2020, Spring 2

Lockdown has had ups and downs, the ups catching most of us by surprise. It's only really going outdoors am I reminded of the BBQs or talks over a summer pint that this year has been missing.

But being indoors in mostly the same, and if anything has given me and my friend's more opportunities to socialise in more inventive ways. Since nobody can go anywhere, nobody has any excuses – all aside from the elusive 'I have a quiz night with work friends'.

Every couple of weeks we've taken turns to organise something that we haven't done before, all with varying success. I mentioned in my last blog a group workout session, which kicked the whole thing off.

This was shortly followed by a group concert watching. We all voted from a selection of recorded to concerts to watch collectively by hitting the play button on YouTube at the same time. We used a preferential voting system (because why wouldn't you?) and the winning concert would be Beyonce's (now iconic) performance at Glastonbury in 2011. One particular friend is a particular fan of Beyonce, but I don't think anyone was disappointed, especially given the wide musical taste differences between us.

And it worked pretty well. Sometimes you just need an excuse to bring everyone together, and this worked perfectly. It wasn't a crime to be distracted from it, or have the conversation go elsewhere, but the concert worked as something to anchor everything back to.

It's funny, you would never get everyone around your house to watch a 90 minute concert from nearly a decade ago. It's a quirky yearning to emulate something we wouldn't be able to experience otherwise – going to a concert. Of course, the experience couldn't be more different, but it's one that probably never would have happened if that itch didn't need scratching.

It was far more successful than the wrestling match we had to endure some weeks before. The same friend who stans Beyonce also loves wrestling, and was keen we all gathered to watch a match. The whole thing reeked of deep-irony, like when you deliberately watch a terrible movie for the spectacle.

It was a match that, because of the lock down, was recorded on a set. Wrestling is, of course, all staged. There's nothing wrong with that, but the complete lack of any audience blew away any thin veil of believability that might have been there otherwise. Impressive choreography to create the illusion of the attacks was instead replaced by jump cuts everytime contact was made.

So much of wresting is the personalities and rivalries that are established over a long time. It wasn't easy to get excited when so much of it went right over everyone's heads – we didn't know who we were meant to boo, nor cheer for.

A movie night is also possible, again thanks to the magic of pressing the play button all at the same time. ''Toy Story 3' was chosen, as well as 'Red Line', an anime from the mid 00s, a slightly more obscure choice.

Movies as a social experience is a funny one. You all sit in the dark for two hours and discuss the movie after. This is why, for the online experience, it's often best to choose a movie where talking over the top won't cause you to miss any important plot, or any artsy tonal choices by the director.

I think we've all learnt in this time that Zoom calls aren't kind to awkward moments of silence – when all conversations are scheduled and on a timer it feels wrong when something deliberate isn't being talked about. Movies, as it turns out, take a little getting used to. During those moments where everyone is just being quiet, watching the movie, it's hard not to focus on everyone elses shuffling and breathing, and how strange it feels that we can hear each other existing, without being in the same space.

Given that I was the only one who had seen Toy Story 3, there were plenty of moments of necessary silence, which never seemed to get more comfortable. Certainly not something you can't overcome, but an odd reminder of how far apart you really are.

None of us had seen 'Red Line', and we'll likely not see it again. It's probably in the ranks of the worst movies I've seen. I wouldn't call myself a fan of anime, and Red Line confirmed most of my reservations – flat characters, phoned in backstories, grotesque sexism, and a conclusion that was reached by our protagonist going 'HNGGG' harder than his opponent.

Of the three, I'd say go with the music concert.

An MS Paint Bob Ross evening is a spin on the 'hit play at the same time' genre, and one that's more involving. Everyone watches an hour-special of Bob Ross's iconic paint-along programme, and paints-along in MS Paint. This one has the added bonus of seeing everyone's paintings at the end and guessing who's is who's. The beauty of this one is that I think most of us walked away feeling better about our painting skills than anticipated, and we all learnt a little something along the way. It's a novelty I wouldn't do twice (like 'Red Line', heh), but something everyone needs to experience at least once (unlike 'Red Line').

And finally, last week we spent an evening doing a digital escape room, one that's been doing the rounds on the internet and is impressively created in Google Forms some how. I think Puzzles are always best when they're contextual, rather than abstract. I've done a couple escape rooms, and they fall apart when you're suddenly doing the equivalent of a sudoku puzzle in an underground nuclear bunker to figure out the launch code.

This digital escape room was almost nothing but abstract puzzles, all eventually resulting in a four digit code to open a lock. Maybe unsurprisingly everyone except the two with masters degrees in mathematics completely disengaged with it very quickly, making is a slog to get through. It's a shame too, because I think there was an excitement at the start to collectively work together to escape, but the puzzles were far too 'puzzly' to keep up with.

It makes me wonder if collectively playing Monkey Island or Grim Fandango would work better – since those kind of games are almost all contextual.

It's going to be bittersweet when the lock-down is lifted, as the turbulence of normalcy makes getting 8 friends together online at the same time on a whim just a pipe dream. While not every night has always lived up to expectations, we wouldn't keep trying something new if we weren't eager.

I love the creativity that goes into these lockdown ideas that are sweeping homes across the globe. All in the name of giving us a taste of the things we might have been enjoying with the freedoms we've dutifully put aside.

When they write the history books, I only hope they include the millions of Zoom quiz nights as standard.


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