According to people I think of as friends, the last thing I had Googled was: “When to use the vibrator while under lockdown with the boyfriend”, “Can I correct people’s grammar even on doomsday”, “How to wash a tomato”, “How to avoid killing your partner when both are working from home” and “Corona-special curly girl method”. I realised that while my usual days in anti-coronavirus self-isolation usually involve me talking to multiple people on why the damn government can’t step up its testing, or working on grim and scary COVID-19 stories as part of my job, this was the first time I was laughing at something that factored in the virus, but on a completely lighter note.
But I must also add that all this great realisation came up while playing a game of ‘Psych!’ with friends I went to school with, whom I categorise as people who know weird little things about me that only those who’ve seen me pre- and post-puberty do, and who are always on the list of ‘I gotta call them’ but never really get around to. While we played the game called ‘The Truth Comes Out’ on Psych!—an app-based game that asks auto-generated questions about people logged into the game, which everyone answers, and then votes for the answer they liked the best—we chatted on WhatsApp alongside, laughing at a memory, nudging someone to write their answers quicker, and getting frustrated at the glitches the game was throwing up.
But turns out, we aren’t the only ones hooked to this game that normally (a word that cannot be taken lightly these days) demands a large group of people huddled together. A quick look at Twitter shows a lot of people around the world are doing exactly what I am.
In fact, so many people have gotten on this “exciting new party game” (on iOS and Android) made by comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres that the app appears to have crashed, or slowed down considerably. I tried to start a game this morning while cooking lunch, but a notification cropped up saying it’s experiencing a lot of traffic, and that the game might be slow or unresponsive. Stockpiling three dozen toilet rolls might have been extra but you could’ve prepped better for the lockdown, Ellen.
There are other multiplayer app-driven games out there as well. There’s QuizUp to amp our collective trivia bank and there’s Words With Friends for a Scrabble-like brain workout; there’s Fortnite that can turn into a family-friendly battle royale shooter game, and some people are talking about Minecraft as well (although I’d rather just clean my fridge once again than play something like that). Some really desperate people are turning to Pokémon Go, which has updated itself so that you can now go looking for monsters in your kitchen cabinets and under the couch.
But Psych! has something few of these do: A chance to create an intimate, personal moment by making us think of weird trivia not about the world at large (which is a scary place right now) but about each other. “I’ve been playing Psych! with friends in different countries,” says Aksha Anand, a Mumbai-based media professional who, over the past week, has been playing Psych! to unwind. “With friends, it’s been a way for us to be in touch with one another and now with office colleagues, it’s a stress-buster at the end of a long work-from-home day. It’s almost like we’ve substituted our post-work drinks with Psych! catchups.” Adds Bengaluru-based entrepreneur Chiraag Dedhia, "While I've played Psych! on and off in the past, all my friends and I are hooked to it right now because it's a great distraction but also personal in a way. It makes us laugh, and something we all could really do with right now."
I have a Psych! game scheduled with another set of friends at 6 p.m. today. Chances are, the app will disappoint once again. If the app works fine, chances are also that there will be that one sloowwww person in each group who will bring down the pace of the entire game, leaving you frustrated and vowing to not play any more. But chances are also that tomorrow, I will start or jump into yet another game with friends and try to answer ‘If Jay was a scent, what would he be?’ or ‘Who is Saksha's celebrity doppelgänger?’ I will get frustrated by the stupid questions and slow-moving people, but a new behavioural pattern might emerge from this, which scientists of the future will surely do an in-depth study on.
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