By Audrey Wan Earn Jia
A spaceship hurtling through the cosmos.
A colourful slew of astronauts.
A parasitic intruder lurking in their midst.
What resembles the plot of a blockbuster action movie forms the premise of Among Us, a multiplayer online game with charming graphics. Created by a modest team of three developers, Among Us was released in 2018 to limited fanfare, reaching a typical peak of 10 concurrent players on gaming platform Steam. Before July 2020, that number had barely increased. By September, it hit an all-time peak of 438,524.
The social deduction game has now burrowed into the heart of mainstream Internet culture. It is streamed daily to millions of viewers by the biggest faces on the Internet and has spawned a flood of memes and other creative content. People have dressed up as mini astronauts, composed musicals, and hosted real-life reenactments of the game.
The explosive traction of Among Us shows no signs of slowing down, accumulating more than 100 million downloads across mobile and PC platforms with a daily active player count of 60 million. The context of a worldwide pandemic where many are isolated in quarantine may explain the extent of the game’s recent meteoric rise in popularity.
During a time when people are physically isolated from their families and wider communities, the in-group solidarity that Among Us cultivates among players is comforting. This camaraderie can be attributed to the social nature of the game’s objective, where players must single out the ‘imposter’ player in their midst via a majority vote. This encourages players to band together to protect their spaceship and successfully complete each round.
The game’s social element also influences the wider discourse surrounding it, where online memes reference players’ shared feelings and insights while participating in gameplay. These include the frustration of being falsely accused as the imposter or identifying behaviour that distinguishes another player as ‘sus’ (suspicious).
On the video-sharing platform TikTok, the Among Us hashtag is populated by videos that depict users’ comedic recreations of their gameplay, as well as short skits referencing specific in-game actions such as completing tasks, venting, and voting. With an accumulated 37.3 billion views, this player-generated content further strengthens rapport between members of the game’s community, while enticing outsiders to play the game to be included in the fun.
During the pandemic, where opportunities for travelling and meeting new people are few and far between, the teamwork-oriented nature of Among Us also gives players the chance to forge connections with others across the globe. This opportunity for unfettered socialisation has spurred on Among Us’s spectacular growth.
In-game, the element of a real-time chat function allows players to express their opinions and engage in open discussions during gameplay. As successfully completing each round requires players to debate on who the imposter might be and reach a consensus, all players are actively included and motivated to join the conversation. Outside of the game, players have even set up servers on group-chatting platform Discord, where as many as 98,000 players join to socialise, discuss and play the game.
Logging on to a Discord server and playing several thrilling rounds of Among Us has become a nightly routine for my brother and his primary school classmates, who developed stronger bonds because of it. Fervent discussion and excited gasps will sound from his computer speakers, as well as shouts of “I knew he was the imposter!” or “She betrayed us!” After a gruelling year of online lessons, Among Us has spiced up the kids’ virtual socialisation.
The social deduction aspect of Among Us also demands that players are receptive to each other’s behaviour and personalities in order to succeed. From the players’ tone of voice to their selection of words, the game encourages players to pay attention to each other, increasing intimacy between them.
Each game is so uniquely interactive that many people tune in to live streams of the game just to watch others express themselves as they play, contributing to a peak average of 204,000 viewers on live-streaming platform Twitch in September 2020. The next month, 400,000 viewers watched congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez play against Youtube stars like Pewdiepie and Pokimane. In a time where Zoom calls dominate our schedules and virtual interaction can feel distant and stilted, the increased human connection that Among Us invites is invaluable.
After graduating from junior college and dispersing to different universities across the globe, Among Us has helped me and many other students stay connected with our friends despite the diverging paths that we are taking. It eliminates small talk and conversational platitudes, allowing us to dive right into laughing and teasing each other as we attempt to deduce who the imposter is.
The overnight success of Among Us is a testament to how its social nature and community solidarity resonate with people, especially during a time characterised by physical distance and uncertainty. Humankind continues to band together – playing Among Us, while far apart.