Critical Play: Among Us

Stuck out in space, you and your crew, with only one goal…survival. Everyone has jobs they must complete if you’re hoping to make it, but suddenly you come across the corpse of one of your fellow crewmates *gasp*, there is an imposter among us!

Among Us, developed by InnerSloth Inc. and released in 2018, though it really gained attention two years after release, in 2020 (for a few reasons such as Streamers playing and it being a casual game that anyone could play with any device). I decided to play Among Us for my first critical play for a few reasons. I can’t claim that it was my first time playing, I bought in to the hype like many others back in 2020, but it’s been a long time since I uninstalled it off my phone that this seemed like a pretty good opportunity to see what’s changed. Another reason I choose Among Us, was that it’s a game that allowed me to easily join a random public lobby after I couldn’t get enough friends on the same schedule to play any of the other games. But, while this wasn’t my first time ever playing the game, it was my first time trying to play it from the perspective of a game designer, and I think I was able to notice a lot of things I never paid much attention to before. So let’s get into it!

For starters, a description of the game. While the official age rating is 8+, from my google search it seems that a majority of players are between 14-30 years old. This is a game about deception. At the start of each game, everyone is assigned a role. The two most basic roles are crewmate and imposter, but InnerSloth has also added a few special roles since my last time playing. These roles are the shapeshifter, the guardian angle, the engineer, and the scientist. The premise of each round is simply, crewmate based roles (crewmate, guardian angel, engineer, and scientist) are all trying to complete tasks around the map, such as refuel the space station or scan

your ID card, while imposter based roles (imposter and shapeshifter) are all trying to kill as many crew members until the number of crew equals the number of remaining imposters. After a dead body is found and reported, or if someone decides to call an emergency meeting, the entire lobby (aside from those dead) discuss and then vote on who they think the imposter is (they can skip vote, or choose to not vote at all).

[Task: Scanning your ID card]
[Being assigned a role]

With the description out of the way, let’s move on to the formal elements I found in Among Us. For starters, players. The game can be played with a minimum of 4 players and a maximum of 15 players. I think Among Us has a Team vs Team type of player relationship, the teams being crewmates vs. imposters. The objective is to outwit, like I said this is a game of deception, mainly for imposters, and a game of discovery for the crew. Either way, both teams hope to outwit one another in order to win. Which leads me to the outcome of the game. This is a zero-sum game, either the imposters or the crew are winning while the other team is losing. There will always be a winner.

[Dead body reported]
[Me being killed by an imposter]
[Imposter voted out i.e. crew wins]
Moving forward to the rules. I think the only real rule in Among Us is that you can’t do anything outside of your role. So crewmates can’t kill and imposters can’t do tasks. Aside from that though, while everyone has an assigned role, they aren’t forced to comply to them. Imposters can choose not to kill and crew could choose not to do tasks. Now if we compare this to a pretty similar game, Mafia or Werewolf, where people with special roles are forced to take action each night, it’s clear that there are less restrictions in Among Us in how a player wishes to play that round.

As for the procedures of the game, there are a few settings you can change before you enter a game, like if you’re signed into an account you can change your display name to whatever you want (within the character limit). Once you’re in a game, the host has a wide range of settings they’re able to change in order to customize the game. They can decide how many imposters there are, how many and what type of tasks crew will have to do, and even if they want to include any of the special added roles (every role aside from crewmate and imposter). Players are also able to customize their Among Us characters to an extent, change their color, add a hat and some clothes or some silly glasses, anything to make them stand out.

[Left side: Settings host can change]
When we take a look at the game’s resources, the most abundant is definitely actions. Imposters can sabotage certain things on the map, like cutting off oxygen in a space shuttle, in order to force crewmates to fix those things otherwise everyone will die and imposters will win. Engineers have the ability to fix a sabotage immediately. Shapeshifters can transform into other players while guardian angels can protect a single player from death. And then there are scientist who have the ability to always see who’s alive and dead with their handy portable vitals machine. In addition to the special roles, everyone can report a dead body or call an emergency meetings. All of these actions help to open up players to new strategies in how they wish to play. But actions aren’t the only resource. There is time, where most actions have a cooldown (helpful for crewmembers since they can’t all be killed off in quick succession), special terrain in the form of vents that imposters or engineers can use as well as map dependent amenities (in the space shuttle there are cameras you can watch, in another map there are vitals so you can see if someone is dead, in all maps I believe there is an admin table that shows you how many players are in what room on the map), and an inventory (?) like resource in the form of a map for the player. I believe that it’s these resources that mainly help set Among Us apart from games like Mafia and Werewolf.

But before I get more into that comparison, boundaries in Among Us. This one is quite simple, the magic circle for most players is the map, but for imposters and engineers, they actually have a larger boundary/magic circle as they are able to vent, allowing them to move around the map quickly, but also allowing them to stay inside if they wish to hide.

Now back to the comparison, Among Us vs. games like Mafia or Werewolf. One of the main differences I already hit on above, was the fact that in Among Us players aren’t forced to take any action unlike Mafia where every night a mafia member must kill, a nurse must save, and a sheriff must investigate (as long as they’re alive of course). More so than that there isn’t a player who has anytime for downtime. While crewmates and villagers may essentially be the same role, unlike the villages, the crewmates don’t simply wait for discussion time, they have tasks they can complete which gives them a way to fight back against imposters (complete all the tasks, win the game).  I honestly think this makes Among Us a “better” game (in my opinion of course) because it allows for some many different situations and outcomes. A crewmate could accidentally walk in on an imposter killing another crewmate, now it’s a battle on who can tell the better story. I think Mafia is an overall harder game, even though Among Us has so many resources, because in Mafia you can only really try to tell who’s who from their words alone. In Among Us there are of course people’s words, but also their actions. Is that player over there faking a task, could they be an imposter then. It just adds another layer of fun to the game.

[Discussion time]
With that all said this isn’t a game without faults. I did notice some technical breaks where the camera would go a little wonky, but more than that were the systemic breaks, these were the moments that kind of became moments of failure for me. In discussions there were times were one player would sus out another and before that person could defend themselves half of the lobby votes for them. Maybe in those times I was playing with a more immature crowd, but it did feel like it defeated one of the main draws of the game, a true discussion. Another thing I notice was that in some lobbies where the host set the number of tasks for the crew to a low-ish number, crewmembers were able to finish tasks incredibly fast and then afterwards they would mainly gather and stand in front of a camera where someone was almost always watching. I found this to be a little bit of a fail for me because it lead to drawn out games where imposters couldn’t do anything because everyone was standing in front of cameras where they could easily be caught. I feel like that ultimately brings down the experience for both sides, crew won’t be able to find the imposter because they can’t kill and imposters won’t be able to kill crew because they would be caught. It always seemed to be result in a stalemate of just waiting for that last crew member to finish their last task and then the game was over. Those games were not particularly exciting.

[What you can see from the cameras]
Overall I really enjoyed my revist to Among Us, the game has definitely changed since I last played and mostly for the better. To remedy some of the breaks I found above, for the standing in front of the cameras, maybe make it so that only someone with a special role, like hacker or something, is able to watch cameras, and put the ability on a cooldown like most others. This way you can’t just have someone sitting on cameras the entire game making it impossible for imposters to do their jobs.

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