Photo: Among Us, Orange is Sus/Inner Sloth
Impostors vs. Crew
In Among Us, the recently viral online multiplayer game from InnerSloth, each player controls a different-colored astronaut, tasked with performing routine tasks on a spaceship. Each round, a few of the players are secretly given the role of ‘impostor’, and must stealthily sabotage the spaceship, avoid detection, and kill the crew. When a dead crewmember is discovered, an emergency meeting begins, during which all players can vote on who they think the impostors are. This goes on until either all of the impostors have been discovered or all of the crew are dead.
Aesthetically, the game is quite simplistic. The crayon-colored cartoon astronauts have legs but no arms, and when they die they look like a holiday roast with a single bone sticking out of the torso. The game takes a familiar survival horror trope–being trapped in an isolated place with monsters–and subverts it with over-the-top cartoon violence. It’s like John Carpenter’s The Thing by way of Itchy and Scratchy. Somehow, Among Us–which came out to mild fanfare two years ago–became the game of 2020.
Among Us – Spaceship Quarantine
One reason for Among Us’s sudden climb to the top of the charts may be thanks to COVID-19. The game is kind of like the anti-Pokémon Go. It’s easy to pick up, it’s available on smartphones and on PC, and it’s fun to play with friends. The game interfaces excellently with FaceTime, Discord, or Zoom if you want to play with friends instead of random weirdos on the Internet. The characters of the game all wear protective suits and social distance–just like in our current reality, you never know which of your friends or coworkers might have a monster lurking inside them, so it’s best to play it safe. On top of that, being stuck on a spaceship with people who may or may not want to kill you at any given moment is a bit like long-term quarantining with your family.
Another explanation for Among Us’s clout may have to do with the game Fall Guys. Fall Guys came out this year and also features bean-shaped characters who get cartoonishly injured while trying to complete mundane tasks. Both games allow players to customize their bean guys with purchasable hats and accessories. Unlike the free-on-mobile Among Us, Fall Guys was $19.99 at launch. Also, Fall Guys is punishingly difficult and hard to play while you’re sitting in the bathroom. Mainly due to meme culture and its various superficial similarities, the Internet positioned Among Us as the substitute for the flash-in-the-pan viral Fall Guys and the rest is history.
Orange is ‘Sus’
There’s another possible reason for the game’s sudden relevancy. It’s 2020, and the United States spent the year grappling with perhaps the most divisive presidential election in its history while having much fewer distractions than usual. It was no ordinary election, and Donald Trump was no ordinary president. In fact, President Trump during the COVID-19 crisis acted exactly like a seasoned Among Us player attempting to convince his crewmates that he’s not really the one out to get them, but if everyone turns against the person he accuses, they’re all going to win so much that they’re going to be sick and tired of winning. For some people, playing a game like this may help them make sense of the world we live in. For others, there might be a perverse thrill in getting to roleplay as the sociopathic pathological madman toying with everybody’s fate.
In reality, Donald Trump is just one of an endless stream of post-truth cartoon monsters. Whether it’s QAnon conspiracies, clickbait tabloids, or the ubiquitous expiring car warranty robocalls, our modern society is constantly barraging us with information that we have to run through a truth filter in our brains. We are often asked to accept things we are not able to physically see as being true. Think global warming, or COVID-19. How do we know when someone is lying? In Among Us, the impostor usually outs themselves by being overly vague, by contradicting themselves, or by being overly accusative of others. These behaviors don’t guarantee that a person is being deceptive, but they do make them seem suspicious, or in the parlance of Among Us, ‘sus’.
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The game emphasizes critical thinking, debate, and the power of the vote. Considering that the game is especially popular with younger audiences, it has the potential to prime their malleable minds for a post-truth reality. Because Among Us allows players to take turns being the predator and the prey, it provides the opportunity to experience what it feels like to tell a politically-motivated lie. Hopefully, experiencing both the sensation of being the deceiver and the deceived gives Among Us players a more well-rounded understanding of truth. (Hopefully, the game doesn’t just end up breeding a legion of extremely proficient liars).
With rounds usually taking between 1 to 10 minutes to complete, that’s a lot of repetitions. Players will quickly learn what it feels like to accidentally vote off the wrong person. They’ll learn what it feels like to be duped by a person you were absolutely certain was on your side. They’ll learn what it feels like to be wrongfully accused, and what if feels like to get away with murder.
Ejecting the Impostors
Even beyond the verbal cues, players may develop the ability to notice movement patterns of impostors. Impostors are given the same list of tasks to complete as crewmates, but they can’t actually do tasks, so they have to just walk around pretending to be busy while simultaneously looking for people to destroy and people to scapegoat. With enough practice, players may start to notice the difference between a person who legitimately wants to shoot asteroids and a person who just wants to sabotage the spaceship and eat everyone.
Skills learned in Among Us could help first-time and future voters discern when candidates are being truthful. In fact, it may have already passed its first test. During the 2020 Presidential Debates, politically themed Among Us memes spread across the Internet like wildfire. Perhaps most popular was a meme with a picture of Trump captioned, “Orange sus. Vote him out.” Weeks later, the American people did just that. Once they did, another meme started trending: A picture of a small orange astronaut with a blonde combover floating through the vacuum of space. The caption? “Orange was ejected”.
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