Among Us Critique

Among Us is a social deduction game released in June 2018 and developed by Innersloth studios. It’s primarily a mobile game, but there is a PC version and eventually it was released for most modern consoles.

Well after the game’s surge in popularity, Innersloth added additional player roles, like ‘Scientist’. I won’t discuss these here, as I’ll instead focus on the state of the game during its viral peak. Among Us is a game about a crew of colorful astronauts who are trying to either discover and evict the impostor players or finish their chores before the impostors kill them. It’s played with between four and ten players, though the maximum was later increased. The crew wander around the map completing tasks, which are small minigames with touch controls. During this time, the impostor players are wandering around trying to kill crew members without raising suspicion. When a crew member discovers the corpse of another crew member or presses an emergency meeting button, all crew members are summoned to a discussion room. The crew members then discuss (using text chat) the state of the game and hold a vote on whether to evict a player from the game. Dead players can still participate in the game by completing their tasks as ghosts.

The game’s discussion interface

In mid-2020, there was a massive global surge in popularity of the game. A large number of internet content creators streamed the game and promoted it; this caused a positive feedback loop with more people playing it, then more content being created for it, and so on. Much like with Minecraft, it was able to cross the demographic gap between older and younger players, and soon it was common to see kids as young as 8 playing the game. Within two years’ time, the ever-popular game Fortnite implemented an Among Us-inspired game mode, which also attracted this group. It may not have been the designers’ intent at the outset, but I believe the game shifted to focus its efforts on this youth demographic.

One of the many memes popularized by people incredulous at the game’s ubiquity in light of its perceived mediocrity

While it is possible to have fun with the game, it does have some glaring design issues. The developers knew this, and it was likely why they planned to retire the game and replace it with a sequel, but the unexpected surge in popularity of Among Us saw these sequel plans scrapped and the arguably much-needed redesign abandoned in favor of an attempt to capitalize on the game’s viral success. This came in the form of paid cosmetics, much like the monetization model of Fortnite or other free-to-play games.

When I say that Among Us is primarily a mobile game, I mean that significant portions of the game are controlled by dragging a finger around an interface and these segments don’t map very well to other forms of control. It’s funny, then, that the game’s design places such high emphasis on its in-game text chat; in my opinion, playing without voice chat is preferable because the game works much better when players are only able to exchange information at the in-game meetings. The text chat even implements this limitation, demonstrating irrefutably that this was the intent of the game designers. Rapidly messaging other players with a mobile keyboard overlay so large it obscures a significant chunk of the chat window is incredibly frustrating and significantly worsens the experience. For these reasons, there is no definitive best way to play the game, as each comes with its own annoyances. I think the game would have been much better if it was designed only for PC. I can’t think of other games in this genre that have this strange mobile-centric design because I don’t think this genre is a good match for modern smartphones.

The fun of the game comes from the social aspect, as these conversations and the tension around them encourage players to bluff and strategize. Often, these discussions require genuine emotional investment from the players to convince others they’re right. Saying it requires players to be ‘vulnerable’ may be a step too far, though.

Unfortunately, too much time is spent doing the monotonous tasks and Among Us loses its appeal gradually over the course of several games. The task system is novel, and other, similar games, like or Town of Salem, are mostly text-based without exploring around a map. That said, I think the addition of the map and the task system doesn’t necessarily improve the game and a redesign (like the canceled Among Us 2) is sorely needed.

Among Us is fun to play a few times, but in general I wouldn’t recommend it over other games in the genre.

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