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Get ready for a night full of wild guesses and whodunit fun.

By Alexa Erickson
April 30, 2020
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virtual-murder-mystery
Credit: Getty Images

If you’re starting to run out of ways to keep yourself occupied during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. After all, how many TV shows, movies, and video games can you enjoy before being alone starts to really get to you? At the very least, quarantine has taught us all the upside of technology in 2020, with FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and more offering us interaction with the people who make our world a better, brighter place. If you’re itching for even more interaction, then it’s time to get creative.

The allure of a murder mystery party is all about the drama. Guests get to dress up and pretend to be someone else in an alternate world for a few hours, which sounds pretty good right about now, doesn’t it? While social distancing is largely in full effect, you can still gather a group and host a virtual murder mystery party.

We tapped two experts who host murder mysteries for a living for intel on how you can host one unforgettable night with their services, even if you’re technically alone.

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Step one: Pick a theme 

From the players involved to the plot, picking a theme will set the tone for the entire night. “Each mystery is designed for a specific number of people so that each guest plays an integral part of the mystery and has their own unique story arc,” explains Dylan Zwickel, co-founder of Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries.

While the company typically offers what’s called a “Ghost Ship Party,” where an in-character representative runs the party, physical clues, and instructions for the participants at your home, they now host pandemic-friendly online mysteries using the same concept.

“Four of our five mysteries are available for online play: Murder in the West Wing (6 players), Mafia (7 players), Western (10 players), and That Show About Love (10 players),” says Zwickel.  As a response to the pandemic, My Mystery Party has also released a pandemic-friendly experience with a series of games specifically formatted and tested to be played on a video chat.

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Step two: Assign the cast

What’s more fun than picking out a theme? Choosing the characters! Given how “stuck” many of us feel right now, the opportunity to play out the role of a total stranger is thrilling.

“Assign the character roles to your players and send the character packets. With our games, the host can play along without spoiling anything. With virtual games, there is no printing or preparation before the game,” says Bon Blossman, creator of My Mystery Party.

Meanwhile, Ghost Ship Murder Mysteries provides the host a quick survey to fill out so they pick the cast appropriately for you. “Then we send out a character list and individual character secrets so guests can come (to the Zoom) in costume if they so choose and the murderer can prepare their lies,” says Zwickel.

As the host, make sure your cast members review their bios and the suspect list prior to the big event. “Some games will give the players tasks to contact each other in character before the game. This builds pre-game excitement,” says Blossman.

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Step three: Gather your costume and backdrop 

“You'll need to think about your backdrop and costume for your character.  Zoom has virtual backdrops, which is a lot of fun—both before and during the game,” says Blossman. As for getting into character, consider going all out with makeup and hair! Gather a costume using items around the house or, if you have time, ordering something! 

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Step four: Choose the day, time, and video chat host

Get the logistics taken care of as soon as you have everyone on board to take part in a virtual murder mystery. Agree on a video chat host, then pick a day and time that works for everyone.

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Step five: Enter the video chat

“For the party, each player logs on. It's hysterical when everyone gets to see each other's backdrop and costume,” says Blossman. As a host of a My Murder Party experience, you’ll be tasked with reading the player instructions to all participants.

 If you try out the virtual Ghost Ship experience, participants will be accompanied by a Ghost Ship representative, who will serve as a minor character and guide the party to guests. This allows the host to play along with everyone else.

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Step six: Share and seek out information

Unlike an in-person murder mystery party, you can’t exchange information with another participant by stealthily whispering in their ear in the corner of a room. Instead, these private side conversations will take place via phone calls, FaceTime, texts, etc. Here, guests will trade information and work together. “Or, if they prefer, lie, cheat, and gossip to solve the mystery before the time is up,” says Zwickel.

Different virtual experiences offer specialized steps prior to everyone accusing a murderer, but they ultimately involve evidence-style information being discussed. For a My Mystery Party experience, every murder game has a forensic report to review and discuss prior to participants revealing who they think the murderer is.

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Step seven: Accuse a murderer

At this point, you’re all probably laughing hysterically or intently trying to pin down who you think the murderer is. The final fun has come! Each player will need to make their guess as to whodunit.

For a My Mystery Party, the host will have everyone write their answers on a piece of paper. “When the host says 3, 2, 1, they flash their answers on their screens. They do it all at once so they don't change their answers,” says Blossman.

Once the real murderer is revealed, enjoy sharing your experience with the other players, explaining why you chose who you did and any other anecdotes from the murder mystery party!