It feels like only last week Houseparty was ruling as the number one entertainment for everyone self-isolating. That was until rumours about the video call app started spreading. According to some users, the app was not safe and having it installed on your phone meant you could easily get your bank account hacked. As the story unfolded, many deleted Houseparty, me included.
After doing so, one main concern hit me: how was I going to entertain myself now? From buying a Nintendo Switch to downloading a digital version of the card game Uno, the possibilities seemed endless but never would I have thought of Google Docs as the miracle remedy to boredom.
Apparently, keeping people under lockdown makes them go back to simpler digital pleasures. A few days ago, the MIT Technology Review questioned its readers: Why does it suddenly feel like 1999 on the internet? It seems like extreme loneliness and boredom have a way of forcing us to get out of our digital comfort zone. Just like those students who used Google Docs as a way to pass notes in class in 2019, adults all around the globe have started using the document authoring tool in very inventive ways, to say the least.
Here’s how Google Docs is slowly becoming our new entertainment during self-isolation.
The current circumstances are terrible, that’s undeniable, but in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, some comedians have decided to make people laugh as much as they can—because why not? And they’re getting creative with the format they’re experimenting with.
At the beginning of March, after many of her shows got cancelled for obvious reasons, comedian Marissa Goldman decided to bring her comedy night online. She created her own ‘Google Doc Party’ where she invited other comedians to join her on the doc. The way her Google Doc Party works is that each comedian has an allotted time to add some jokes in the document and once the show is over, Goldman creates some Google Docs game for everyone to participate in.
So far, Goldman has hosted 3 comedy nights on Google Docs with comedians from The Onion and Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show and it has proved to be a success, she told Teen Vogue: “This has opened up a new world to me, I just wish it didn’t happen in this way. I hope to do similar things after but of course, it’s different when there isn’t a need for it.”
What has become a weekly show has been put on hold for a week but will be back this Saturday. All you have to do is go on the Google document at 8 pm Eastern Time and have a laugh.
Escape rooms, also known as escape rooms, are a game in which a team of players discover clues, solve puzzles and enigmas and accomplish tasks in one or more rooms in order to progress and accomplish a specific goal in a limited amount of time. The goal is often to escape the specific room the team has been in.
While doing an escape game in the comfort of your house probably won’t mean you are allowed to leave and finally go outside, it could kill a couple of hours of your day. That’s what Anthony Smith realised while under lockdown in New York City.
Smith created an entire escape game on Google Docs based on someone’s desire to go outside. Once on the document, users can navigate the room by clicking on different links that bring them on dozens of interconnected documents in a choose-your-own-adventure-style puzzle. Like any escape game, this one is inherently collaborative. The best way to solve the game and ‘get out’ is to collaborate with strangers who are also on the document.
Speaking to Quartz, Smith admitted accidentally leaving the document’s editing permissions open to anyone, which led to players quickly flooding it with messages, creating a 60-page document of thank yous and clues from other participants stuck at different points in the puzzle. “I am really touched that people weren’t mean, despite the fact that everyone had anonymity,” Smith said. “That genuinely warmed my heart.”
You can start part one of the escape game here while Smith works on part 2.
On 14 March, Ohio’s Akron Art Museum shut its doors, leaving senior experience officer Seema Rao unsure what to do in order to help. That’s when she created a Google Docs and started sharing it with other employees who worked at now closed museums, asking them to build puzzles based on their collections. Each institution had to submit one clue based on something in its digital archives, forming a crossword on users’ museum knowledge.
The crosswords come out every Sunday and have featured clues from the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, the International Printing Museum in Carson, California, the Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix, and many others.
The many museums involved also collaborate on Sudoku puzzles and will soon begin experimenting with other forms of puzzles, as well as share them on social media under the hashtag #MuseumGames.
Now that we’ve seen what other creative people have achieved using Google Docs, why not try to create our own entertainment too? From playing the hangman game with your family to organising a friends’ comedy night, there doesn’t seem to be anything you can’t do on Google Docs.
A few days ago, I read an article titled I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share written by Scott Kelly in The New York Times. In it, the retired astronaut who spent nearly a year on the International Space Station took it upon himself to share a few tips with readers on how to go through isolation without losing it. And although most of the piece consisted of some basic advice such as ‘follow a schedule’ or ‘find a hobby’, one really stood out to me: ‘take time to connect’.
Then, following the UK’s Prime Minister’s lockdown announcement Monday night, it seemed like those who had previously been quite relaxed about the whole self-isolation thing started to panic. Staring directly at the prospect of a few months in isolation is scary, no one can deny it, and so I’ve decided to share with you the best apps to use to tackle boredom and loneliness—and I truly hope they help you as much as they are helping me.
The first on the list is Houseparty, the video chat app that allows users to video call up to 7 people in one go. According to data from App Annie, last week Houseparty was downloaded 2 million times worldwide, compared to around 130,000 downloads the same week a month ago. In other words, the COVID-19 outbreak made the app go viral. As I’m writing this, my friends are waiting for me to join the group call and play another round of ‘Chips and Guac’, Houseparty is ranking number one in the App Store in 17 countries including the UK, Spain and Italy (no surprise there) and number two on Google Play.
Not only does Houseparty offer you in-app games such as trivia or heads up, it also lets users share their screen if they wish to watch Netflix together or criticise their ex-partner’s new profile picture. But what makes it different from other video call apps is its spontaneity—where the name Houseparty originated from. Just like at an actual house party, users can find and join different groups of friends chatting in many different rooms. Feel like having a private chat with your two best mates in the ‘kitchen’? No worries, just lock the room and you’ll be blocking anyone else from entering the video call.
If self-isolation is not yet hitting you as hard as others, and if group chats are more your go-to way of communicating with friends and family, then WhatsApp is a good choice for you. Sharing memes and pictures of what you just stress-cooked in your Whatsapp group chat is not the only positive way you can use the messaging app. Health care professionals, educators, nonprofits and local businesses are also using WhatsApp to communicate with patients, students and customers.
Many are using the messaging app in order to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. Local restaurants in Madrid are using WhatsApp to coordinate supplying food to hospitals; medical professionals in Paris have formed a WhatsApp group to get the latest updates on hospital capacities and a nonprofit in the US has activated a WhatsApp helpline for coronavirus information.
The third app that I have been using in order to cure the constant boredom I have been battling as soon as my work day is over is Virtual Super Land. Although the app doesn’t connect you to people, it lets you create and experiment, whether you possess any artistic skills or not. The app applies the idea of a green screen to real-life objects by replacing anything that is bright green with the various animated designs it offers. Let me tell you, searching through my flat for any green object or clothes that I could play with and alter through the app has definitely entertained me for a few hours.
Last but not least is Instagram’s new Co-Watching feature revealed yesterday, which lets users look at their feed while simultaneously sharing their screen with friends through video chat. In other words, you’re going to be able to bitch with your best friends about everyone on Instagram—just like the old days. The fact that a pandemic had to happen to make people realise the potential this feature has is slightly worrying, but then again, of course social media companies have somehow found a way to cater more creatively to their users’ needs during the coronavirus outbreak.
Who knows, we might look back on these days and realise that these four apps were only a pandemic-induced fad. But until we’re out of lockdown and meeting friends, family members or even colleagues feels safe again, these are the only things that might keep us sane. So… who wants to play heads up?