Online games for the whole family: NPR


NPR’s Michel Martin talks with Todd Martens of The Los Angeles Times About virtual games, families and friends can play together even when physically apart.


Let’s talk games now. The holiday season is usually the perfect time to get them out, but like so many other things, family game night might need to be a little different this year. Instead of distributing board games around a common table, families and friends are trying to figure out how to play games together, but from a distance. So instead of our regular conversation about the best board games of the year, we reached out to LA Times interactive games reporter Todd Martens for his suggestions for games that can be played online.

Todd Martens, welcome. Thank you very much for joining us.

TODD ​​MARTENS: Great. Yeah, thanks for having me – glad to be here.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, have you seen more interest in online gaming since the pandemic started and more people are staying home?

MARTENS: Yeah. I think definitely, I think, over the last few months, you know, we’ve seen all these companies that make puzzles run out of puzzles and companies that make board games run out of board games – and then, you know, online games. At the start of the pandemic, everyone was playing Animal Crossing, which kind of became the obsession because it was such an easy game for players and non-players alike to play. So I think a lot of people get curious when maybe they weren’t playing games because games allow you to be social.

MARTIN: Alright. So let’s start with the classics that people may already be used to playing in person like Monopoly, Scrabble, card games. Are they still fun to play online?

MARTENS: Yeah, all of these types of classic board games have applications. Your mileage may vary. Some translate more easily into this medium than others. But there’s also a lot of stuff that’s kind of made specifically for this moment that I also think is kind of interesting. There are plenty of businesses that operate in real life escape rooms in non-pandemic times, and they have turned to online escape rooms. And you set a time, and they have some kind of actor that walks you and, you know, your family through, you know, an hour of puzzles.

There’s one in Austin, TX called Novel Escape, and they do, like, kind of a “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” themed escape room. And it’s just kind of a way to turn it into – I don’t know – a vacation if you can’t get together to maybe make it an event.

MARTIN: Sounds fun. OK, but what about people who are alone?

MARTENS: Yeah. No, so, I mean, obviously, you know, I mean, most games are designed to be played solo.

You know, there’s – over the last few months there’s been a lot of attention on this game among us. It made headlines when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez performed it online with fans as a sort of voting moment. But basically you and your friends are on a boat. A person on the ship is an impostor, and you have to sort of figure out who the impostor is. And you can play this with your family, or you can play this with, you know, strangers and just take your chances with whoever you sort of meet.

MARTIN: (Laughs) Okay.

MARTENS: You don’t have to physically – you don’t have to talk to them. You just kind of play (laughs).

MARTIN: Solid point – solid point. It’s called Among Us.

MARTENS: Among us, yes.

MARTIN: Among us. OKAY. Well, you know, is there anything you think families can play if they have different comfort levels with technology?

MARTENS: There’s a new one – newer – it came out about a year ago now – called Blinks – BLINKS. And it’s kind of a twist on the board game. It’s these little tiny octagonal cubes that are filled with LED lights, and all the lights kind of talk to each other. So you’re playing relatively simple games that you can play alone or with, you know, two, three, four people.

And my favorite kind of thing about it, as someone who’s quarantined alone, is that they just look really, you know, enchanting. You know, it’s, like, you can kind of dim the lights, and you have these, like, beautiful colors that kind of light up and help you play a game.

MARTIN: Sounds good.

Todd Martens writes about interactive entertainment and pop music for the LA Times, and we joined him in Los Angeles.

Todd Martens, thank you so much for speaking to us.

MARTENS: Yes, thank you very much for inviting me.


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