How Among Us turns accessibility into achievement

Photo of Among Us
Ethan Waters/Staff
Developer: InnerSloth

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Among Us is bigger than a mobile game. We already know that. The Among Us lobby is a home in quarantine, a place for friends to socialize in groups of four to 10 with no risk of perpetuating the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a trend that’s been around since March — people have a new attachment to video games as a way of feeling some normalcy with their friends. But in itself, Among Us is a game that’s been around long before COVID-19 and virtual meetups were of any concern. 

Stemming from various “bluff” card games such as The Resistance, Coup or, most popularly, Werewolf and Mafia, Among Us is conceptually old hat. Even virtually, Space Station 13 already preceded Among Us as a video game that invites an informed minority of players to sabotage and kill the majority, who must determine the “impostor” members of the group. These games may not have imparted an entirely new vocabulary on their players — a vocabulary piloted by “sus,” a shortened form of suspicious — but this is where we uncover Among Us’ primary accomplishment.

There’s such a universality to playing Among Us that finding and ejecting impostor crewmates almost traverses a language barrier. “Sus” isn’t English; it’s Among Us language. And with lobbies that don’t bar players based on language, it’s important that players adapt to learn “sus” and call out sketchy players in the simplest possible terms. After all, the game’s socialization is atypical, as players must remain quiet until a crewmate is reported dead or an emergency meeting is called. At that point, players must respond quickly in the chat or speak aloud over Zoom, FaceTime or any virtual conference platform a group may use.

But when Among Us was released in June 2018, even developer InnerSloth could not have predicted its relevance in two years’ time. After taking off in Korea in 2019 and blowing up in Brazil later last year, mainstream U.S. audiences became enamored with Among Us in July 2020 when Twitch streamers, namely Sodapoppin, brought the pastime to their platforms. It only makes sense that InnerSloth canceled the development of Among Us 2 in favor of improving the vastly-growing flagship game.

Unlike its predecessors, both virtual and physical, which follow a specific set of standards for each game, Among Us players can now customize rules to make the game as simple or as long-winded as they please. Running speed is typically one of the most debated features upon entering an Among Us lobby, as many players want slower speeds for crewmates and faster speeds for impostors so impostors can dodge crewmates more easily after a kill. On the other hand, keeping a rapid pace for crewmates creates the possibility that tasks — predetermined chores around the ship you play on — will get completed faster. By completing all of their tasks before losing a majority to murder and mutiny, crewmates defeat the impostors. If the impostors become a majority and kill most of the crewmates, however, they secure victory. 

There are plenty of other customizable features for each Among Us game: how long each task is, how long players have to discuss theoretical impostors and decide who to vote out of the ship and how long impostors must wait in between each kill. But arguably the most important customizable feature, which InnerSloth debuted shortly after the game’s inception, is a host’s ability to kick or ban disruptive players. With hacking via bots who relay support for President Donald Trump’s reelection on the rise in recent weeks as the U.S. election approaches, this feature is necessary for players who seek uninterrupted, quality gaming time with a specific group of friends. But the very need for such a component suggests that Among Us is just as important as social media in terms of providing a public forum  — the type of typically unregulated space that we can no longer comfortably inhabit in person. 

The beauty of this social space is that players need not personally know their “crewmates” in order to interact with groups of people. One can enter a lobby and expect a game to start within a few minutes at most and can stay with that same group of people as long as the others remain in the game, though they can leave at any time. This type of random group socialization is possible on sites such as Omegle or any online video game, sure, but few games are so simple and collaborative, not to mention affordable — Among Us is free for mobile and $5 for PC. Among Us is truly universal, accessible by nearly anyone with a smartphone and a knack for using it. Sorry, older generations. 

Contact Ethan Waters at [email protected]. Tweet him at @ewate1.