“Do you guys wanna play Imposter this week? “asked my friend Hannah in the group chat. For me that was a good indication that the game was really taking off. After all, it wasn’t the” gaming “group chat, where a few of We were spamming Kirby memes and cute Pokemon products, but the “main” group chat, made up of gamers and non-amateurs. She and I spent hours together in college almost every day, until the UK’s lockdown pushes her to return to Oregon, nearly 5,000 kilometers away.
It was of course referring to the successful multiplayer game. Among us, which released in 2018 but didn’t really make a splash until it exploded over the summer, dropping from a few hundred Twitch viewers in early July to more than 100,000 at the end of August, and even attract big names like Alexandria Ortasio-Cortez. The concept is simple: you and your friends are little bean-like creatures on a spaceship, and you have to run and complete simple tasks to win. The catch is, one or two of you are “impostors,” working against each other by sneaking around, sabotaging stuff, and stealthily murdering others before they can complete their tasks. Teammates, during brief periods of deliberation, must find out who the impostors are before everyone is turned into bean on the bone. It’s a classic concept, familiar to anyone who’s ever played board games like Werewolf or Secret Hitler. It didn’t take millions of dollars and a massive team of seasoned game designers to do it. It doesn’t have an expert-designed story – in fact, it doesn’t have much narrative at all. So why has it been so successful? And more importantly, could I even play it at all?
Over the past decade, we’ve seen the release of some of the best storytelling games ever. Divinity: Original Sin 2, The Witcher 3, Nier: Automata: I could go on and on. When the lockdown started here in the UK I found myself completely alone in my student accommodation and decided to take the opportunity to replay some of my favorite games. After all, how often is it possible (let alone socially acceptable) to spend all day in your bedroom playing video games? But the vast and vast fantasy worlds that were once thrilling to explore seemed more intimidating than ever. I couldn’t get through the opening sequence of Skyrim, and this time, Link didn’t even manage to leave the Grand Plateau in BOTW. I was getting ready for the final at that point, so I attributed it to pre-exam stress and put it on my mind.
But the feeling persisted. While my partner got stuck in gritty masterpieces like The Last of Us 2, even story mode in Ring-shaped adventure felt a bit too much for me. This feeling was completely foreign and I started to fear that I would never be able to lose myself in pixels again to relax at the end of a long stressful day. Feeling more and more like a total fraud, I started to worry about my future as well: how could I write about video games if I couldn’t even play them?
Then new (ish) games started to take the internet by storm. August saw the release of Devolver Digital Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, as well as the rise in popularity of other online multiplayers like Jackbox and of course, Among us. As I watched streamers on Twitch toss their jellybean bodies along pastel obstacle courses, I felt something that I hadn’t had in a while: a genuine desire to play something for myself. Meanwhile, Jackbox games like Quiplash and KO T-shirt had become the beating heart of my weekly Discord-based game nights, which was as much about socializing as it was gaming. I started to re-evaluate. I was always so interested in video games and clearly I could still play some of them, if not the major versions that attract so much attention.