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Game On: Staying social amid quarantine with ‘Jackbox’ games

UPDATED: Thu., May 21, 2020

Of all the numerous video games I’ve been playing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – alone, with my quarantine partner or online with friends – the one that’s brought the most joy to the most people is “The Jackbox Party Pack.” It’s a package of simple party games released near-annually on all systems.

That doesn’t sound so special, but the game distinguishes itself by allowing people to play with just their mobile devices or anything else with internet browser access. Only one controller is needed, and only one copy of the game is needed for as many as eight people to play along.

Furthermore, the numerous party packs – there are currently six, with a seventh in the works – are periodically sold at a discount on various digital storefronts. I managed to nab “The Jackbox Party Pack 3” for 33% off on the Nintendo eShop, but a 50% discount is not uncommon on Steam and the Xbox Games Store in particular. The base price is $30.

So they’re cheap, but what about the gameplay? The key word is “accessibility.” Many video games take hours of practice to enjoy, but these party games don’t require button memorization or quick reactions – just wit and creativity. The best-known of the various pack-ins is “Quiplash,” which tasks players with creating amusing answers to various prompts.

For instance, “The worst theme for a pinball machine would be.” Several people type responses – maybe “prison” or “DMV” – and the remaining participants vote for their favorite answer. In the interest of fairness, the game hides who submitted which answer until the votes are tallied.

Another of my favorites is “Tee K.O.,” which has people match T-shirt designs with slogans – all of which are created by other players. Results are often senseless and over the top. All of the games in “The Jackbox Party Pack” series evoke a similar sense of camaraderie and random hilarity as tabletop games such as “Apples to Apples” and “Cards Against Humanity.”

While most games in the packs are capped at eight players, all of them also have audience features allowing more interactivity with the gameplay. This enables hundreds of spectators to contribute or vote in small ways, making “The Jackbox Party Pack” all the more popular for livestreaming on platforms such as Twitch and Mixer.

With regard to streaming, Jackbox games are among the simplest to set up as well as the most interactive. This makes the series a slam dunk with stay-home orders in effect, and Jackbox Games Inc. has capitalized upon this moment in history.

Viewership of the studio’s latest release, “The Jackbox Party Pack 6,” is up about 50% on Twitch, and this month the company hosted 10 celebrity livestreams to support COVID-19 charities. The streams featured actors such as Ben Schwartz and Josh Hutcherson hosting games while chatting with players all across the globe, and Jackbox Games Inc. donated $1 million to the charities.

I certainly don’t attract thousands of viewers on Twitch, but when I livestream “The Jackbox Party Pack,” I can persuade friends and family members to join and incidentally attract a stranger or two. Many of these strangers have surprisingly hilarious answers to “Quiplash” prompts, and I’m all too happy to lose to them.

On one occasion, I got to know a handful of them through the banter that followed. It was one of the most wholesome moments I’d experienced in months amid social distancing measures that have enabled many people to be more antisocial and rude than ever.

All seven games in “The Jackbox Party Pack” series are available on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and even less ubiquitous platforms such as Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Nvidia Shield TV and Xfinity X1.

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