For the millions of people largely stuck indoors amid the COVID-19 pandemic, finding ways to pass the time is half the battle. But what to do if you’ve binge-watched all the shows on your list, got sick of doing puzzles and you can’t stomach yet another classic sports rebroadcast?
Video games are here to help. Not only are they a great way to stay entertained, they can also be an excellent group activity, whether you’re playing “locally” on the couch with your immediate family, or online with friends to spend quality time together while social distancing.
If you’ve been thinking about getting into gaming as a new hobby, here are some tips on getting started, as well as some game suggestions.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication is the glue that holds any gaming group together. If you’re playing a cooperative game — meaning, you’re all working together to fight the same enemy or solve the same puzzle — it’s much faster to speak than to type. If you’re playing a competitive game, like Super Smash Bros., then you need to be able to gloat and trash talk your friends or family.
Many video games have their own built-in chat services, but sometimes they don’t work very well, or can be difficult to navigate for first-timers. And it’s nice to have a way to connect before booting up a game, too. Text messages can work, and video chat apps like Skype and Zoom are just fine, but discerning gamers know that Discord is the easiest and fastest way to get everyone on the same page.
Discord is free and runs on a variety of platforms. Players can download the app on PC, run it in a web browser, or download an app on an iPhone or Android device. From there, the group can set up its own private room and invite friends simply by sending a link. Joining a friend’s server is as simple as clicking a hyperlink.
Let a schedule develop naturally
Gaming should be casual and fun. A group should have some direction, but let your habits develop naturally over time, rather than mandating a certain time of the week for “game night.” With few exceptions, strict schedules are anathema to the development of a healthy gaming group. Initiating a game should be like asking your friends to grab a beer after work.
Say, “You want to play some Call of Duty?”
Not, “Remember everyone, we’re getting together from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST to play through the next set of missions in Overcooked 2.”
Again, Discord is great because it allows you to establish an individual server for your group of friends. People can wander in and out, picking up games with whoever is around and looking to have fun.
What should you play?
Call of Duty: Warzone
Perfect for: Groups of two to four looking for a deep action game; people bad at building things in Fortnite.
Average match length: 30 minutes.
Available on, at what price: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the PC as a free download; the full Call of Duty: Modern Warfare costs $60.
Playing Call of Duty: Warzone is like a great game of pickup basketball. It comes together quickly, everyone has a good time, and no one needs to worry too much about their skill level. Like Fortnite, Warzone drops groups of two to four players into a large map with only a pistol. Players explore the map, gather new guns, and defend themselves against other players.
As the match continues, the map shrinks and forces players to fight to survive. If battle royale isn’t your group’s thing, Call of Duty has a traditional deathmatch option, co-op campaign missions, and a mode where players compete to collect and extract money.
One of the great advantages of Call of Duty is that it supports cross-platform play. That means PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One gamers can all play together.
Perfect for: Couples looking to digitally double date; chefs who miss the frenzied rush of the kitchen.
Average match length: 5 minutes.
In Overcooked 2, teams of up to four players run a kitchen. Players have to cook the order, combine the ingredients correctly, plate the order, serve it to customers, and keep the kitchen clean.
This is one of those games that’s easy to pick up and hard to master. Groups work through a series of levels with increasing difficulty. You start out cooking rice and serving it plain on a plate and graduate to intricate seafood dishes that need to cook in multiple stages and have to be put together just right. The levels get wilder and more difficult as the game progresses, too. Anyone can cook in a nice big kitchen, but when that kitchen is moving through the sky and staged on multiple hot air balloon platforms, things get trickier.
Great for: The group that’s ready for a hardcore experience; recovering World of Warcraft addicts.
Average game length: Anywhere from 30 minutes to “wait, is it really 2 a.m.?”
Available on, at what price: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. It’s free.
Warframe, which has been around since 2013, is one of gaming’s best-kept secrets. In this third-person action-RPG, players control a super suit called a Tenno. This Tenno turns the player into a hyper-competent space ninja that allows them to cast spells and deal damage. There’s more than 40 different Tenno suits, and each plays completely differently, so there’s a playstyle here for everyone. Want to sit at the back of the group and heal? There’s a Tenno for that. Want to sing songs that buff the group? Warframe has you covered.
Warframe has a little bit of everything—dungeons full of monsters and puzzles, big open worlds with quests and story, space combat, customizable spaceships and pets, and hundreds of hours of content. And it’s all completely free. Just make sure everyone’s on the same system, because it doesn’t support crossplay like Call of Duty.
If your group gets tired of these games or doesn’t like them in the first place, there are hundreds of other options. As long as you keep the Discord server running, it’s easy to get together and pick something else. Build your own planet in Minecraft, crew a pirate ship in Sea of Thieves, start a band of outlaws in Red Dead Redemption 2 Online, learn how to build towers and snipe rivals in Fortnite, or enjoy some ridiculous soccer-but-with-cars action in Rocket League. Your choices are nigh-endless, and there’s never been a better time to start.
Correction, May 6
The original version of this story misstated the price of Call of Duty: Warzone. Warzone is a free download, it does not cost $60. The full version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare costs $60.