Building community through murder and betrayal

The online party game “Among Us” is helping students connect with one another during the pandemic.

Ananya Jandhyala, Staff writer

Deceit. Betrayal. Murder. Space. And an Imposter hidden in your midst. The popular online party game “Among Us” has all that and more, making itself a tool for club bonding at Branham.

Taking place aboard a spaceship, the players’ objective is to complete their duties as a crewmate, and rid the ship of the Impostor. The Impostor, on the other hand, aims to kill as many crewmates as possible, and sabotage the various parts of the map. For the crewmates to win, they must complete all their tasks and eject the impostor before their numbers equal the crewmates’. In order to decide which players get ejected, the players can call emergency meetings, where the crew discusses their evidence and votes the suspected players out into space.

The game started gaining traction on social media around late August, and continues to stay in the public eye. Google searches for the game peaked both in the United States and worldwide from September 27 – October 3. 

The game’s recent rise to prominence prompted a slew of content creation from its fans. Anything from fanart, to cosplays, to memes featuring the game’s easily customizable avatars littered social media. 

In addition to that, the  game’s widespread popularity attracted the attention of Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. The representatives played with notable “Among Us” Twitch streamers, promoting voting in the then-upcoming election. AOC’s debut Twitch stream broke records, with upwards of 425,000 viewers at its peak.

“Among Us” has grown popular in the Branham community, with clubs and individual students playing the game over various platforms such as Zoom, or Discord, using the game as a means of connection.

One club in particular, the Branham Latinx Student Union (LSU), found that playing Among Us at a meeting increased interaction between their club members. 

“Everyone was talking and laughing, cameras on,” said sophomore Nina Ruiz-Garcia, a member of LSU. “It was nice to have that kind of social aspect that we would normally have in person.”  

The club would put their members into breakout rooms and keep the players on mute, until a dead body was found, which would prompt a discussion to root out the imposter. The club even invited teachers to join them, one of whom was English teacher Mr. Carl Ponzio. Ponzio, chosen to round out the number or players in a game, said he enjoyed himself while playing even if he was among the first victims of the imposter. 

“Trial by fire,” said Ponzio, who had never played the game before. “I followed people around as the ghost and it seemed fun, it was funny even just watching after everyone was excited as people were kind of slowly fading away.” 

Ponzio said he would play the game again, if he was asked, and was happy to have gotten a chance to participate in an activity that was so popular with his students. 

“I feel somewhat privileged that I got to experience this,” said Ponzio. “I’m not just the older person who’s like, ‘Oh, I know my students talk about that,’ I actually got to play, too, so I kind of understand a little bit more.”

Ponzio believes that the game’s overwhelming popularity is due to a combination of factors. 

“I think it just is a classic idea coming at the right time,” said Ponzio. “And just the circumstances really play into why it’s so popular. It’s something that we can do right now. Given that it’s virtual.” 

Ponzio also thinks the game spread to the extent it did due to its prominence on social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok – the latter of which introduced “Among Us” to freshman Cindy Le, one of the organizers of the freshman Among Us Night, organized by ASB. Le found the game to be interesting, from what she could see on TikTok. 

“I think it’s cool that it’s like a pretty secretive type of vibe,” she said. “And then you don’t even know who the Imposter is, and you have to try and make a guess, and some people could vote you out for no reason, and I don’t know, it was kind of fun that way.”

Initially, after first downloading the game, Le found it to be too confusing, and uninstalled it. Later, at the behest of friends, she downloaded the game again and found it to be more fun, once she understood how it was played. Le says that being the Imposter and being able to communicate with people with a degree of anonymity are part of what made “Among Us” enjoyable for her.

Not only is it a means of connection, it’s also enjoyable and accessible, according to senior Kemuel Garcia Perez

“I think the game is pretty simple,” said Garcia Perez. “Pretty simple and it’s also really fun. You just play with each other and it’s also not that serious. I think it takes away from this pandemic so you can still have fun and things like that and not have to worry about other stuff.”

Sophomore Nina Ruiz-Garcia voiced her appreciation for the game’s simplicity as well.

“It’s so simple and easy to play, anyone can learn,” said Ruiz-Garcia. “When we did it in our club meeting, that was the first time I had played, and by the end I was feeling pretty good. Like, I’m not about to hop on and play Call of Duty right now, but ‘Among Us’ is something that I can play, and I can enjoy it with friends.”

The game’s ability to draw people together amidst the separation of distance learning, seen in spaces such as the LSU, or a room full of strangers online, seems to be valuable to people during this time where casual interactions with others might be harder to come by.

“I definitely appreciate what it’s doing and spaces,” said Ponzio. “Everyone was so excited in that LSU meeting to play. So I guess just the fact that it’s bringing folks together, it’s kind of giving us a chance to escape for a little bit and find community in different groups if we know them or not, but finding community in this space.”