These apps bring the magic of a house party online

Meeting someone in the bathroom line can be a thing again.

Since the pandemic began, we’ve learned to appreciate the upsides of virtual parties (no parking problems, no heels, no designated drivers). But house party classics, like moving from room to room and striking up conversations with random people in the kitchen, are hard, if not impossible to replicate on even the best video call platforms.

The good news is that there are house party-esque platforms online, and you can attend or throw one easily—without waiting until your parents are out of town.

Gather.town

If The Sims and Zoom had a baby, Gather.town would be their lovely 8-bit spawn. This platform allows you to not only host a party and talk to your guests over video call, but you can also create and decorate the indoor and outdoor spaces they’ll virtually inhabit.

Whether you build your map from scratch or start with a template, you can let your imagination run wild and create intricate worlds for your friends to roam. You can add interactive elements like leaving documents on desks with specific instructions for the party, or installing a whiteboard where you can share your screen. And every time guests come close to each other, they’ll be able to hop on a video call together.

You can also set private spaces, where the people who enter them can engage in conversation only with each other—think of it as stepping onto the balcony and talking to the people there. Gather.town also allows you to be in up to nine conversations at once, so you can hop on and off whenever you want. If you want to talk to someone who’s not near you, shoot them an in-game text message and call them over. You can invite friends to your town via a link, and you can even protect rooms with a password, so only VIPs can enter them.

For now, Gather.town is only available for desktop browsers, but the developers say they’re trying a beta version for mobile. You can host a party of up to 25 people for free, but if you upgrade (starting at $7) you can invite up to 2,000 people and go beyond a house by creating your own party metropolis.

Online Town

Online Town is similar to Gather.town, but gives you fewer options. This is not to say it’s worse—it lets you focus on what’s important: partying.

This platform is super simple: open the website, choose a name for your room, and select one of nine environments, ranging from a regular one-bedroom apartment to Times Square in New York City. If you want to go on a coding adventure, the creators of Online Town have posted everything you’ll need on Github, so you can make custom spaces, too.

Once you’re in the room, select your avatar and invite your friends by sending them a link. You can secure your room with a password if you fear random people might crash your party, or leave it open—it’s up to you.

Then use the arrows on your keyboard to move around, address party-goers in the general text chat on one side of your screen, or approach them so you can talk over a video call. You can have up to 32 people in your room, and the platform is totally free.

Partingle

This is a far more basic alternative to the platforms above, but it resembles an IRL house party so closely that you even have to let people into the virtual house when they ring the doorbell.

To start, Partingle requires no login, so it’s great if you don’t want to deal with yet another password. First, choose a house to host your party in—you have four options that differ in capacity, from eight to 40 people. Then, choose one of their egg-shaped avatars, and that’s it.

You can explore the rooms in the house and engage in conversation with other guests over a video call when you come close to them. The video quality is surprisingly good considering the early-2000′s retro vibes of the rest of the platform, although servers can be slightly unreliable and might crash sometimes—don’t worry, they bounce back quickly and put you right back where you were.

A unique feature of Partingle is that you can mark yourself as doing real-life stuff by replicating your actions in the virtual world. For instance, if you need to refill your drink or grab a snack, you can move your avatar to the bar or kitchen area and mark it as such with a food or drink icon. That way, other guests will know you’re away and will return shortly. You can do the same if you go to the bathroom.

Sandra Gutierrez G.

Sandra Gutierrez G.is a Chilean journalist and the assistant DIY editor at PopSci. She has previously worked as an editor for MSN.cl, and a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. When she's not putting baking soda on things, she's walking her 10-year-old beagle, Lucas. Contact the author here.