.

To share what’s on your screen, hover your mouse in the video and click the icon that looks like two stacked squares on the bottom right of the video call screen and click the “Share screen” button. (If you’ve never done this before, your computer may prompt you to adjust your system preferences, relaunch Skype and start the call again.) You will be prompted to click “Start sharing” on a button at the bottom of the screen one more time. You and your group of friends will be able to see each other’s videos at the top of the shared screen. (For more information, go to skype.com.)

Google Hangouts. If you have Gmail, that means you already have a Google account you can use to set up Hangouts for free. Go to hangouts.google.com and click “Start a new hangout.” You can invite other people by their Gmail addresses or by emailing them a link. (That’s especially handy if you want to set up the Hangout link ahead of time for a large group or if you expect some people to be dropping in later.) You can set it up as a voice or video hangout. Up to 25 people can join a video Hangout and up to 150 people can join a voice-only Hangout.

To share your screen once the Hangout has begun, hover your mouse in the call and click the three vertical dots on the upper-right hand side of the screen and click “Share screen.” (You may be prompted to adjust your system’s preferences to allow this if you’ve never done it before, and then you might have to restart the Hangout.)

Unlike on Skype, if you are sharing your screen in Google Hangouts, other participants will not be able to see video of your face at the same time, so this option is less preferable if you want to be in on the “It’s just like game night in real life” feeling. (For more information, go to hangouts.google.com.)

What to do

Dinner party/happy hour. This one is pretty straightforward. Everyone joins the videoconference and then eats or drinks.

Karaoke. All your favorite karaoke haunts are closed, but that doesn’t mean the singing has to stop. Gather your friends for some karaoke through Google Hangouts or Skype.

Book club. This one is simple: Pick a book to read with loved ones and video call each other to chat about it.

Game night. It’s 2012 all over again. Words With Friends, Draw Something and other app games are still kicking around and just waiting for you to challenge someone. You can be on a video call from your computer and playing together on your phones at the same time.

Obviously, if you and your friends are already into “Overwatch” and “Fortnite,” you don’t need us to tell you what to do. Have fun.

If you and your friend both have a Nintendo Switch, you can get classics such as “Mario Kart” and play together.

There has truly never been a better time to get into Dungeons and Dragons. The game master needs a copy of the rules (the makers of D&D offer a short version for free online) and a rough understanding of the basics. Other players only need a pencil, paper and dice.

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