gaming

Among Us: the video game that has shot 100 million players into outer space


If “sus” and “vent” mean nothing to you, then you’ve somehow missed out on the smash-hit multiplayer game Among Us. But with numbers playing the online game heading towards 100 million, maybe you’ll find out before Christmas how good you are at being an “impostor” .

For the uninitiated, Among Us is the sleeper game hit of 2020. The premise is simple: it’s Cluedo or Wink Murder on a spaceship with four to 10 players of crewmates and impostors. The crewmates perform simple tasks for take-off, while impostors sabotage operations and kill other players. Impostors are the only players who can travel through vents – hence the significance of vent in Among Us. Gamers hold meetings to pick a suspect – which is where the word sus comes in – to jettison. The aim is to catch the impostors.

The game, launched in 2018 by US software company InnerSloth, had been downloaded a respectable 1 million times by May 2019. But as lockdowns forced people around the world to stay at home and find new ways to link up with their friends, Among Us surged in popularity. By the end of September 2020, 60 million people were playing every day.

This phenomenal success started in July on video-streaming platform Twitch when high-profile gamers began streaming themselves playing Among Us. Many YouTubers and TikTok influencers immediately followed suit. Its popularity even spread to politicians – a fortnight before the US presidential election, Hasan Piker, a political commentator on Twitch with 4.5 million followers, streamed a game of Among Us with leftwing congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar as part of an initiative to encourage young people to vote.

This year has seen the rise of covideogamers – people who’ve taken up games to pass the long hours of lockdown. In the UK, the overall gaming population has increased by 63% in 2020. Among Us has undoubtedly benefited from a captive audience, but online multiplayer games have long been a great way to socialise.

Among Us
Online multiplayer games, such as Among Us, have been a great way to socialise during lockdown. Photograph: InnerSloth

“They provide much needed contact during lockdown,” says Dr Peter Etchells, professor of psychology and science communication at Bath Spa University. “They allow us to blow off a little steam, and catch up with friends from our own homes.”

Jack Weiner, an 11-year-old Londoner who originally saw Among Us on YouTube, uses the game to keep in touch with his social circle. “We played Among Us at my friend’s Zoom birthday party. It was way funnier listening to people trying to convince everyone who the impostor was than reading it on text in the game. My grandpa Alan has also learned how to play, and on Mondays I play with him and my cousins. He’s surprisingly good.”

Etchells says that as well as the social element, the game’s dark tone rings true for a lot of people this year. “It is set in an environment that is becoming increasingly catastrophic, while we all desperately try to keep everything running smoothly.”

Meg Wemyss, an 11-year-old from London who started playing Among Us with her friends two months ago after they saw it on TikTok, puts it another way: “It’s a lot of fun acting innocent and getting to kill people.”

InnerSloth was developing a sequel to Among Us but the success of the first game means it is now focused on improving the original. Updates are to be announced on 10 December at the Game Awards, an annual celebration of the industry. Likely additions include turning murdered crewmates into guardian angels and a new area map that would change how matches could be played.

Though Among Us is up for best multiplayer and best mobile game at the Game Awards, Etchells thinks it has just done what all good games have done, “which is to allow us to connect with the people we like and love. That’s the real power of video games; their ability to provide an unparalleled social experience.”



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