Zoom games

Some suggestions about how to keep yourself, at least, amused.

Welcome to Plugging the Gap (my email newsletter about Covid-19 and its economics). In case you don’t know me, I’m an economist and professor at the University of Toronto. I have written lots of books including, most recently, on Covid-19. You can follow me on Twitter (@joshgans) or subscribe to this email newsletter here.

Zoom has taken over our lives and will continue to rule for the foreseeable future. But if those meetings drag on, what games can you play to keep yourself amused. After 9 months of this, I have some suggestions.

Where will they end up?

You are in a meeting and suddenly someone gets up and starts walking. They are holding their laptop and so you can see right up their nose at the ceiling going by. A fun little game is to predict (a) where they are going and (b) how long they will take to get there. It really raises the whole energy level of the meeting.

Who’s paying attention?

The nature of Zoom meetings is that you can only see someone’s headshot. Unlike in-person meetings, it is therefore not immediately apparent whether they are paying attention or doing something else.

Can you tell who is really paying attention? The signs I use are as follows:

  • Do they have too much attention? Anyone starting intently at the screen is, and I know this is counterintuitive, not actually paying attention. You average Zoom speaker is not that interesting, so if a person is rapt, it is likely they are doing something else.

  • Do their emotions match the situation? Someone is saying, say, “and if we are lucky we may only lose $8 million this quarter” and there is someone there smiling. This happens. They aren’t paying attention.

  • Do they periodically turn off their video? This is obvious.

Anyhow if you notice any of these ‘tells, the appropriate response, and I know this from being a University professor, is to then ask them what they think and if they are happy to take this one on. Hijinks ensue.

Who’s messaging who?

This is a good one. When we met in person, if someone said something stupid or typical, you could glance at someone and roll your eyes — “can you believe this guy?” For Zoom, that is not really possible. So people resort to the private Zoom chat. Now, this is already a dangerous activity because Zoom has ways of causing you to mistake who you are talking to. But that means that whenever people are doing this, what they are discussing must be really good.

What you can do, however, is catch a private chat in action? You have to be quite observant but you can see one person looking like they are typing something and then you have to spot if, once they stop, someone else’s eyes light up and they start typing back. Once you have your mark, it is easy to confirm whether a chat is going on.

In this situation, you can then use the Zoom chat function to out someone with a “did you mean to send that to everyone?” in the chat. Then you can watch their face. Priceless.


Those keep me amused but I am sure you have invented more.


But if you don’t want to partake, you can also just do other stuff like, for instance, write your “I don’t know how you find the time for that” newsletter.

What did I miss?