As a busy wife, mother, and full-time college advisor I, like many others in my shoes, greatly anticipate my birthday each year. My birthday is a special reason to step away from the responsibilities and sacrifices I make for these roles on a daily basis. Now don’t get me wrong, I love giving my all in these different areas, but man, does it feel good to do something for myself for a few hours. I can just imagine the head nods, amens, and even perhaps shouts of agreement that some of you are sharing with me right now. A dinner out just doesn’t do it for me, I also like to plan events that really speak to my interests. A roller skating party to “roll into my thirties” and birthday Zumba class with 25 of my closest friends are a few of my favorites from the last 5 years.
When COVID-19 shut our world down fast and furiously in March of 2020, I was hopeful that things may return to normal before my late May birthday, but as I watched zoom birthday parties and virtual cocktail hours occur throughout March and April, I knew I had to start to get creative for my upcoming big day. I brainstormed lots of ideas. I did not like the idea of dive by birthday parades, I wanted to actually talk with my friends, not just watch them honk by. I considered having driveway dates where I would visit a friend and sit outside and have a coffee, Thai tea, or cocktail in the socially safe distance that a driveway and camping chairs can offer, but still no, I would be gone all day and I would have to choose only a few friends to see.
I’d really been wanting to try a murder mystery party and had asked my husband if he thought we could pull it off virtually. Little did I know that he and the other founders of Let’s Vidya had been considering offering this as one of their virtual events. He reported back that he had found a way to make it work and the party would be on and I was so thrilled that I once again had exciting birthday plans to look forward to. My type-A brain then had so many questions! How many friends can I invite? Can I dress up? How will we invite my friends? How do we obtain a storyline to follow? I was thankful that Let’s Vidya took the lead in handling every aspect of the planning and prep to help answer these for me. I simply submitted a guest list of 16 friends with names and email addresses and Let’s Vidya handled the invites and RSVPs.
About a week before the event I was sent a character description to look over that included backstory, personality traits, and suggested costume attire. Yes – costumes! I may have been just a little excited to plan the costume part. Don’t all 30-somethings still have a plastic bin in the back of their closet with old prom attire, feather boas, and a couple of wigs? But seriously, some people wore simple costumes and that was okay too, but I always love a good reason to pull the costume bin out. It also had a script that included my lines for the night of the party and directions on where to stop reading until the party began. It was fun to build anticipation that week by texting my friends “what are you wearing to the party?” and “have you picked out your zoom background?”
The day before the party Let’s Vidya set up a private chat through an app that kept our cell phone numbers secure. That was nice because I had invited friends from different social groups that may not have felt comfortable sharing their numbers with others they did not know. On the morning of the party, we were given lines to text to other members of the chat group. It was exciting to get incoming texts directed to my character and also responses from the other players throughout the day to help build anticipation for the event. As a normally even-keeled person, it was fun to get sassy with my character in my responses to the other players and adlib fun details into the storyline. By the time the evening arrived, I had a good idea about the storyline and the main characters and their vices.
The moment had arrived! I got my snack and party drinks ready and logged into the zoom call where immediately my expectations were exceeded. Everyone looked great and had really dressed in their character roles. Custom themed zoom backgrounds lit up my friend’s faces and some had props or spoke with accents. I was thrilled my friends were as excited I was to dive into the experience. Our Let’s Vidya host, a decked out 80’s detective, complete with aviators and a chest-baring button-up, explained how the night would run and how the rounds would proceed and read us an introduction to the murder at hand. He then directed as to when to read our lines and to where in the script we should stop at each round. I really liked that there were no questions as to when or how we should be doing something to keep the story going, he made it really easy to follow, while at the same time allowing for some freedom to come up with our own related questions and concoct content that fits with the storyline. You could also tell that he kept the story moving along so that we didn’t take all night. While I do enjoy a good social time, I still have to get up with my toddler early the next morning!
The event lasted a few hours and consisted of a few rounds of questions and responses mostly guided by my character’s script and even some handwriting analysis and evidence reports. I liked that the host gave a group break about halfway through for a quick bathroom run and snack refills. I honestly cannot remember the last time I laughed that much! My friends were really getting into their characters and the banter back and forth was hilarious. There were even times during the storyline that I worried that I was the murderer, on my own birthday, yikes! In the end, I wasn’t the murderer (whew!) and when the truth came out, most of us were surprised. I appreciated that there was also a mental challenge that went into the game and the answer wasn’t obvious all along. The twists and turns of the plot and the pieces of evidence to analyze definitely kept things interesting.
If you’re on the fence about trying out a murder mystery, I highly recommend it! Some of my favorite things about the experience were:
- I would normally be limited to friends in my locality, but I got to see friends near and far. One of my dearest friends lives several states away and I got to spend quality time with her and her husband during the experience.
- No need for a babysitter! The event began at 8 pm which gave most attendees time to finish up their responsibilities for the day and to get their kids to bed before we started.
- The Let’s Vidya host made it so easy every step of the way, from the planning to the implementation of the event that night. I can be a bit of an over-planner and worrier and the host took these duties off my plate and handled it all in a timely and professional manner.
- Seeing the crazy pictures of my friends having a great time afterward. Their social media posts let me see a closer look at their character costumes and at couples who had a fun time attending together. I liked reading the other people’s comments about what in the world they were up to, and how much fun it looked.