I’m old enough to recall when the establishment was opposed to video gaming. Derided as the hobby of nerdy teenage boys, the links to anti-social behaviour only increased as graphics became more realistic and games more violent. Some titles, for example Manhunt, were even linked to real life murders.
Such real life violence was played up by the likes of activist lawyer Jack Thompson, who sought to ban the latest filth. It was also common to view the hobby as unproductive, rotting the brains of the yoot. But lately this has changed, and one game that exemplifies it is the ‘social deduction’ hit Among Us.
The turnaround in public attitudes was encapsulated by the American congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). Her streaming session of Among Us from October brought the game to the attention of political swots, building on its popularity as a sleeper hit with video game streamers.
Each round up to ten players are divided into crewmates and imposters travelling on a spaceship. While the crewmates set about fixing the ship, the imposters attempt to pick them off one by one. When a body is discovered or an emergency meeting called all players debate who is suspicious and vote on who to eject from the spaceship.
The setup is akin to The Thing, a 1982 horror film in which an alien organism can assimilate humans and turn them hostile. Comparisons are also made to the party game Mafia. The game encourages players to suspect any of their alleged crewmates of being a bad guy, creating the potential for the team to turn on innocent and guilty alike.
Despite the attention it has received as a Covid-19 hit, Among US remains a little shonky. Glitches are common, and the public server system is a mess, forcing players to enter a lobby before they can see whatever bizarre game settings the host has chosen. Debating suspicions via text is painful if you don’t have a keyboard.
Yet what’s most interesting about the game is that the violent setup is meshed with a heavy reliance on social interaction. When played in a private server with voice communications, Among Us is transformed into a sophisticated game that justifies the category of ‘social deduction’.
AOC’s use of Among Us as a campaign tool might have struck some as cringeworthy. But it is a sign that younger politicians see gaming for the mainstream media it is, and that virtual violence can be sociable rather than psychotic.