If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we can be grateful for the little things, especially when those little things help bring us closer together, albeit virtually.
Nearly half a billion players likely felt this way about Among Us (Everyone 10+), when they rediscovered the two-year-old game last year, catapulting it to heights of popularity that took even its developers by surprise. Released in 2018 but rediscovered in 2020 by kids and adults who appreciated its mix of silly humor and simple online gameplay, the game became a vehicle for many to connect with others in a fun, lighthearted way.
The game snagged both the Mobile Game of the Year and the Best Multiplayer Game at the annual Game Awards 2020 in December. It’s also featured as an Editor’s Choice selection in Apple’s App Store. Its popularity also got a massive boost when U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) played the game in a live stream in October on her Twitch Channel to more than 435,000 viewers.
If you’d like to learn more about Among Us to help you decide whether it’s right for your family, or you’re just curious to know what the fuss is all about, read on!
Among Us is an online, multiplayer whodunnit game available on mobile (Android, iOS) devices, as well as on PCs, the Nintendo Switch and Microsoft’s Xbox platforms. In March, its developer, Innersloth, released a free new map for the game dubbed the Airship.
The premise is simple: players are dropped into a damaged spaceship and each is secretly assigned to be either a crewmember or an impostor. If you’re a crewmember, you have to fix your spaceship. If you’re an impostor, your job is to sabotage the ship and kill the crewmembers. Players hold meetings throughout each session to debate and vote on who they think the impostor is. The mate with the most votes gets tossed out of the airlock. Will the crew be able to repair the ship or eject the impostors in time?
Among Us is Clue meets Alien – but with an adorable art style and a clever social engineering angle.
Because every family is unique, parents tend to have their own evaluation criteria for what they feel is OK for their kids.
That said, Sarah Kimmel has a five-step process she goes through each time she evaluates a new game for her 11-year-old son. Her first step is to check out the game’s ESRB rating. In this case, Among Us has been assigned an Everyone 10+ rating by the ESRB with Content Descriptors that include “Fantasy Violence” and “Mild Blood.” It also has Interactive Elements that include “Users Interact,” meaning players are able to chat with one another, and “In-Game Purchases,” which lets parents know the game offers the ability to make additional purchases.
“Next, I read reviews of the game in the app store,” said Kimmel, director of technical support for technology company Gryphon in Salt Lake City, Utah. “Then I look up the game’s maker to see if it’s a legit company, and I try to understand how they make money. Fourth, I ask other parents to see what their experiences have been with the game. Lastly, I play the game myself, or I watch my son play it for a while so I can see what kind of interactions he has in the game.”
For parents, one relevant aspect of the game is the cartoony violence that happens when impostors take out crewmembers. One parent I spoke with said she was initially nervous about the violence.
“But the way it was done was OK, and not too gruesome,” said Viviane Nguyen, a program analyst in Renton, Wash., whose two children ages 6 and 11 both play the game with their uncles and cousins.
Another thing to consider is the game’s chat function, which lets players debate and discuss who might be the impostor prior to voting. This is where much of the intrigue and player interactions happen, and it’s integral to enjoying the game. In “Guest” mode, players select from a menu of canned dialogue. Once players create accounts, they can access the free chat. Parents are able to switch on the game’s profanity filter to bleep out offensive language, but it’s important to know that the filter doesn’t always catch everything.
Notably, developer Innersloth, recently tightened up its Code of Conduct to support moderation and reporting capabilities. For example, players are able to report inappropriate player names, inappropriate chat, cheating, hacking, harassment, or misconduct. Consequences can range from temporary to permanent bans. Innersloth noted that reports are read by people, not bots. In addition, players under 13 need parental approval before they can create an account and access the free chat.
Not into playing with strangers? Among Us lets you create games for players who are connected to the same local WiFi connection. It also allows you to create a private game with a six-character code that you can use to invite friends to your game.
The price of the game depends on the platform. On iOS and Android, Among Us is free to download and play, but has in-game purchasing options ranging from $1.99 to $2.99 for cosmetic add-ons such as hats or pets. The mobile versions also feature ads that you can remove for $1.99.
On PC, Microsoft Xbox, and Nintendo Switch, the basic game costs $4.99, with optional add-ons and bundles ranging from $1.99 to $15.49. The add-ons consist of varying costumes and cosmetic bells and whistles; they don’t affect game play or provide any competitive advantage.
In addition to making the profanity filter available and requiring kids under 13 to obtain their parents’ permission to create accounts and access free chat, other parental controls outside the game are available for virtually every device, including mobile devices, tablets, PCs, consoles and more.
Depending upon the device, parental controls can help parents manage what their kids play, for how long, with whom, and whether (and how much) they can spend money on in-game purchases. ESRB offers free, step-by-step parental controls guides for many platforms at ParentalTools.org.
Alex Pham is a mother, journalist and content strategist living in San Diego, Calif. She previously spent 20 years writing about media and technology for publications such as the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and Billboard Magazine. The highlight of her career was when she beat Pikmin in a single, caffeine-fueled weekend.