OPINION: Why did Among Us blow up?

Justin Farris

If you’ve been hanging around social media, twitch or maybe even politics recently, you will have heard of the rapid rise in popularity of a game called Among Us. I was watching YouTube recently and came across this video that inspired me to look into why this game had such an explosion in relevance.

But let’s pump the brakes for a second and give a basic rundown of what Among Us is for the uninformed. Your group of four to ten players is acting as the crew of a science base, spaceship or floating sky base. Your job is to finish a bunch of ‘tasks’, little minigames like connecting wires, dumping trash, swiping an ID card,and more. There are multiple things that make the situation tenser, however. There is at least one imposter in the crew, someone out to kill all of the crewmates. They can sabotage doors to close, lights to go out, or even, in some cases, start an oxygen or reactor failure that, if not stopped by the crew, wins the imposter the game.

The crewmates have a couple of counters to this — you can press a big red emergency button to call a meeting and vote out who you think the killer is, or report a body you find, which also calls a meeting. However, there are counters here too. The killer can also report bodies, so you’re not always sure if the person who found the body is innocent. In addition, the big red emergency button only works if there is not one of the aforementioned sabotages going on. The game ultimately ends with a crewmate win, if you vote out all the killers or finish all tasks, or an imposter win if they kill enough crewmates or get a game-winning sabotage. 

I’ll stop before I go any further into detail since the core of the game is built off of a lack of information, after all. If you’re the imposter, you know who your buddy is and who the crew is, which means you also know that whatever the crewmates say is probably what they think is true. If you’re a crewmate, you can only truly rely on yourself, and the things you directly see and deduce on your own. This is reflected in the fact that Imposters can quite literally see further when the lights are cut, reducing the crewmates’ sources of information even more. If you’re the imposter, it can feel great watching the innocents when you manage to convince others that it isn’t you, or even better, watch them fight among themselves.

A second major draw to the game is that it’s engaging, even after you die. Many games in the genre of Among Us have little for the players, especially the innocents, to do between murders. But in Among Us, you can do your tasks which can lead to winning the game without even having to figure out who the imposters are. These tasks also take the form of minigames, some of which are actually kind of fun in my book. The tasks are also dispersed throughout the map, encouraging players to move around, and consequently making it suspicious to stay in one place for too long. Even if you die, you can still complete your tasks and talk to other dead players, and if you die as an imposter you can still sabotage to try and help your partner get away with murder.

Another element crucial to how Among Us works — and why it’s fun to play and watch — is the silence. If you’re not in an emergency meeting or dead, you have no communication with the rest of the crew beyond what you can see. No text chat, no mic, nothing. It is amazing for building tension because the silence as you see someone run up behind you is unnerving. It contributes to the suspicion and paranoia dominating the game. It can also lead to heated situations where you figure out that someone is the killer and then have to make a dead sprint for the button or to find the body before you become the next casualty. The silence plays into the limited information as — you can’t communicate during rounds, which means you need to say anything important when you have the chance because if you die, your information goes with you.

Additionally, you have the social aspect. Among Us is best played with friends because playing with friends makes the experience much more tense and enjoyable. For one, pulling off a lie in a public game with strangers is fine and dandy, but pulling off a lie that tricks all your closest friends? Exhilarating. And at least in Among Us, it’s a game, so there are no real-life consequences of being a liar. Plus, if you play with friends, the game becomes more fun because you can begin to recognize other people’s behavior patterns; their voice might shift or they might have a certain phrase they often say when nervous. You can begin to learn your friends’ tells to help you discern who’s telling the truth. Speaking from personal experience, calling someone out based on a preferred tactic or repeated behavior feels great and is easier than you might think because people’s tells are all about their habits, the changes to their behavior that they don’t even realize. 

Most of all, it has the power to bring people together. When playing Among Us with my friends, we do play the game, but in between matches and at the meetings we banter. The game is a great vessel for conversation, and it can be really funny. Sometimes, the imposter will misclick and kill somebody in plain sight or a crewmate walks into the room right when you kill their friend. Those moments are some of the best in the game and always seem to leave everyone laughing by the time we send someone hurtling into lava or the void.

But there is one last reason that Among Us blew up, and it’s not because of any game mechanic, or even your friends or possible lack thereof; it’s our current situation. You see, life is starting to feel more and more like a game of Among Us. We’re locked away in our homes, isolated from our friends and the world, constantly given conflicting and incomplete information from the media, lies from the people in government we’re supposed to trust, and people subverting our opinions and desires for their own goals. Many people are stressed and want relief from that stress. Among Us allows us to, first and foremost, confront that stress in a game environment, where the consequences are minimal and we can have fun with it. The game also allows you, as an imposter, to view the world from the viewpoint of the person in power, metaphorically and literally. It gives you the sensation of having all the information and having all the power that isn’t available to everyone else, and that’s cathartic. Because when you’re an imposter, not only do you have the power, but you also have the truth. You don’t have to worry about who is lying — you know. You don’t have to worry about what information is true — you already have it all. In a way, it serves as a fantasy escape in that regard, where the paranoia is confined to the little spaceship on screen, and sometimes you get to be the one in control.

 Among Us blew up for many reasons. It’s a game about lying to your friends that’s more engaging and easier to understand than others of the genre. It’s often funny to play with pals, and the social gymnastics of trying to out the murderer are tense and amazing. The information dynamic makes for an apt escape from our current scenario whether or not you’re the killer. It’s an easily accessible game, and its mechanics seem tailor-made as an escape from the real-world problems it draws inspiration from. It lets you forget about the political jockeying for a while, isolate the fear and transmute it into a good time. I heartily recommend you play it.