As an avid gamer I often enjoy seeing what my community is consuming, and what they think of companies recent offerings. In several of my gaming groups online I’ve seen nothing but little armless spacemen for weeks now, and the memes keep getting spicier. After seeing the gaming community come alive over this funky little 5 dollar game; Among Us, I just had to try it. The best way to learn is always by doing, unless you’re talking about impromptu spacewalks, but we’ll get to that. So I dove right in and started playing online with random groups.
What is the appeal of such a simple little game, with such simple little mechanics? You do very little in game as the crewmates, just run around a ship and perform tasks, which manifest as barely-there minigames. My weapons task was to shoot down 20 asteroids, playing a mildly amusing version of the classic arcade game of the same name. In admin I had to swipe a card at just the right velocity. These are considered critical tasks, there appears to be hardly any ‘game’ here at all. And yet, my affection grew massively for this game between rounds as I learned it.
I discovered rapidly that the reason I loved this game was the same reason I loved John Carpenter’s The Thing. The inability to trust anyone. Aside from the delightful vibe of racing to perform critical tasks on board a rickety feeling ship, there’s a creature stalking the halls that looks just like your crew, intent on murdering everyone on board. The core game mechanic in Among Us is basic mistrust, coupled with a joyful bloody dance with our own predatory nature. These human universals are manipulated masterfully by the game’s designers to create a unique and engaging experience. While playing crewmate, the mistrust is present from the very start, as a spaceman appears against a slash of colors while secretively telling you to ‘shhhh’ with a conspiratorial finger across the lips. It draws you in, puts you in the right headspace for whichever role you are about to play.
During one of my very first experiences as a crewmate, Yellow called an emergency meeting almost immediately, and forcefully accused Pink of being the imposter. I decided to immediately trust them, stated as much, and voted accordingly. Thinking on my feet, I realized that if Yellow was the imposter, they would be kicked immediately after having gotten Pink exposed to the vacuum of space or have to kill another eight of their crewmen before the button could be mashed again. I explained as much to the rest of the crew, they fell in line, Pink sailed by the viewports, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief as we received our victory message. Then again in the next round, Yellow spotted the imposter doing their thing and forcefully called him out for it. He had a knack for being in the right place at the right time and kept a weather eye on each of us. I again took their back, and we managed another early round victory because of a burgeoning relationship of trust. Round three began and the imposter knew exactly where to hit us. Yellow went down first this time. Someone said I was suspect because we had become a team, and before I could convince anyone of my innocence, I was floating past the viewports myself.
The rest of the match was a bloodbath, as I watched the imposter masterfully manipulate the crew through a delightful blend of intimidation, playing dumb, and good timing. They killed each other at this monster’s behest, never suspecting them until it was too late, and they walked away licking their fingertips. After watching that masterful predator work, I felt honored to have been included at the second spot in their priority target list. Since those early days I have been spaced for downloading files too slowly, following a team-mate too closely, arriving to an emergency late, and being in the security room for too long. Any old thing you do can be made suspect with enough paranoia, and this game breeds it deep for its players.
This game brings out the worst in us, lets us play with it, and have a good laugh at that deep rooted mistrust of our fellow man that lives in us all. It stands as a fascinating reminder that human beings are the single most dangerous predator this planet has ever produced, by a gigantic margin. Why not turn that into an object of fun?
Joseph Phelps has a LitRPG book that makes this editor think of how epic it might be to live inside GTA. Check it out at Amazon and give him some love in the reviews.