Though the game was first released in 2018, Among Us has really blown up in 2020. A sizable chunk of that credit goes to streamers who have help to spread the word about its existence. But beyond simply showcasing the game, they’ve also showcased the best (and most difficult) way to play. I get the sense that most players are having a considerably worse experience than their favourite streamers.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with the game, Among Us is a social deduction game that takes cues from tabletop classics such as Werewolf, Mafia, and The Resistance. A group of astronauts on a spaceship are tasked with completing their jobs, but there are one or more alien imposters in their ranks. The imposters are attempting to kill the crew without being caught while the crew is trying to complete their tasks or vote the imposters out.
When you watch streamers play it on Twitch, it’s almost always done with a group of people on voice chat. Players will mute their mics during the missions and then unmute to discuss who should be voted out when an emergency meeting is called or when a dead body is reported. These debates are easily the most fascinating part of the game, as they really put players investigative – and bluffing – skills to the test. Do you have the wherewithal to lie about the dead body you left in the electrical room?
However, voice chat isn’t built into the game itself. Furthermore, the vast majority of games are being played with strangers. For most, the game is a very different beast. When Steff and I first played it, we did so by queuing into a random lobby with strangers. When it was time to debate, our only method of communicating with the outside world was the in-game text chat. Before we even talk about the quality of conversation that took place most of the time, hiding behind text chat takes away so much of the game’s tension. You’re rarely ever put on the spot to speak up and it’s so easy for everyone to not say anything of value.
On top of all that, you’re playing with a bunch of strangers, the chat tends to devolve into nonsense. At best, you’ll get a “orange is sus”/”no. you’re sus” back-and-forth. But much of the time, it’s just people blabbering about other stuff. Had I not seen others play the game on Twitch first, I probably would have given up on the game entirely.
The next day, Steff and I played it as part of a family game night. Between playing in a group where we all knew each other and were all on Discord voice chat, our enjoyment of the game skyrocketed. It is incredibly exciting to run around that map, embark on your tasks, assassinate crewmembers, and engage in that discussion when bodies are found. When played in this manner, Among Us truly shines brightest as something that hasn’t really been done in video games before.
Unfortunately, it takes a whole lot of effort outside of the game to create that ideal environment. You need a large group of players that you’re comfortable playing with. If you’re not all sitting in the same room, you need voice chat. You then need to have every player understand when to mute and unmute. You need dead players to stay muted and not blurt anything out to compromise the identity of the imposter(s). For a game that is the hottest thing going, you really have to put in an extra level of elbow grease that other games don’t demand.
Is it worth all the trouble? Probably. Now that I’ve seen both sides, I wouldn’t play the game with anything less.
I gave it a shot a couple of weeks ago in a room with two friends and a bunch of strangers. I came out with the same impression as you did. It’s fun, but the ideal setting is playing it with folks you know, and doing so can be quite hard.