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Pop Culture Care Package: Games For Passing Time

A still from The Sims 4. (Courtesy Electronic Arts)
A still from The Sims 4. (Courtesy Electronic Arts)

Our team has been working from home since March 11. That’s two months of home offices (or kitchen tables); two months of physical distancing; and two months of Zoom calls. We’ve reached the point where we’re looking for a bit of hands-on escape and new ways to connect during this time of self-isolation, and there’s no better way to do that than playing games. From The Sims to Bananagrams to virtual game night, we have a selection of games that will help you pass the time.

The Sims

Every couple of years I'm reminded of the virtual world that took over my life as a young teen girl: The Sims. I spent countless hours completely tapped into that game, creating a world for my growing Sim family, making sure they stayed alive and didn't burn down the home I carefully built for them. It seems as though being in quarantine has reminded me that I need something to distract me from what's happening outside my door. Enter The Sims 4. Now downloaded and taking up too much space on my laptop, hours will be spent creating a character, building a home, gaining skills, learning Simlish (the Sims language) and growing my little virtual community. This is basically the same as having a pet or plant, but with no real consequences since you're not ACTUALLY responsible for keeping something alive. Sounds like freedom to me. With different variations of the game, I'm pretty sure there's something for everyone. There's a new eco-lifestyle one for those who dream of living in a house made of shipping containers. Go nuts, y'all!

-Christian Burno, Arts Reporting Fellow


Quarantine Jeopardy

My friend Sam has one of those daily calendars, the kind where you tear off a page every morning in an overly literal interpretation of the passage of time. This one is from 2016 and each date has a Jeopardy question on it. Every weeknight, Sam sends a photo of the calendar to a group of her friends in a text chain titled "Quarantine Jeopardy." Then it's a race to thumb in the answer as quickly as possible: "This southern band was known as 'My Backyard' before naming themselves after their gym teacher." (Lynyrd Skynyrd.) "In Austin, Minnesota you can ham it up at the museum of this meat product in a can." (Spam!)

I haven't actually seen Sam in years. We used to work together at a bar in Cambridge, and reconnected on Facebook in March after I posted about a story I was working on. (This was back when quarantine was still a novelty and people wanted to read articles about these newfangled Zoom cocktail hours, and we thought, ‘Isn't it funny what people are resorting to in this brave new socially distanced world of ours?’). The Quarantine Jeopardy crew are all women, and I've never met any of them. I don't even know all their names. But I like them. All credit to Sam — she knew which of her friends could hang.

The calendar is a little over halfway through November, and I think we're all hoping quarantine ends before it does. And equally fearing the calendar could run out first. What would anchor us without this ritual? I like it because there are no niceties. We all converge for a communal dopamine rush while we compete to type in "pumpkin spice latte" the fastest, or to think which Shakespeare play has a capital city in the title. (It's "Timon of Athens," ever heard of it?) And then it's over, and we close the chat. There are no awkward goodbyes, no frenzied video conference departures. We'll all come back tomorrow, and the next day. It's comforting to know it will be there, and that eventually, it has to end.

-Amelia Mason, Arts & Culture Reporter


Virtual Game Nights

In non-pandemic times, I love gathering with friends and family to play board games. My husband and I would frequently go over to our friends’ place. We’d cook a meal or order takeout, and then after the pleasantries, it was time to get down to business. We’d pull out a box; layout the board, cards and pieces; go over the rules; and then it was every person for themselves. (We’re a competitive bunch.) Until we’re allowed to safely gather in-person again, we’ve found other ways to keep game night alive. There are many virtual board game websites available, but the one we’re using is Board Game Arena. Participants hop on a video call and then we head to the website to pick a game to play. We’ve played Sushi Go, Saboteur and Explosion, and we’re able to hear the trash talk dished out as the game progresses. We have expanded our usual group to include people who live across the country, and we have been able to connect more frequently than we would have in “normal” times. This new version of game night is something we’ll turn to even after the pandemic passes.

-Dianna Bell, Producing Editor


Bananagrams

I’ll admit that the first thing to catch my eye about Bananagrams was the bright yellow pouch. Who wouldn’t want a banana-shaped pouch? That, filled with letter tiles, seemed irresistible. Turns out the game is utterly engrossing, even for someone like me who has not enjoyed games since about age 12. (Could it be my competitive nature? Surely not.) When it comes to playing Bananagrams, I like the task of building a grid of words with random letters. Plus there’s the challenge of continually expanding and rebuilding the grid till every last tile is used. Regardless of whom I play with — my children, or relative strangers I’ve met on a trip — the game always ends in laughter at the odd juxtaposition of words. And now, if you can’t play in person, Bananagrams has also established rules for remote games.

-Tania Ralli, Acting Senior Editor


We're Not Really Strangers

Riding the arc of isolating at home has taken me from a “gee-whiz, aren't Zoom happy hours fun?" headspace to wanting to avoid any more screen time than is absolutely critical for doing my job. But I miss seeing my friends as a group. So much it hurts. Luckily one of them discovered a game called, “We're Not Really Strangers” (WNRS). It provided structure — and frankly a deeper purpose — to our Zoom gathering. We only played once a few weeks ago with just under a dozen friends. The company behind WNRS released a special Quarantine Expansion Pack PDF with 20 cards. They ask questions designed to plumb your emotional bonds and knowledge of each other on three levels: Perception, Connection and Reflection. The subjects span what you've been doing to bring yourself joy while stuck at home to asking friends (or lovers) how they can best be there for you during this time. I'd say WNRS isn't a game for everyone, nor is it for every Zoom gathering, but it sparked meaningful conversations and gave everyone a chance to share something more significant than what we made for dinner. In fact, we got so caught up in asking and sharing that we didn't even make it through the deck.

-Andrea Shea, Senior Arts Reporter


Puzzles

If I’m really honest with myself, I don’t care for board games. Puzzles, though — I love puzzles. That’s why I was tickled recently when I read there was a puzzle shortage. It’s like everything we once may have viewed as activities left for retreats, snow days, or summer camp are suddenly fair game. I have at least four puzzles in my home that I need to tackle at some point this summer. I’ve also heard of people exchanging puzzles once they’ve finished one to give a different one a try as many stores have run out. There’s something wonderful about sifting through pieces, knowing there’s going to be at least one missing, and at some point getting up and walking away. Maybe it’s the mindlessness? Maybe it’s meditative? I’m not really sure. But I think with so many of us over Zoomed and restless, it’s nice to have something tactile to solve. It’s a game I can immerse myself in fully and feel like a little kid again for a little while. While board games are not my bag, if I had the chance to have a game night with friends right now I’d take it in a heartbeat. But in the meantime, I’ll work on my puzzles and perhaps mail one out to another friend who needs a good distraction.

-Cristela Guerra, Arts & Culture Reporter

Pieces of a puzzle. (Cristela Guerra/WBUR)
Pieces of a puzzle. (Cristela Guerra/WBUR)

Related:

Christian Burno Arts Fellow
Christian Burno is the arts reporting fellow for The ARTery, WBUR’s arts and culture team.

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Amelia Mason Twitter Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for The ARTery, WBUR's arts and culture team. She covers everything from fine art to television to the inner workings of the Boston music scene.

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Dianna Bell Twitter Producing Editor, The ARTery
Dianna Bell is the producing editor for WBUR's arts and culture vertical, the ARTery.

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Tania Ralli Acting Senior Editor, The ARTery
Tania Ralli is acting senior editor for arts and culture at WBUR.

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Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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Cristela Guerra Twitter Reporter
Cristela Guerra is an arts and culture reporter for The ARTery.

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