Desperate and afraid, a lone crewmate rushes to an emergency console. After he presses a large red button that sounds the alarm, sirens blare throughout the spaceship. Everyone onboard is alerted to the situation, and gather around a discussion table anxiously awaiting the crewmate’s announcement. A murder has taken place, and tensions are high. No one knows it yet, but someone in this room is a hostile alien imposter.
One would be forgiven for thinking this synopsis was pulled straight from 1982’s The Thing, however, this is the common experience one can find when playing the newest video game to take the world by storm, Among Us. Despite the ominous description, Among Us is an online video game where four to ten players control brightly-colored cartoon-like astronauts in a short murder mystery.
In the game, one person hosts a session and can allow friends and/or online strangers to join them. In the beginning, players are randomly assigned to a certain role. Depending on the host’s choosing, one to three players will be assigned to the role of “imposter.” Their goal is to eliminate all non-imposters without getting caught. All other players are assigned the role of “crewmate.” Their objective is to either complete all required tasks aboard the spaceship before the imposter/s can eliminate everyone or to figure out who the imposter/s is/are and eject them from the spaceship. When a crewmate is eliminated, their body is left where they were eliminated and other crewmates can discover it throughout the course of completing their assigned tasks. When a body is discovered, a crewmate can call for an emergency meeting. This gives all living players a chance to discuss in an attempt to deduce who the imposter/s may be. During this meeting, crewmates are encouraged to tell others where the body was discovered, what tasks they were completing at the time, and any suspicious behavior they may have witnessed. However, imposters are encouraged to use their best skills of deception in hopes of avoiding suspicion. After the discussion, the players then vote on who they believe is the imposter or may choose to skip the vote if a decision can’t be made. If one player receives the majority of the votes, they will be ejected from the spaceship. The game then indicates whether the ejected player was innocent or an imposter. There are several other features to the gameplay, but that’s a general idea.
Released in June of 2018 on mobile devices and later in November 2018 for PC, Among Us initially gained very little popularity. For the majority of its early lifespan, Among Us struggled to garner even one hundred concurrent players per hour. However, recently this year, that all began to change. Beginning somewhere around July 2020, Among Us began gaining traction online. Several popular Twitch streamers and other influential online personalities began discovering the game and sharing their experiences with fans. Numbers began skyrocketing in terms of players and viewers online, with an estimated player count of 3.8 million concurrent players on mobile and PC combined in late September. The game’s Twitch viewership reached its current peak of close to 775,000 viewers in early November.
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic likely played a significant role in Among Us’ success. With record numbers of people spending most of their time at home across the globe, many people have been looking for alternatives to in-person social interaction. Among Us happened to fall under just the right combination of circumstances to escalate its way to stardom.
It has a simple, universally-appealing art style along with controls and mechanics that are quick and easy to pick up. Most importantly, the game is easily accessible. Especially now, almost everyone has a smartphone or home computer with a stable internet connection. Among Us is a free download on mobile devices, and only costs $4.99 on Steam. If someone has friends who are already into the game, it’s quick and easy to jump in on the fun. Another thing is time. Rounds of Among Us don’t tend to last any longer than fifteen minutes, which allows almost anyone to fit a few rounds into their busy schedule.
Among Us offers a quick, accessible opportunity to interact with friends and others online. It’s humble beginnings pale in comparison to its newfound success. Among Us and other games like it represent humanity’s adaptation through adversity and how good times can be found in even the most challenging of circumstances.