Recently, I had the opportunity to jump into the hugely popular Among Us. I didn’t have any expectations going in, but had a lot of fun playing it and that got me thinking. Why did I enjoy Among Us so much when I’ve been critical of other casually slanted games? After reflecting I decided it stems from how Among Us aims to include players of all skill levels. It keeps the door open for everyone while also featuring social mechanics that can be as complex as individual players desire. In this way Among Us can entertain a very wide variety of players all looking for different levels of engagement.
First off, for those who don’t know what Among Us is: it’s a hidden role game where up to ten players run around as lackies on a spaceship completing tasks to keep the ship running. However, there are up to two impostors in the group who are trying to sabotage things. The point of the game is to determine who the impostors are so you can eject them into space. Alternatively, if you’re the impostor you’re trying to kill everyone off while also convincing everyone that you are not the impostor. It’s a surprisingly compelling experience with a lot of fun moments born out of information asymmetry.
At its core, Among Us is a very simple experience. As a crewmate you’ll wander the ship playing a variety of simple mini-games such as matching wires, clicking on asteroids, or pulling a lever to empty the trash. Killing as the impostor is much the same. You simply press a button and if someone is in range you’ll pull the trigger. There is very little mechanical complexity to tasks and thus all players can jump into Among Us and feel like they’re participating in the game.
What’s genius is that the social nature of hidden role games allows Among Us to have optional depth for players to delve into. As we played I, and like-minded players, could see a social meta forming within the group. Certain folks would fall into patterns and as you analyze those patterns you can be mindful of them for an added layer of depth. For example, in our group DanamesX and Gaming Omnivore were always slow killers, so when the first kill took five minutes or longer to happen they were at the top of my potential impostor list.
In addition to player patterns, the impostor can lock off parts of the ship and cause emergencies that need to be addressed by the crewmates. Depending on the frequency of these events and who you run into your perspective on who seems most guilty will shift. Perhaps Jason is the impostor, but he is trying to convince you that he isn’t which is why he keeps getting locked in the same room as you. Maybe that’s exactly what the impostor wants you to think so they can get you to vote Jason off the ship in the next crew meeting. In this way getting into the head of the impostor players is something players can opt into for a deeper gameplay experience beyond the core of what Among Us offers.
My favourite example of meta-level shenanigans was one where I was the impostor and I tried to convince DanamesX that Meghan was the impostor. After my first kill DanamesX voiced he thought Meghan was suspicious, so I spent the rest of the game isolating myself with him hoping to convince him I was a crewmate as I hadn’t killed him when it would have been really easy to do so. Unfortunately, I overplayed my hand and Meghan convinced DanamesX to pull the trigger on me when it came down to just the three of us. In hindsight I should have made a better effort to fool Meghan so there was greater uncertainty within the group.
The best part about all of this is that if you don’t care about it you don’t have to engage with it. My trying to get into the impostor’s head or gaslighting the crew doesn’t ruin the experience for anyone who just wants to run around completing their chores. How much you choose to engage in the social aspect of Among Us is entirely up to you, so every player is able play on their own terms.
Among Us is a really fantastic game and I hope I’ve articulated why I think that here. The information asymmetry allows for a lot of depth to be born out of the social aspects of the game, while its low barrier to entry lets players of all skill levels enjoy it. I believe it’s really special when a game can manage to be approachable for all kinds while still providing an experience that can be meaningfully deep for players who want it. If you can get a group of six or more together Among Us is absolutely something you should try out.