Critical Play: Among Us

I believe that one reason Among Us has seen so much success in its lifetime can be boiled down into three main categories:

  1. Unlike most other deception games I’ve seen, Among Us actually introduces somewhat of a learning curve.
  2. Among us has an aesthetic that is equally enjoyable on PC and mobile, which makes cross-platform play a lot more fun than with most other games.
  3. Among us provides the player with more agency than just about any other deception-style game.

Among us accomplishes what a lot of games strive to do in that it provides a learning curve that gives new players a chance, but also rewards players who have a higher level with experience with the game. While having a good learning curve is not usually an extremely impressive feat, deception games like Among Us often have no learning curve at all. A lot of these games (Mafia, for example) are social games that don’t require any pieces or technology. Games like these tend to get their fun from the social interaction involved with the gameplay, so the idea of a learning curve isn’t usually that applicable. It may take a little bit of time for people to get familiar with the rules, and some basic strategy might be applied, but for the most part, learning is limited. In a game like Mafia, the game tends to stay largely the same no matter how many times it is played, which significantly wears down the game’s replay value.

Among Us avoids this pitfall by rewarding players who have a deeper understanding of how the game works. When you know where the rooms are that correspond to each task, you are able to get there and accomplish the task minigame much faster than new players. Having knowledge of the map and how to move through air vents makes you a better player when you are the imposter, as does having knowledge of what spots make for inconspicuous murder spots. However, the most important piece of the game that requires a learning curve is the discussion-room piece of the game. This is where players choose to vote (or skip the vote) on who they think is the imposter. Here, either through voice or text chat, players look for suspicious stories while trying to convince others that they are not the imposter. With a deeper knowledge of things such as clearing tasks and what kinds of activity are suspicious, it is much easier to mobilize the group to find who the imposter is, or successfully hide if you are the imposter.

This being said, the learning curve is not the most important piece of success in the game, and new players are still able to stand a fighting chance if they are gifted in communication and/or deception.

The second piece is a bit harder to assess in terms of how it impacts the game’s enjoyment. The aesthetics of the game definitely have played a role in its success. The premise of Among Us –– a secret murderer picking off members of the crew while they frantically try to complete tasks for their lives –– could lend itself to a pretty dark game style. However, the fact that Among Us opted instead for cartoon-y, lovable little blobs and a simple animation style that allows the game to run smoothly on both PC and mobile. This increases the audience two-fold, as it allows for casual mobile gamers who don’t want a gore-y, violent game to enjoy the game alongside hardcore PC players.

The last appeal of the game is that it allows for agency. This is the part of this analysis where I’ll skew a bit more towards personal bias, since in my mind agency is what makes or breaks a game. One of my primary reasons for playing games is the sense of freedom they provide, and feeling like I truly have an impact on my environment gives me an unparalleled sense of video game enjoyment. One of the biggest problems with deception games is that they provide relatively little agency. They are usually structured in some variation of:

  1. Imposter is chosen
  2. Some kind of mechanic lets the imposter try to win
  3. Some kind of mechanic lets people try to discover the imposter
  4. Repeat

Which is fine, but generally feels pretty confined, and doesn’t let people do anything creative in terms of killing or finding the killer. Letting you actually move around a map, perform tasks that impact the game, and check out the activities of other player gives the game a whole new sense of immersion. Among Us gives the player the freedom to make their own decisions, which is one of the ultimate goals of any kind of game.

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