Among us is an online social deception game created by Innersloth that can be played on several platforms including mobile, and Nintendo Switch. It is like mafia with a space theme: players are “crewmates” on a spaceship completing maintenance tasks in various rooms, and imposters kill crewmates and sabotage the ship.
I think the most important formal element that separates “Among Us” from similar games and makes it fun is its procedures.
Like mafia, Among Us is a unilateral competition game. Mafia however is mostly active during the voting rounds: the heart of the gameplay is mostly the debate, and picking up verbal and nonverbal cues about who the killer might be.
Conversely, the procedural elements of Among Us make the “night” (when crewmates are killed, and tasks are completed) the most active portion. Information about others is revealed here through observation – maybe they see someone committing the murder or maybe someone is hanging around a little too closely.
This creates interesting dynamics. Impostors must find creative ways to “fake it” to avoid being caught (e.g., pretending to complete tasks, reporting dead bodies they just killed). Crewmates might choose to camp at the security cameras to observe everyone, or to focus on completing all their tasks to win. Here, the game is more about what you’re doing to win/throw people off.
Ultimately the underlining thread here is having a game boundary that encompasses multiple rooms. Not being able to see everyone heightens paranoia and drama and makes Narrative a core aesthetic that attracts players. Other mechanics build on this. The sound effects (e.g. when someone is killed, an emergency meeting is called, and when a body is found) build tension. The room lighting is such that you can only see a small region around you so it’s easy for people to sneak up, making the drama palpable.
Fellowship is also a core aesthetic. Working through tasks (even in death) and thwarting sabotaging events builds trust and unites crewmate under common goals: identify the impostor and win.
The latest version of the chat feature defaults to having the player select from predefined/preselected messages. Limiting players from being able to send whatever they want is a great way to prevent abuse on the platform (in addition to being able to ban players from a room and report them). Granted, players can opt out of this chat feature, but the mechanism to do so isn’t obvious or immediately visible.
On the other hand, it makes communication difficult. Sending one message requires multiple clicks, and I frequently had to restart when I couldn’t remember another player’s name. It would be helpful if I could click our suspects avatar and choose to accuse them. The act of accusing someone is supported by great graphic design choices: the colors that they use to distinguish players are generally very vibrant and distinguishable. Players often say, “I saw red doing x” and that facilitates the gameplay. However, it is not accessible to color blind players.