Among Us: Why Efficiency is Detrimental for Bad Games

There’s a number of takeaways I’ve found since playing around with Among Us for the past month. None of which have anything to do with praise for the game. Yes, it can be fun. Yes, it can be fresh if you haven’t been outside in a couple years. But it’s also a game of minimalism, purposeful simplicity, and straight up annoyance when played in a public lobby (and sometimes elsewhere). To bluntly summarize a month’s worth of experience, it’s sometimes just a touch above okay when played in small doses, but usually just terrible, and you can hate me for having that opinion.

The point of this article is talk about the art of min-maxing and why Among Us is at the stage of it’s life where casuals will find it far more appealing to play the game at the moment as apposed to competitive folk who play games on a regular basis. But before we go any further, let’s start with that first bit, ‘Min-maxing’.

Min-maxing is a term that was created during the MMO glory days, right around 2005. Games like WoW or Runescape offered players the ability to level skills individually while leveling their character as a whole. For example, a player who is level 30 in Runescape might have something like 30 attack, strength, and defense, making them seem pretty well rounded. But someone who is min-maxing, or minimizing the unnecessary skills and maxing out the crucial ones, might be level 30 with 50 attack 50 strength and 1 defense.

And there’s the core of the philosophy right there: Every game is but a collection of algorithms and equations, and so every game has its own ‘most optimal’ way to play, assuming the way you want to play is to win. For a lot of people, namely people who have been playing the respective games for a long time, this is the most fun way to play. For casual, or people who play as a light hobby, this strategy of finding an optimal route for completion, whether that’s in an online or single-player environment, its not only far too time consuming, it’s also soul-sucking in a way that makes the game not worth touching in the first place.

This fact leads us to our game, Among Us. Yet another take on the ‘Mafia’ / ‘Town of Salem’ / ‘Murder in the Dark’ / ‘Murder Mystery’ / ‘Who the Fuck Killed Sarah’ game of old, Among us is, as I’ve said, just below average on a good day. It’s built cleanly, it has a nice art style, it’s population is boomin’ and it can be fun when played properly by a group of semi-competent people. That said, the game is also horrifically bad. Like, really, really claw-my-eyes-out terrible.

The point of the game is to figure out who the killer is. There’s 10 players, 8 of which are regular crewmen, and 2 imposters (or killers). The 8 crew members are on a location where they need to finish tasks to win, while the 2 killers are secretly mixed among them. They pretend to do tasks while trying to pick off members of the crew. If someone finds a dead body, they can report it, calling everyone in the game to a meeting where they discuss the evidence: Where people were, who seems suspicious, what tasks have been completed, XYZ.

It’s a really fun game, when it works. The problems begin to crop up when you realize the only way for this game to function properly is to play it with 9 other friends of yours who are all committed to playing the game as intended. And by ‘intended’ I just mean they are playing while acting as best they can in their goals to win, not necessarily ‘min-maxing’, or whatever term you want to use for playing the game while giving your opponents as little a chance as possible.

If you try to play without organizing the game with people you know first, you’ll have to resort to a public match, which is filled with children who are inept at best. And that’s fine, I mean, children are supposed to be inept. They’re children, after all. But that doesn’t change the fact that the only way to play this game without an immense amount of organization before hand is to watch as little Timmy struggles to make sense of the fact that ‘cyan’ isn’t a color that can be described as ‘orange-y’.

I once had a game where a meeting was called after purple (all players are identified by a color) found a dead body. I asked him where he found it, and he replied with ‘I didn’t’. Now, the game tells everyone who reports dead bodies, and the game marked purple as the reporter for the meeting, meaning that purple was lying, probably because he reported a body he killed by accident or because he just didn’t know how the game worked. I mean, he was probably 7 years old, right? No big deal, we’ll just vote ’em out.

I pointed out the obvious lie, and was met with ‘where’s your proof?’. Which was hilarious at first, but quickly turned to a tad bit of annoyance when I realized that no one else in the match realized how the game worked, either. They all wanted proof where it was already given. After trying to explain to them that the person who’s marked as a ‘caller’ called the meeting, I was voted off as an innocent crew-mate. I proceeded to watch as 7 year old Purple ran riot, killing people and reporting them, then quickly saying ‘I saw yellow!’ ‘I saw red!’ and so on and so forth until he had won the game by just naming colors he probably learned how to pronounce not 3 years ago. What a monster.

It’s this same principle, this principle of randomness and stupidity, that makes the game awful for someone like me. And it honestly can’t last long with anyone competitive playing, or min-maxing, it anyway, since the most optimal strategy is to have everyone stick together and, one by one, complete their tasks so that the killers have no way to kill anyone in secret. I mean, that’s stupid, right? That’s even more stupid than little Timmy winning the game by naming random colors. Why would anyone want to play that?

On the flip side, this stupidity and inconsistent nature of public matches is exactly what makes this game fun to so many casuals. My friend, who does not play games competitively by any stretch of the imagination, loves Among Us simply because she can win in 50% of her games just by fucking around and making outlandish accusations. If she’s a killer, she can let the crew-mates vote themselves out with dumb calls while she picks off a player or two in secret. And as a crew-mate, she can literally do whatever she wants and it’s no big deal because if she’s killed she can join another game in about 5 seconds. She plays for this rewarding moments of killing or voting someone out, and whatever happens between or after those moments makes no difference to her.

It’s honestly very nice to see, in some ways. Her mentality the surrounds games is that of someone who just never plays, because she doesn’t. It doesn’t matter to her if the game is even actually good or not as long as she’s having fun. And that’s refreshing. It’s also disgusting.

My mind can’t handle it that sort of thing. This friend and I actually played together in a public match and I had to quit very quickly after having to witness another episode of stupidity. This time it involved an innocent crew-member doing their best to get other innocent crew-member’s voted off. It hurts my head just thinking about it, but that’s probably because I’m boring and lame.

The point is that this game thrives in a stupid environment. For most people, dumb accusations, random occurrences, and people playing extremely poorly makes the game fun because that’s the only way cool things can happen. As I’ve stated earlier, the game can be beaten by the crew-mates every time if they stuck together and just voted anyone who didn’t out. But that’s not really how the community wants to play because, as the titles suggests, this game is bad. It isn’t designed to make interesting things happen, it’s designed to just barely function. It’s the community, the inept children and the streamers that make bank off them, that make the interesting things happen.

Sometimes that interesting thing can be little Timmy winning by reciting the colors of the rainbow, sometimes that interesting thing is watching a streamer make a nice vent play. But it’s clear that these are only happening because people choose to put themselves in bad situations for the sake of fun… because this game can’t make that happen naturally… because it just isn’t very good.

And if you think I’m wrong about this, that this game doesn’t function well when played with the mindset of winning, try grabbing a bunch of friends and employing the tactics I laid out for you. Stick together and vote anyone who doesn’t off.

You’ll either get people who do whatever they want (because playing like that is boring) and get voted off while innocent or everyone will be on bored with the plan. And then everyone will be just bored. And then you’ll be wondering what you’re doing with your life.

Among Us is a fun game that’s just about as stupid as a rock. The defining features of the game include it’s highlights when played with friends, it’s quick and non-committed play times, and it’s community, who might actually be less intelligent than the game they play. And that’s okay, by the way. If it works for them, it works for them. Just don’t play it if you find some reasonable semblance of cause and effect to be a positive aspect to a video game, because you won’t find it here.

You SHOULD play it if you like to complete menial tasks. Or if you like turning your brain off to nothing. Or if you like killing innocent children who are cornered in a reactor chamber… you freak.