Among Us: 2020 Sus

If you aren’t familiar with the trending game Among Us, I think it’s worth finding out more about, because I think its viral-ity comes at this particular time (summer 2020) for specific reasons in the collective unconscious. It is an indie game made by a small creator, not a big gaming company. It has been around for a few years, but only now went super viral. I wanna look at why it exploded so huge they cancelled a sequel.

In Among Us, you play in a self-explanatory group game of ten people. You are astronauts arriving at an abandoned space ship and fixing it back up. Each of you has a set of trivial tasks to do. They’re tiny minigames like connecting 4 pairs of dots or swiping a card through a reader. If you do, you win. But there’s a catch: one of you is an Imposter, an assassin bent on killing everyone. Each time a dead body is found or an emergency button is pressed, a meeting is called and somebody is voted off the ship and thrown into space.

Simple enough? It’s a digital variant of a game many of us played when we were young called something like “assassin”, where heads would go down, an assassin would pick somebody to die, and the group had to identify who it was.

Why now? The game has been around but few played it. Suspend your disbelief and assume for a moment my frame of reference: I like to think there are almost no coincidences like this in the world, only complex patterns we fail to identify. I tend to think at least most viral things go viral for a reason, and that reason has to do with the online humanity at the time, even if we never do discover why a thing gets popular.

Right now Americans are roped in the drama of another political election, a massive high stakes game of deciding who to trust. We’ve had a terrible year, with members of society reporting each other and covering their faces with masks. We have had violent riots and a breakdown in many formerly-civil public discourses. After a rough summer, many people are looking for something to settle down and tune out even while paying attention to the news. Perhaps they’ve already decided who they’ll vote for and put it out of mind. 2020 has been a long year filled with looking for who to blame, and it has torn down our ability to trust each other and anything, and we have been desperate for a way to cope with it.

Enter Among Us. Twitch streamers started playing it in the early phase of 2020 but critical mass was hit right as the summer was ending and all of a sudden almost everybody I know online is playing this little 5 dollar game. It’s FUN, but so are a lot of games. Seriously go play it some. If you like, you can try playing with friends! It’s a barrel full of laughs. Go look up YouTubers playing it if you’re coming totally from the outside.

I think Among Us is what we needed. We needed a childhood game to serve as a simulator of being betrayed or literally back-stabbed. Those worth their salt in the psychological professions will tell you that exposure therapy is one of the most effective ways at helping people overcome their mental challenges – their fears and phobias. We’re SO TIRED of 2020 we don’t want to think about it anymore. And yet, we’re looking for a “new normal”, a new way to look at the world that isn’t discouraging and can help us move forward in spite of the fears. Having a videogame where you do it is a good way to practice.

Maybe I’m optimistic, but I like to think Among Us is going to have a massive positive dampening effect on the culture. I think in time there will be less incentive to protest in the streets. Maybe we can’t ignore the challenges of trusting other people in news and media any longer, and need an easy way to start doing it. Maybe we need to practice working together in spite of things we fear. Maybe we need to bond with friends or even total strangers as we take turns in a group being a devious monster and then laughing about it.

In the Beginning

Every blog has a first post.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely interested where I got my start so let’s go there now. I’ll be sure to stay on topic and sort/tag my other writing so you can skip to the stuff you care about.

I was born in – ha just kidding, I got my start writing code in my early teen years circa 2004 from a book about game programming my mom got me from Barnes&Noble. It taught me how to program in a system called BlitzBasic, and I later moved to its 3D rendering counterpart, Blitz3D. I don’t have a lot to show for it now but I had a lot of fun with my brothers making little toys and screensavers and so forth. One of these projects was a Super Smash Flash clone – an old web 2D Super Smash Bros. I had basic AI, and we only ever had the fake blue Mario from Super Mario Sunshine, Baby Bowser, Fox McCloud, and Lucario. Given that at the time only Melee was out, adding Lucario back then was particularly prescient.

In those teen years, I self-taught guitar, Adobe Photoshop, Blender, and I dabbled in a tiny bit of HTML and JS. I took piano and karate lessons (man, I was clumsy before that). I was a kid who always got high grades but seemingly tried to be good at everything at once. There was a trumpet and a recorder in there, I wrote my own sheet music, a few other random hobbies. (I made an underlit desk for art, with drawers out of K’nex) I wrote Pong from scratch and an AI for it on a calculator in study hall out of boredom. They were crazy years. I had a rough time in middle school and was homeschooled halfway through 6th grade, skipped 7th grade, and returned to public school as a junior and graduated at 16 in ’07.

I was always a weird “gifted” kid to my parents. Some people might find my list of hobbies extensive for a few teen years. It was just life. They had me tested as a first grader and IQ was… irrelevant, ask me somewhere else. I was a seeming rational oddball toting a TI-84 yet nobody knew I slept on the floor with the curtains open during full moons.
I’m writing this on 9/11, and I was in a weekly gifted class when the second plane hit. The teacher told us what was going on while the rest of the school was kept quiet. We read Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff For Teens in what time I spent in that class and I still credit it with having changed my life for the better at a lot of points. I’d still recommend it no matter your age.

Original cover I had

So that’s me as a kid. I went to a church university, then paused it and spent 2 years as a full missionary across the country. I decided I would go into Computer Science when I essentially came back to (for lack of a better term) civilian life (it’s that regulated and different). I did and the rest is history. I skipped the first course, which was good because I already had a year of general courses that I enjoyed but went nowhere. Married my wife, got the degree, and now I know stuff about things.

And here comes this blog, following my learning new stuff about new things and maybe helping you along the way.

Of course that’s not the whole story. I firmly believed in doing educational hobbies to supplement my education so I can make long-winded posts about each section of my college years, but now you know the man behind the handle.

Takeaway

I was mostly only ever smart because people kept telling me I was and I felt pressured to be. When I didn’t, none of my gifts mattered. You can only do whatever you think you can. So forget being a world champ or famous and go draw or build something great.
Take it from me, the second smartest guy in the room, who made friends with most of the smartest ones.

If you take away anything from this failed-polymath’s first post, take this:
You can be good at anything you decide you want to be good at.
All you need is self-discipline to make time and to try and to discard the notion that any non-competitive goal is out of reach.