Out of the never-ending stream of TikTok memes, “Among Us” has emerged as the game of the moment. The game takes place in the lonely expanses of space, where players work to thwart or support a parasitic, alien impostor in a spaceship riddled with various tasks that need to be completed. While this foreign setting hardly seems comforting, “Among Us” is perfectly situated for anyone suffering from quarantine cabin fever. I spoke to Amherst students about their thoughts on the game, and what place it occupies in the Amherst Covid-19 campus bubble.
While “Among Us” recently entered into mainstream American conversation, the game was actually released in 2018.The game had significant traction in Mexico, Brazil and South Korea, in particular. In the U.S., it received little attention at first , but grew in popularity over the past few months, especially as it begun to make waves on TikTok.. Eventually, popular content creators on YouTube and the popular streaming website “Twitch” picked up the game. “Among Us” has been spreading like wildfire, reaching all the way to one idyllic and well-funded liberal arts college campus in the Pioneer Valley.
The premise of the game is simple. Players are assigned one of two roles: the crewmate, who completes tasks around the map, or the impostor, who tries to deceive and eliminate the crewmates in order to win. It’s not gory or particularly scary though. A death is marked by a satisfying “slice” and cute, exposed chicken bone. The two groups must compete for survival as time ticks down. When a death is reported, players must vote to commit a player to the lonely, freezing fate of floating through space. The game is played on either your phone or PC.
Amherst students have taken to the game, saying that it is challenging to win but easy to understand. One noteworthy aspect of the game’s appeal is the cute appearance of the top-down game style. It is cartoony, almost like paper cut-outs One student enjoyed that she could choose the color of her “little amorphous dude,” and deck them out with a little hat. Her and her room group all chose witches’ hats and enacted impromptu coven circles in the game. An online stranger even joined them in their ritual.
Students also acknowledged that the game is vastly different depending on if you are a crewmate or one of the feared impostors. Students expressed that they enjoyed being a crewmate because they didn’t have to lie or pretend; their “sneaky skills” were not up to the task. The game has a learning curve in order to play successfully. Another one student I spoke to said that she does not enjoy the game because, “You never know what’s going on. You never have a reason to be voting anyone out.”
A friend walked me through a few gameplays in various online rooms, facing complete strangers. I noted that the game has some issues in this public format. Other players often chose obscene names. Additionally, many games ended as soon as they began because players would quickly leave after not getting the coveted role of the imposter.
However, the preferred style of gameplay for the Amherst student is in a local room, playing with friends in their room group. The game takes on a social context in this form; it’s not only about deception, but deceiving your friends. Sitting in each other’s rooms or a common room, Amherst players face off without being limited to the text-only chat of the online version.
One student said the game vastly changes when your friends are only inches away. “If you’re the impostor, you have to be really good at shielding your facial expressions. And if you die, you’re not supposed to scream because you have to wait for someone to report you.”
One room group I spoke to has taken the game to a whole new level. Inspired by TikTok, they recreated the game in person; the confines of a drifting spaceship imparted to their dorm’s brick walls. Each player dresses in monochrome and draws roles from a hat. Instead of repairing broken fuse boxes and restoring shipwide oxygen, players collect and act out tasks from dispersed sticky notes, like taking a selfie in a particular spot. Of course, no one gets sliced in half in this version. Players take off their shoes to mark the spot where they died. And the group votes to exile a player with a GroupMe poll. It’s all very Amherst-esque: making use of students’ resources in unexpected ways, applying ingenuity whenever possible.
The appeal of “Among Us” falls in the same “mind-numbing” and “addicting” vein as TikTok, perfectly suited for quarantine. Yet on the Amherst campus, the game is as much a distraction from real-life as it is a social activity. With the risks of in-person interaction, “Among Us” offers a space to interact with friends, compete, sabotage and conspire, all from a safe distance of at least six feet.