Among Us: The Game of 2020 | Angela Zhang
Imagine being trapped with a group of people in a crumbling environment, constantly trying to save yourselves from traitors that can kill you at any second. The traitor, sometimes more than one, can also sabotage your spaceship’s engine or oxygen and kill the entire crew.
The breakout success of the game Among Us over the past few weeks is surprising considering that its developer, Innersloth, released it in June of 2018. Back then, the game was barely able to scrape together enough simultaneous players to fill more than a couple of games. But it turns out that Among Us was just two years early. It is now the game of 2020, collecting players at an ever increasing rate, boasting more than 85 million mobile downloads and hundreds of thousands of people playing at a time during peak hours. More importantly, Among Us has insinuated itself into the culture of popular gaming, becoming the top streamed game on Twitch and high-profile Youtubers racking up millions of views off their video for the game.
Among Us is simple, with just basic graphics and sound effects. In it, most players are required to work cooperatively and are generally, “good”, in the sense that if they are running around and completing their designated tasks and not pressing the emergency meeting button 2 seconds into the game. Among these players, will be impostors whose job is to kill off the crew before all tasks are completed. At its heart, Among Us attempts to recreate a cinematic kind of tension you might expect aboard in the Nostromo in Alien, only with a colorful palette and an almost maniacal sense of whimsy cast over the whole thing.
Something in this game also resonates at the same frequency as the experience of the year 2020. It is full of crises, people trapped in a sense of isolation while trying to solve problems for which they are woefully unequipped. Most of Among Us is simply a bunch of people trying to get their work done without dying, and that is something we all feel in our bones. Just like when I log into a Zoom meeting for a “counseling session,” while the world around me, quite literally, burns. It is the almost mundane way that Among Us sets up the game that makes us feel like we are trapped in an exhausting world. While locked in a crumbling environment that forbids organized collaboration with at least one impostor who can, and probably will, kill you at any second, but in the meantime you can just connect wires or empty the garbage? In 2020, we call that feeling, “Tuesday.”
The most crucial part of Among Us does not happen in a volcano or the electrical room, where most impostors camp out and kill the first crew member they see. In fact, it happens in a meeting room with a screen showing who has died and who is left, and it is the only place where players can chat with each other. Most importantly, it is where all the lying, finger-pointing at Red for “being sus”, or the “I saw Green vent” happens. Before the timer ends, each player needs to either vote out someone they think is the impostor or skip vote. Suddenly this once quiet game is filled with a cacophony of accusations, recriminations, alibis, and pleading as each player vouch for another or state why another player should be thrown out of an airlock.
As the game of 2020, and many more updates and surprises to come, Among Us feels like it has so many parallels to our lives at this moment. Deep inside, we all hope that maybe after all this chaos has been resolved, we can get back to something that feels warm and familiar. Maybe the game is not about throwing out the impostor. I don’t know. All I know is I still have to fix wires in security and stop the reactor meltdown, and I am pretty sure that Purple just vented. I am quite busy. You go figure it out.