Lockdown alternatives to quizzes: How to make Zoom calls exciting

By Eleanor Roper
Newsbeat reporter

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When Boris Johnson plunged the country into lockdown back in March 2020, the Zoom quiz was born.

Fast forward eleven months and let's face it - we've all had enough.

But what else is there to keep us in touch with friends and family, and away from Netflix?

From cocktail classes to interactive murder mysteries - lockdown 3.0 has more to offer online.

image captionShannon got dressed up for the night in - except for the uncomfortable heels

DIY cocktail parties

Unlike this time last year, lockdown birthdays are no longer a novelty. We've all sung Happy Birthday completely out-of-sync on a video call so we're having to be more creative with our parties.

Luckily Shannon's fiance Tom got the memo. Last week was her 26th birthday and he surprised her with a virtual cocktail making party. All she was told was to be dressed and ready by 6pm.

Tom had arranged for a bartender to send ingredients to their home in Bristol in advance and he showed the couple and their friends how to make their favourite drinks.

"Things descended into a 3am Zoom party," says Shannon. "Thank god for good Wifi and porn star martinis - which we can now proudly make ourselves!

"It was so much fun and felt good to get dressed up for the first time in almost a year, even if it was to party at the kitchen table. This is the new 'out out' after all."

It was almost as good as a real night out, "just without the taxi fare and uncomfortable high heels."

Multi-player 'video' games

We all need some escapism at the moment. But escape rooms have had to adapt after closing their doors.

This time last year, Ollie was running real life events but shortly after lockdown started, he tells Newsbeat all of his work was cancelled.

Like many businesses, his company Swamp Motel has had to adapt. They're now running immersive experiences for people online.

He says it's not an escape room or a murder mystery, but almost like a multi-player video game, where all you need is the internet.

"We realised we were in the business of entertainment and the social space had become Zoom," says Ollie. "We came up with the idea that you join a call with someone you don't know and they ask you for help in finding a missing person."

Ollie says we should treat Zoom like a seat in the cinema and base yourself there for whatever experience you're doing - Zoom is just the vehicle to different types of entertainment.

image copyrightSwamp Motel
image captionSome 'CCTV Footage' from one of the Swamp Motel games

There are lots of companies offering similar experiences, as well as free scripts and storylines out there to spark your imagination.

Murder mystery is a popular choice because everyone can be assigned a part in advance and plan their fancy dress.

Some have even gone as far as writing the story themselves.

So apart from cobbling your costume together and a maybe a few drinks in your essential shopping, it's a free night in.

Communal cooking clubs

As well as drinking and playing games, group cooking is also an option. Jess and her friends have tried pizza-making, with everyone having the ingredients delivered and cooking together on Zoom in real time.

"The lockdown quizzes were great at first but after lockdown one ended, I feel like there was virtual quiz fatigue," says Jess.

She also tells Newsbeat "there's only so many walks you can do with a friend."

Pizza night was easy to arrange and Jess says it was fun and creative, without too much screen time.

Some pizza companies will also send the dough and toppings to you and your mates.

"Obviously we were all on Zoom making pizza at the same time, but we weren't glued to our screens because we were more focused on our cooking."

On-screen book clubs

If you've completed Netflix and are now dusting off some of the books you've been meaning to read then a book club is a good option.

Grace, who's 26 and from Oxford is part of a Zoom book club.

"It's definitely less screen time than the Zoom quiz era in lockdown 1.0", she tells Newsbeat.

"We take it in turns to choose a book, which means we all read things we wouldn't ordinarily choose."

Grace says the best thing is the club keep growing and friends of friends are now joining. And while there are plenty of downsides to doing things virtually, it means people can get involved no matter where they are - distance is no obstacle.

She adds: "Richard and Judy, watch your backs."

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