Among Us (2018) is a social deception game that spiked in popularity during COVID-era gaming with streamers, let’s plays, and fan content about it filling up the online gaming world. The concept is simple: you and a team of crewmates attempt to keep your spaceship in perfect condition. You need to reattach wires, shoot down asteroids, swipe key-cards in scanners, all to keep up the day to day maintenance of the ship. You are a blue collar worker doing your job in order to survive. However, since you are in space and this is a game, life is not that simple. While you might think that all of your coworkers are happily keeping the ship in order too, a few of them are aliens or imposters. These interlopers have no desire to maintain the ship, rather, they invoke chaos, sabotaging parts of the ship and murdering crewmates who might venture too far alone. However, these imposters look like any other crewmate, pretending to complete the ship’s tasks all while waiting to strike. As a crewmate, your challenge is to determine who this imposter is and vote them off the ship or finish off all of your work before it is too late. As an imposter your goal is to kill the crew, either through senseless murder or convincing them to vote off innocent crewmates for your bloodthirsty deeds.
So the obvious question, in the context of this project, is what does this game have to do with social class? Even though the core goals of the game (deception and discussion) do not inherently invite a critical reflection on working class situations, there are stereotypical class markers entrenched in the visual and mechanical aspects of Among Us. Labour or performative labour are central mechanics of gameplay which overarch the play experience.
Although difficult to pinpoint exactly, the category of ‘working class individuals’ can be understood as people who largely work in manual labour or blue collar positions such as mechanics, janitors, and construction workers (Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, 2020). Visually, the working class is often depicted in uniform (McAllister & Aupperle, 2017) and shown engaging in work activities rather than leisure (Paulson & O’Guinn, 2012). According to Diana Kendall (2005), the working class is typically given little consideration in the media unless there are disputes or issues directly related to their work. When we turn to Among Us, we can visually connect the dots. The characters all wear a uniform (Figure 1) a jumpsuit with a helmet. The outfits are differentiated by colour and optional cosmetics (i.e. hats) meant to tell them apart. This visualization causes characters, as crewmates, to be primarily identified and defined by their work.
As a social deduction game, Among Us uses the blanket role of ‘(working class) crewmates’ to suggest that players have similar goals and to provide cover for imposters. Social deduction games are understood as “games that involve players adopting roles and teams that are not known to all players of the game” (Tilton, 2019), and they rely on deception and scrutiny to be successful. The classic examples of Are You a Werewolf or Mafia position players as villagers or citizens, with a general plot suggesting that one or two individuals are not who they seem and are killing others. These games include a narrator who creates a setting and environment to play. Despite the freedom of the narrator to vary the setting, it is extremely common for most players to exist as simply working individuals who are going about their day to day routine until they are killed. In these examples, we see class position acting as a baseline to determine which individuals are trustworthy and who might be an imposter. While this baseline does not necessarily match a player’s given role or task (such as the imposters of Among Us), the facade or reality of one’s class position is a basis for scrutiny and gameplay. It is only through play that players can decide who is actually a working class crewmate, citizen or labourer. In the case of Among Us, the simplicity of the tasks, the uniformity of appearance, and built in motive to work reflect stereotypical markers of class and become the baseline for deception and scrutiny. The role of tasks are directly tied into a player’s ability to justify innocence or blame.
Social deduction games offer two main ways to win. The first is for the collective to work together and identify who is lying to them or working towards an ulterior motive. In the case of Among Us this occurs through emergency meetings, the reporting of dead bodies, or completing every single task on the ship. The second is for those tasked with being deceptive to successfully complete their mission (Simon, 2013). In Among Us, this involves killing the crewmates or convincing them to kill each other by voting an innocent member off the ship. Both of these paths to victory require players to engage with the day to day work of the ship.
Your character works alongside others, where tasks are given by an unknown entity (see Figure 2). However, the work never stops and the tasks are menial. While as crewmate or imposter you might be thinking about who is going to kill you or who you might kill, the mechanics of the game ask players to work or at least pretend to. Just as working class individuals trade labour for survival, crewmates completing tasks offers a way for them to survive in space. As a crewmate, your life is tied to your job. Even if you are brutally murdered and your corpse lays on the ship with a single bone protruding from a sliced-in-half spacesuit, your character will exist as a ghost, but a ghost encouraged to work. Dead or alive you remain a crewmate, asked to do tasks around the ship, your life and afterlife consisting of labour. You can choose to ignore these tasks and float around watching your coworkers continue to work and be slaughtered, but you can no longer speak and provide warning, so the only action you can take is to continue working (or leave the game entirely). Presenting character’s lives and afterlives so closely tied to their work, where there is no upward mobility, no compensation for the tasks beyond survival, and no need for education aptly reflects the working class trope of being stuck in a “dead-end” job (Kendall, 2005). Your crewmate is forever stuck in their blue collar position where the labour never really changes, and your options for growth are non-existent.
When playing as a crewmate, tasks motivate you to venture through the ship to engage in menial work. Your character appears happy to do so. Your walk has a slight bounce to it, almost appearing as a skip. Your character's movement, alongside silly cosmetics (like a flamingo hat or a flower) suggest that they are enjoying their time performing menial tasks. As Paulson and O’Guinn have discussed, it is common for the working class to be presented as happy and hard-working (Paulson & O’Guinn, 2012). Your character practically bounds between tasks, either unaware, too engaged in their job, or unconcerned about the murderous aliens on the ship. They appear to be content with the situation, and almost exude excitement to go and dispose of the trash.
Tasks aptly reflect the stereotypical expectations of working class labour embedded into the game. They vary between games and range from throwing out the garbage and buying a drink from a vending machine, to fixing a broken drill, fueling the engines and sorting data. The skill required for this work is minimal. Typically it involves clicking a button, dragging a line, or matching objects. Anyone (who is a crewmate) can do these tasks. No one requires specific knowledge or skills, and even if you die either another crewmate will finish the job or you can continue to do so as a ghost. Some tasks also draw direct comparisons to working class jobs. For example, one of the most common tasks is to fix wiring. Players will find a highlighted panel on their screen and then be shown a visual of four frayed, coloured, wires (See Figures 3 and 4). Your job is to click and drag the same coloured wires to one another, thus completing the circuit. The job of electrician is symbolized by the task, but simplified to extremely basic actions. Specialization does not exist. Even though this job would require distinct knowledge and training, the game presents the work as something that anyone without any special skills can do. You are not an electrician, data archivist, or engineer, you are a crewmate who performs work that is reminiscent of working class jobs. Labour becomes simplified and subsequently menial. Every crewmate has the skills to do the job, any player can figure out the mechanics. Whether alive or dead, your character will forever be able to complete the tasks that appear on the ship. From a gameplay perspective, this makes sense. Specializing players or offering tasks that require skill or ability would take away from the game’s central focus, deception and scrutiny. If certain crewmates were the only ones that could perform a task, the entire dynamic of the game would change, with certain individuals becoming priority targets, or the mechanics of the game impacting how successful you were at winning. However, beyond gameplay this simplification and skill and mastery further enforces working class stereotypes that assume working class jobs are something that anyone can do (McAllister & Aupperle, 2017). In Among Us labour is equalizing, where menial tasks provide a baseline monotony from which to investigate. This is clearly seen during emergency meetings when the remaining crew discusses who to vote off the ship, you will commonly hear phrases like, “I was doing the task in MedBay”, “I was shooting asteroids with ___” or “I didn’t see _____ doing a task”.
Critical to player discussion is that the menial tasks given to crewmates cannot be performed by imposters. This means that aliens have to pretend to work on the ship performing the role of labourer in order to remove suspicion from their actions. For players, this causes them to constantly scrutinize each other’s behaviour, evaluating individuals actions, movements and line of argumentation to either defend themselves or blame others. Engaging in labour denotes innocence. Those who do their job, and are convincing at doing so, avoid suspicion. In player discussions it is common for people to immediately say which job they were doing, who they were doing it with, and critique others for not doing their alleged job. In this manner, Among Us, while not designed as a class commentary, contains gameplay mechanics that reference working class roles. Not only are the majority of players locked into menial labour both while living and dead, but it becomes a form of legitimization for inclusion. For players, success occurs through collaborative worker action both in completing tasks but also in voting on who to kick off the ship. Kendall (2005) argues that the working class are typically depicted with special attention in the context of labour issues. As the workers of Among Us collaboratively complete tasks, and meet together to discuss the matter of crewmates dying, it matches with media representations where working class agency is spotlighted in relation to worker action and unionization (Kendall, 2005). While it would be overzealous to argue that the emergency meetings and player discussions are intentionally emblematic of working class unionization , the role of a group meeting is visually reminiscent of working class labor issues.
When playing Among Us, I found the tasks to be a minor concern. They only acted as a sense of purpose for traveling throughout the map, but for most of the time I was focused on watching what others were doing. The tasks were window dressing, clouding up my screen while I kept an eye out for someone who might be an imposter. The idea of winning the game through tasks never felt like a probable option. I took no pride in my work, and in some cases was scared to start a task as it covers my screen and makes it hard to see if I might die. This caused me to work quickly, attempting to finish a task rapidly so I could keep tabs on my surroundings. Everyone is watching everyone, judging their actions or their “performance”, causing players to instill their own surveillance over each other's labour. No one is being judged on how well they do their job, rather the goal is to convince others that you are doing the job. Not working creates suspicion and, similar to slacking off at one’s day to day job, could have negative consequences for your survival in the space. While moments of leisure can be seen in the game’s environment through a cafeteria with seating or lounge chairs in a few rooms, your character can never stop and interact with them. Leisure cannot be engaged with. Just as the working class are always depicted as labouring, crewmates are constantly skipping from task to task.
Among Us highlights how working class stereotypes are embedded in games, asking us to consider how represented structures in games are either intentionally or unintentionally presented. The game is in no way a commentary on class, the stereotypes that lie within it prompts questions about how this content is inferred. This brief analysis demonstrates that class stereotypes backdrop many of the games we play. As this project continues to look at games, Among Us remains an example of how working class stereotypes can be studied as underlying features of games and presents research directions on designer intentions, and how fans understand games. As you log into another round of Among Us you might notice how labour plays a role in the discussions and actions of players. Class becomes the backdrop of the game. While you might not be noticing it while you are playing, games have class embedded into their framework.
Innersloth. (2018). Among Us. Innersloth
Kendall, D. E. (2005). Framing Class: Media Representations of Wealth and Poverty in America. Rowman & Littlefield.
McAllister, M. P., & Aupperle, A. (2017). Class Shaming in Post-Recession U.S. Advertising: Journal of Communication Inquiry. https://doi.org/10.1177/0196859917690534
Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. (2020). Working class. In Oxford Reference. Oxford Reference. https://doi.org/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803124750836
Paulson, E. L., & O’Guinn, T. C. (2012). Working-Class Cast: Images of the Working Class in Advertising, 1950–2010. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002716212453133
Simon, C. (2013). Social Deduction Games: How Many Different Ways Can I Tell You That I Am Not A Werewolf? | Do Not Taunt Cthulhu. BoardGameGeek. https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/25397/social-deduction-games-how-many-different-ways-can
Tilton, S. (2019). Winning Through Deception: A Pedagogical Case Study on Using Social Deception Games to Teach Small Group Communication Theory: SAGE Open.https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244019834370