More online interaction: here we are with episode 3 of our series about online youth work! You can find episode 1 (about structure and approach ), episode 2 (about interaction) and episode 4 (about inclusion, hosting) clicking on their names. Consider subscribing to the blog, to get updates whenever a new post is out, so you will not miss next episodes!

As we promised in previous posts, we will talk more about online interaction, covering a subject that is also part of our training tools and topics: how to offer online interaction using games and videogames.
(Video)game-based learning is a concept that I have been developing for some years in the training course War Games together with my friends and colleagues Mafalda Morganti and Carmine Rodi Falanga (here is Carmine’s blog post about it too). Games are powerful learning tools indeed, but what about moving this idea of learning trough playing games together, to a digital-only online environment?

If you have read the previous episodes, you will know now that one of the key elements to get interaction online, is finding ways to boost the sense of sharing a common purpose, if not a common space – since our bodies are not there.

During these weeks, there has been an explosion of posts suggesting how to play games together while on a group video-call, and some videocall platforms (for instance, Houseparty) started offering little games that you could play inside the platform itself. Before having a look to some good suggestions I collected around, I would anyway try to start from what we all already know and do since years. Many of them allow basic interaction as in having fun together, but some can be improved offering a theme, a particular setting etc that you could add, to make it also a learning experience of some kind, more directly connected to what you do with your users. In this case, always spend some time after the game, to discuss what happened and what participants may have learnt – it’s basic youth work, so we should not forget it online, too!

For instance, many youth workers have spent evenings playing Werewolves during youth exchanges. Yes, it’s that game that some of you also call Mafia – anyway I don’t like to call it like that: you know, mafia is a real thing, and they really kill real people. Not so playful to me then – even though you should feel free to play and have fun (and learn) from whatever kind (and name) of games you want to play.

So Werewolves: I guess everybody can already see how easy it could be to arrange it to be played online. Just keep a second channel open – a messaging system like Whatsapp would be enough – to keep directly in touch with players with special roles (starting from the werewolves themselves!) and keep microphones and videos off during the “nights”, to be sure that is would still be difficult to understand what is happening.

And if being online makes being traced easier… yes guys, that’s what you get for being online: everything is traced and noted down! So you could also start an interesting discussion on the differences between playing this online or in person, and then expanding it to a reflection about what you should always remember when being online, and why this could be a problem

online interaction karaoke
Karaoke can really bring out the worst funniest side of people

There are many other simple ways of interacting and having fun together with your participants, that could be easily moved online: in episode 2 we mentioned Netflix parties, but you can also host a Karaoke party, simply asking every participant to share the screen with the youtube video used for lyrics and music playing, and then maybe leaving all microphones muted for the first verse, and then opening them all of a sudden to hear what can happen 😀 If your platform allows it, be sure to activate features for video and audio shared streaming, for a better result.

You will find that we play so many classic games with no physical interaction, and they are the easiest to be moved online to offer some casual fun together: think Bingo, for instance! there are websites made to be screened during public bingo sessions, that could instead be shared in your videocall; and for the cards, you could prepare some pdf files and send them to your participants by email or messages – or you may want to use online card generators like this one (works for my beloved Human Bingo too!). There are even services that would generate online bingo cards so that you can simply share links with your players!

Other games that could simply be moved online are the ones using drawing: as we already mentioned, many videocall platforms offer a shared whiteboard where participants can draw together, or you can share the link to an external one (pick your favorite among the many listed so far: jamboard, aww, whiteboard etc) to get the same – and then you can interact with your participants with playing games like Pictionary, or a simple Hangman, while being online together.

EDIT: You are sending good hints, so I will surely recommend at least one platform that I could test directly: is a complete Pictionary-like game to be played online, even available in several different languages!

Many boardgames can be played online too! Think Monopoly: you can have the board in a presentation on a shared screen, so that you will be able to put there either your placeholders, and your houses and hotels. Then someone hosting the game will manage all cards – and you may want to have someone doing the banker in a wider way, and keeping track (on another shared screen?) of every player’s finances, so that it would anyway be impossible to cheat with money – even if there is no way to distribute and count banknotes 😉

Some games have even enjoyed an online transformation, such as Scattegories, that can be played sharing the screen with this website opened. Game designers are playful people, so someone organized a #ZoomJam a few weeks ago – a game jam to collect games designed to be played online together. While we write, the winners still have to be announced, but the full list of the 65+ submitted games is on their website already – which one do you prefer?

online interaction D&D
Stranger Things characters legendary D&D sessions brought new life to the game!

Before going deeper into digital games and videogames, the kings of online interaction, we would now take a step back and get pen and paper – because you should really try to play dungeons & dragons while online, too.

Honestly, as my friend Carmine once wrote, everybody should play Dungeons and Dragons – and since I had the luck to be part of a group of nerds spending nights in a garage to play it for… I do not even remember how many years, this is something I would really recommend trying to do online, as well. I had in my bookmarks a great post about how D&D could be played anywhere, any time, and I knew sooner or later I would use it – so here we go, we should only update it a bit, adding your favorite videocall platform as a possible place. You shouldn’t even worry about character’s sheets and those strange special dice nowadays, or you could even ask your favorite voice assistant to roll them for you: Hey Google, roll a D20!

Now, videogames: this is a whole world itself, so once more I would say that it is not possible to cover the topic completely, but some hints could help you to understand the huge, wide amount of possibilities waiting to be explored here.

Beware: when deciding to play a videogame with your target groups, always check the PEGI rating suggesting the right age to play that game! You would never screen an adult movie at your youth club, so be sure not to do the same with videogames!

A game about groupwork to solve problems trough collaboration and effective communication – and a lot of fun!

First of all: you should not only consider standard multiplayer games, to play with a group of people. Most of them end up to be shooter games, and many youth workers would question this kind of games because they don’t have a life they probably never enjoyed playing them – so we can also try other ways. For instance, I love to quote once more the great game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, where basically only one player needs to be using the game on some device, while the rest of them, even connected from different places, should find a way to explain how to defuse the bomb which the player has on the screen. Defusing manuals are available in many languages, so it could also be a great international activity!

online interaction life is strange
Maxine and Chloe are two teenagers in a very small town.
As so many other youngsters we deal with.

Other games which could be easily played online allowing players’ interaction are all kind of storytelling games, like 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, telling the story of Khomeinist revolution in Iran, or the many games in the Life is Strange franchise, dealing with everyday’s teenage life and problems… with some touch of magic and mystery. It is basically a game of multiple choices, so a group can watch the shared screen of one host actually owning and playing it, and collaborate to decide together which directions the game should take, giving some answers instead of others, going someplace instead of somewhere else, etc. Game distribution platforms like Steam are experimenting remote gaming systems to apply also to simple one-player games, to share screens and controls and play together many more games from a distance.

Of course, full interaction through videogames can be achieved with multi-player online games, designed exactly for this purpose. You can do amazing things while having kids connected from afar to the same Minecraft server, and I often blog about this – or you can even use the controversial Fortnite: I personally find quite interesting that the PvP version where basically you play to kill everybody else is free to play and a huge worldwide success, while the PvE version where you collaborate with others to save the world has been available only in test / beta version forever, it is anyway paid and not (yet?) available for consoles and mobile devices…

You can consider organizing tournaments of online games, and you will then discover that this has been happening worldwide for years, and it is huge. Finnish youth centers have quite an experience with it, and you can find helpful hints in the English edition of the Videogame Educator Handbook, published in Finland 5 years ago already.

In fact you don’t really need to meet on a videocall to play videogames together. Anyway, it is always fun to keep in touch and comment while playing, so many gamers in the world do it trough audio chat, using the Discord platform. That’s why many youth workers are now considering using Discord as their platform of choice to keep in touch with their target groups.

New fronteers of multiplayer games do indeed involve bodies, and can happen using mobile phones as controllers. This is the way explored by Just Dance Now, a multiplayer online gaming experience where you basically dance all together with the same moves, and the smartphone in your hands checks your movements and gives you points if you are moving in the right way.

Just dance… holding your phone in the right way! 🙂

Now this is all good but… what happen if some kid has no way to connect, or to play these games?

Devices cost money, connections and data plans cost money, games cost quite some money. And many people have lost or reduced their jobs during the covid19 outbreak, directly affecting their incomes. Also, people with disability, deaf, sight impaired, etc. may not be able to fully interact in this mostly-visual new form of interaction we are describing here.

So what happens to these people? Shouldn’t youth work try to be as much inclusive as possible?

We will discuss this in the next episode.

Next episodes of this series about online youth work will be dealing with: Inclusion – Hosting – Conclusions.

Other episodes: 124.

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