Among Us and criminal psychology


Claire Barnhart, Copy Editor

As far as art mediums go, video games have always been unique in what they reveal about their audiences. Their interactivity provides for endless potential situations with which we can analyze the human psyche and what we know about human behavior. 

As of the past few months, the tiny indie game Among Us has risen exponentially in popularity. In this game, a group of 4 to 10 players are astronauts trapped in a broken space station. Their goal is to roam around the station and complete a multitude of simple tasks to repair the space station and win the game. The thing is, among the group lie 1 to 3 imposters, whose goal is to kill everyone else on board. They can sabotage areas of the ship to manipulate the situation and prevent players from finishing their tasks. And naturally the primary way imposters can kill others is through pressing the kill button when in their vicinity. They’re also able to fast travel through vents located all over the spaceship. The innocent crewmates must win either by completing all the tasks before they’re all dead, or voting out and successfully ejecting the imposters. When one comes across a dead body, they have the option to report it and everyone discusses what happened and who should be voted out, if anyone. Imposters are able to both report bodies and often may manipulate the others into voting out innocents whom they framed. There is also a button located on the map that each crewmate can press once at any time to begin the voting period.

Photo credit: Claire Barnhart

This genre of gameplay, similar to Mafia, One Night Werewolf, Town of Salem, Push the Button, and more, is unique in that players must embody the strategic mindset of detectives and imposters, with a heavy emphasis on discussion, manipulation, and strategic skills. Players of course are aware that it’s just a game, they aren’t actually killing anyone, and are free to mess around, which many do, but truly most of the gameplay causes them to build many of the same skills and strategies that real life detectives, investigators, and criminals utilize. Players practice memorizing alibis, paying attention to details in reference to time frame, and avoiding blaming others too strongly for suspicious actions yet still knowing to keep an extra eye on them. They practice making proper use of bluffing, tone of voice, when to talk and when not to talk, when and when not to trust witness testimony, and how to cover up common mistakes. They learn both how to gain others trust, and how to convince others to lose all trust in someone. They practice how to manipulate the crowd, confuse the situation, stall for time, track personal player habits, and catch each other’s uses of all of these strategies. 

This free mobile cartoon game made by a team of three people in a couple months is a prime example of how games give people of all ages the opportunity to practice specific strategies that they would normally almost never need and/or should practice elsewhere. And as an aspiring game designer myself, I find this incredibly inspiring. It serves as a prime example of the unique potential that games have to teach and educate, while also being genuinely entertaining. Both for players and for those interested in human psychology, video games are becoming more  of a tool to understanding how we respond to specific situations and why.

Featured image photo credit: InnerSloth