”Among us” is not only the Game of 2020, it is ”2020: The Game”
You are trapped with each other in a crumbling environment, trying to save yourself in spite of bad faith actors. And in the game.
We’re surprised when you remember that this multiplayer game to find developer Innersloth’s impostor was originally released neither acclaimed nor fanfare in June 2018, and was barely able to muster enough simultaneous players to fill more than two games. during his first months of life.
But it turns out that Among Us was only two years ahead. It was the game of 2020, you just had to reality to catch up with it.
Over the spring and summer, Among Us brought together players at an ever-increasing rate, and now has more than 85 million mobile downloads and hundreds of thousands of people playing both during peak hours. The once empty servers are so busy that it can sometimes be difficult to host a game. More importantly, however, it has insinuated itself into popular gaming culture, with high-level streamers and YouTubers racking up millions of views of their videos for the game.
But why? Why this game and why this moment?
Among us, it’s simple. In this document, most players work cooperatively and are, in general, “good,” at least in the sense that they are completing a to-do list designed to allow the entire group to survive and not conspire to murder everyone. Among the good players, however, there will be impostors whose job is to kill the crew before they can succeed in their tasks. At its heart, Among Us tries to recreate a kind of cinematic tension that you might expect in the Antarctic outpost No. 31 of The Thing or aboard the Nostromo in Alien, only with a colorful palette and an almost manic sense of fantasy about the whole. .
Aside from the fairly obvious film comparisons, something in this game resonates at the same frequency as the practical experience of being alive in 2020. Among us, there are always cascading crises and people trapped in a sense of isolation as they try to solve problems for which they are unfortunately not equipped. In this crumbling world, the game introduces a wave of bad faith actors whose purpose as much as open violence is to sow mistrust and distraction. Even after your death in the game, you still have work to do as a ghost, avoiding a seemingly inevitable failure, which is, in itself, a distinct metaphor that requires scrutiny.
Here, in the real world, one sometimes gets the impression that every other day contains a new omen that once would have seemed quite monumental for months or years of attention, but which now seems to be just another day at the nightmare store. So when the claxons ring out among us to tell the players that the oxygen has been sabotaged and that everyone is about to die of asphyxiation, I feel a kinship with the player who looks around resigned and seems to think, “Eh, Red probably understood.”
At the end of the day, most of us are just a group of people trying to do our job without dying, and that’s a feeling I understand in my bones. I feel connected to these probably doomed meeples every time I log in to a Zoom meeting for a “capital portfolio review” while the world, literally, burns.
So when a blue player waits for a file to download to be able to check another task off the list, while expecting someone to walk around and stab him to death, it sounds like some kind of essential emotion for 2020.
It is the almost mundane way in which Among Us lays the groundwork that seems prescient of this vaguely exhausting future in which we all seem to be trapped. You are locked in a crumbling environment that forbids organized cooperation with at least one traitor who can and will kill you when the time is right, but in the meantime, can you just sweep away some leaves and dump the garbage? Here, in 2020, we call this feeling “Thursday.”
But all this would not fully capture the zeitgeist if Among Us did not take an important step further. It is not just the condemned resignation of a marginalized and harassed working class. It’s a game about communication and how to abuse it to your advantage.
The most important part of Among Us does not occur within the boundaries of a spacecraft or volcanic base. This happens in the meeting room, a static screen that shows who died and who stayed, because it is the only place where you are actually allowed to talk to other players. And, more importantly, point the finger at them because they’re dragging too close to a vent or cast doubt on some of the very suspicious brews they did while you were in communication.
It works like this: if someone comes across a corpse while reviewing their to-do list, they can report the crime. In addition, once per game, by default, each player can call an emergency meeting. In both cases, the whole group is brought together to talk about it while a countdown timer counts the few seconds each has to reach any consensus. Suddenly, this once quiet game is lit with a cacophony of accusations, recriminations, alibis and pleas as each player explains why he is innocent or why another player should be ejected from an lock.
Half the time, as the screams and protests intensify, I begin to yearn for the pleasant tranquility of downloading data while a killer stalks me in the dark.
It’s a case study of how making chaos destroys communities. Often, the traitor does not need full assertions of his innocence, but rather simply to build a plausible scapegoat or to be wary of the good accuser. The path to victory as often as not for the impostor is to realize how many things everyone is trying to keep track of and capitalize on faulty or uncertain memories. When Green can’t remember exactly what he has left, accuse her of being a traitor. When yellow keeps telling the same (true) story about how you killed a man in the electric room, turn that lingering certainty into evidence of deception. It is often just as likely that the person entering the scene of the murder is thrown into the volcano as the little teal man with a bloody knife in his hands. It’s like the old saying goes, the snitches liquefy in the molten rock.
Death, however, is not a freedom among us. Often the hardest part is what comes after your teammates turned against you. It is the fact of sitting quietly listening to the follow-up conversations, like a ghost of judgment, watching the traitor who killed you weaves a transparent spell on everyone and see the same pattern take shape on a new poor bastard. It’s a moment I feel every morning when I see what new fabrication is being propagated in the morning news, or what new political joke is playing out in the world.
All of this probably gives the impression of us as an excruciating and joyless exercise, but that is not the case. Its presentation belies its darker theme, and it’s an entertaining implementation of a centuries-old basic idea of having fun while fucking your friends. At some point, the game ends, someone wins, someone else loses and most of the time – not always, but most of the time – everyone becomes friends again. This decompression stage between matches, as players gather in the lobby, is essential to congratulate well-designed deceptions or bemoan strategic errors. A few laughs, a little resentment and finally a return to the average usually puts everything in order.
This reaffirmation of the baseline is perhaps the least 2020 part of the game. Among us is imbued with the rise of tension and the feeling of impending unhappiness, even for the impostor who can see all these annoying humans progress regularly away from their well-designed apocalypse. But, the tension of Among Us is over, and it eventually gives way. It grows, it resolves and then it frees you. The output is the part I can’t really identify with at the moment. Maybe one day, but the in-between as the pendulum resets instead of getting dangerously close with every blow of the arch looks like a beautiful dream I remember once.
This is perhaps the most important reason why Among Us is successful right now. It doesn’t look like a time when most people would probably want to think about it. Yet here is a game that seems to have so many parallels with this moment, except this final resolution. And this part is perhaps what we are looking for more than anything. The feeling of going through the nightmare and waking up at the other end. This idea that maybe, just maybe after the resolution of the chaos, we can go back to something that looks like home.
On the other hand, maybe going back to a place where we all sit and laugh from the time we almost threw some people out of an airlock shouldn’t necessarily be the goal. I don’t know. All I know is that I have these shields to prime and an engine engine engine melt to stop, and I’m pretty sure this guy out there just tried to kill me. I’m busy. You understand that.