Critical Play 1: Among Us
For my first critical play, I decided to analyze the mobile game Among Us, a cross-platform multiplayer social deduction game (supported on iOS, Android, Windows, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox, and even VR) created by game studio Innersloth. With its target audience being eager players between the ages of 14-30, Among Us is a team vs. team, zero-sum game inspired by the non-digital, hugely popular game Mafia.
After joining a locally hosted, public, or private Among Us game server, players are directed to a lobby and displayed as cute and colorful astronaut characters. In the lobby, players are given the ability to send messages to all other characters on the server which will persist in the gameplay session. After the minimum number of characters (min players: 4 / max players: 15) is reached and some time passes, the game will begin and players will be teleported to one of four outer-space-themed maps (The Skeld, MiraHQ, POLUS, or AIRSHIP). The implementation of a lobby was a smart choice as it allows you to get to know the people you will be playing with before the game actually starts, making you feel more connected/immersed in the game world space or “magic circle” of Among Us.
When the game begins, every player is randomly assigned one of two roles: Crewmates and Imposters. The general game rules and player abilities are as follows:
- To reach a winning outcome, the objective of the Crewmates is to capture (discover the imposters and then vote them out OR complete the mission/all their tasks), while the objective of the Imposter is to outwit and covertly kill the crewmates before they can complete the tasks to ruin the space mission (posing as the core conflict in the game).
- When either the Imposters or the Crewmates win OR if players quit the match, the game ends.
- The Crewmates do not know the roles of anyone else in the server and have to chat amongst themselves and observe each other to try and determine who the imposter is.
- When a crewmate believes they found the imposter or when they find a dead body, they can call a team meeting where they can tell all the players their prediction and they can vote to eject a player.
- Imposters have to blend in to not be ejected from the spacecraft and consequently lose; they can do this by pretending to do tasks and posing as a crewmate in the chat.
- The Imposter kills a crewmate by going close to other players and clicking the “KILL” button, however they must ensure that they are in a secluded place so no other players witness the murder.
In regards to the game’s design decisions, I thought the choice to make the players agendered was a very smart decision on the part of the designers. I feel like removing gender from the game character design makes Among Us inclusive for all (cis, transgender, non-binary, etc.) and also minimizes the likelihood of toxic, in-game gender-based discrimination, a huge problem in many multiplayer games especially those based in anonymity. Another decision I thought was really effective was how they decided to make the tasks minigames and puzzles which momentarily shifts the game objective to a smaller one that’s more solution geared. I think the developers did this in order to prevent boredom/sensory deprivation in players; As we read in Theory Of Fun, new patterns and stimuli make games more engaging. These two decisions positively added to my game experience by making the environment feel safer and keeping me on my toes.
If I was to make the game better, I would:
- Make some of the tasks more similar in difficulty for the sake of consistency.
- Add a voice chat feature so friends can more efficiently talk without other programs opened (instead of having to facetime or private message on another application).
- Create a system to disallow inappropriate usernames so no player feels uncomfortable (I saw some that were insensitive and definitely not suitable for younger audiences)
- Monitor the sharing of personal information like social media handles or phone numbers to make the game safer for children (I saw three instances of this)
In my personal experience playing Among Us, the game was SUPER fun because of the challenges it presented and the sense of teamwork it provides! In comparison to other games of the same genre like Mafia or Werewolf, I feel like the fact that in Among Us, being 100% virtual, there is complete anonymity and players cannot look at obvious signs like body language to determine their choices. This made it more challenging, but also more rewarding I feel when you make the right decisions. I played with my little sister over zoom who is currently across the country from me. I feel like playing Among Us made me feel less far from her; though I couldn’t be with her in person, I could be right next to her in-game. A major success was when both my sister and I were chosen imposters and we won by killing off the majority of the Crewmates! An epic fail on the other hand was when one player said to vote me off because he hated the color brown and all the players voted me off as a joke.