An astronaut wearing a purple space suit swipes their ID card. It doesn’t work. They swipe again and again. They keep on swiping their card, but the finicky scanner keeps rejecting it. Another astronaut on the space station wearing a blue space suit comes up behind Purple. Blue takes their hand, guiding them in the proper way to scan the card. Purple blushes as the scanner accepts the card.
Together, the two astronauts walk around the space station, Blue continuing to help Purple by showing them the ropes. Eventually, the two complete almost all the tasks on Purple’s list.
But just as Purple is about to finish their last task, Blue looks at them, and then skewers them dead. Blue leaves Purple’s body laying on the floor, like a cartoon ham.
Among Us is a murder mystery online multiplayer game, similar to the classic party game Mafia. In each match, a crew of players must figure out which of them is a killer alien in disguise, all while completing tasks to maintain the space station. A standard game can accommodate up to 10 players, with a standard rule set including eight crewmates and two imposters.
The game has taken over the internet in recent weeks. Released by InnerSloth back in 2018, the game’s popularity skyrocketed during the pandemic and has unexpectedly made it into one of the most recognizable titles of the year.
Among Us is a game that gets its color through social interactions, and according to the team, that’s by design.
“Just as much as it’s a dramatic game, it’s also a social game. Among Us pairs well with voice chat to provide direct but safe interaction with friends,” Forest Willard, programmer at InnerSloth, told Polygon.
Willard went on, “There aren’t so many large multiplayer games that also force social interaction. Usually a game doesn’t need much interaction with your friends, or you can partner with just a couple at a time.”
In Among Us, there is no way to tell who is and isn’t an imposter by just looking at their player character. So crewmates need to work as a team to piece together information in order to sleuth out death scenes. At its best, Among Us provides a sense of dread, panic, and then, if crewmates correctly deduce an imposter, triumph.
The theatrics that ensue don’t just make for a fun video game. They’re also inspiring players to share their experiences with others.
“The whole game is a murder mystery roleplay session,” Wilmar said. “It’s pretty dramatic by nature, so I think even just recounting how you felt playing makes for good content. From there, people can just go crazy spinning it however they like, or imagining new scenarios.”
Mira Park, better known by their cosplay name, THRED, told Polygon that they started getting into Among Us cosplay after seeing all the memes. They ended up getting super into the game and now they record popular TikToks in elaborate Among Us cosplay with friends.
The videos are like miniature skits usually focused on a single joke. For example, one uses audio from the song “Scatman” and pokes fun at crewmates who fail to do their tasks.
“I love the dynamic between players in Among Us, and the group chats when meetings are called crack me up,” Park said. “In my head, the crewmates are just a bunch of bumbling space dudes with a ‘no thoughts head empty’ type of personality, so a lot of my skits focus on them doing silly things and basically just trying their best.”
Among Us has inspired more than cosplay and funny skits. Since its rise in popularity, fan-fiction writers have taken to publishing stories based on the game. Since early September, over 590 stories have been published under the game’s tag on fanfiction website An Archive of Our Own.
For example, TunaFishPrincess is an author of a popular Among Us and My Hero Academia crossover titled, “Among Darkness.”
“A lot of the game is social, so people make their own interpretations of character[s] and from there determine the world around them,” TunaFishPrincess told Polygon. She felt like the game was open enough to do a crossover, so she wrote the My Hero Academia characters into a scenario.
“It gave me new space to write. I know a lot of people from other fandoms who are writing fic that crosses over with the game.”
Other fanfic writers invent stories solely within the world of Among Us, like Arahir, the author of “Imposter Syndrome,” a fanfic about a newbie Green crewmate who gets paired up with a mysterious veteran crewmate. The story is quick and a fun read. I cringed over the naïveté of Green in her story.
Arahir told Polygon that the game instantly charmed her, in part because of the pandemic: “I don’t think we’re going nuts necessarily, but having been stuck in the same area for the last six months, it’s really satisfying to do something new, like kill my friends and lie about it until they throw each other out of an airlock... These are really trying times.”
The fun she had inspired her to write fanfic on it.
“I think everyone (me, I mean me) loves [a] good enemies-to-lovers dynamic, and Among Us is so ripe for that. There is mystery. There is an element of subterfuge,” Arahir said.
“I... saw something on Tumblr that said it’s really funny how we all started out quarantine season playing Animal Crossing, a game about building a beautiful house in a meadow with flowers and all your best animal friends, and now we’re mid-way through it playing a game about being locked in a spaceship with people who are trying to kill us, and that really spoke to me.”
If Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the game at the beginning of pandemic and the escape we needed. Among Us is the polar opposite. It is the complete recognition of the hellfire we live in. There is no escape.
“Something about facing oblivion just resonates with this current moment for some reason,” another author who goes by Madi Girlmeat told me. Their story, “Pet,” explored power dynamics present in the game.
“A good strategy in Among Us is to group up and hope the people following you aren’t imposters. In that sense it’s a fantasy about strength in unity, which is something we super don’t have right now. It’s like a fantasy world where the way to survive is to be close to each other, and I think people need that right now.”
Now, Girlmeat has been thinking about their regular life activities in terms of Among Us scenarios.
They shared with Polygon, “I woke up this morning with a sore throat and I immediately thought, ‘Oh god, where did I go? What was the last task I did? It was the pharmacy. White was there with me?’”
It’s easy to think about fanfiction and engagement with fandom as an escape from the real world. But these works reflect the authors’ anxieties about the current moment. I’d like to think that, if I were a historian in the year 2060 and I was studying the “COVID times,” I could learn about what it was like by reading these fanfics. (A similar trend is reflected in the general wave of quarantine fanfiction that’s not related to Among Us.)
Take TunaFishPrincess’s story, which was literally about superheroes thrown into the Among Us scenario. What struck me about it was how much it showed the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of anime characters who have superpowers.
“I drew on my own feelings of being trapped in my house while writing the fic,” TunaFishPrincess said. “Feelings of isolation and the idea that the enemy, coronavirus or in this case the imposter, is right outside one’s door are things that the game taps into well.”
Still, the group of writers I spoke to all resisted falling into complete pessimism.
Arahir told Polygon that the game has taught her how important it is to spend time online with friends during a period of isolation, even if they turn around and backstab her — in the game, that is.
“I think writing fic about it or about any game is just a natural way to show how much I love it and want to spend time in that world, and especially during the pandemic,” Arahir said. “It’s been so important to me to find any way to make life memorable.”