'Among Us' Taps Into Our Obsession With Betrayal

By James Bigley II

But when applying those same markers of self-determination—mastery, autonomy, and relatedness—to the role of the imposter, your level of self-determination falls into the extreme. Your mastery and progression is marked only by the length of time you’re able to stay hidden as the imposter. The longer you go without being caught, the more you believe you’re doing well even when there’s no guarantee you’re winning. You even have full autonomy in how you approach winning the game. Whether you sabotage the ship, plant doubt in your crewmembers’ deliberation meetings or pick off crewmembers one by one, everything you do impacts the entire outcome of everyone’s game. You are, in effect, puppeteering the entire experience and feeding off of high self-determination.

“Everything you say and do affects the other person's play experience,” says Madigan. “You're not just doing it in a vacuum. You're going through and you're affecting the outcome of that game and the experiences that other people have, and they're going to be talking about you during the meetings, and after the game, and so forth. It really is like a direct connection to other people.”

Want to Win? Embrace Autonomy and Enjoy the Community

The deliberation meetings themselves function as a microcosm for what makes this game work for all parties: Every member has complete autonomy in how they approach every meeting and how they represent themselves. There is a shared experience of agency in how each deliberation plays out.

“That seems like a real-extreme example of that autonomy principle at work,” says Madigan. “You’re not just choosing responses from a menu, right? You’re speaking into voice chat or typing into chat.”

And if you’re not quick to call out someone for being “sus,” you could easily be on the chopping block as chaos unfolds rather quickly with players dropping one-word questions, responses, and suspicions. As the imposter, your best bet is to plant the seed of doubt into what others are saying and let others bandwagon to their own conclusions. This form of persuasion, although deliberate, often goes under the radar as others are so singlehandedly focused on discovering your identity.

“This old adage in psychology is that when we're unsure about something, we look to other people who are similar to us and look at what they're doing to help determine what we do,” says Madigan. “Confirmatory information bias is another kind of well-trod, well-understood phenomenon in human psychology, where we pay more attention to things that support our beliefs and pay less attention to things that don't.”

And by playing others against each other, you are effectively controlling how others react to the situation you’ve created.

“A lot of it often comes down to not just what do you make other people know, but how do you make them feel?” says Madigan. “Do you make them feel smart? Do you make them feel like they can trust you? Do you make them feel like you're their friend? It’s that nuance and handling of those relationships and eliciting those feelings.”

For those who play Among Us, the autonomy piece is perhaps the most attractive quality to the game’s design, and it shows when piecing apart the numbers behind how players win the game. According to Tran, imposters, those with the most autonomy, win 57.69 percent of the time. Of those wins earned by imposters, 35 percent win by killing everyone, while 17.6 percent win by voting out non-imposters. Of the 42.3 percent of crewmembers who win, 38.5 percent win by voting. Only 3.8 percent of crewmembers win by completing their tasks, and only 5 percent of imposters win by sabotaging the ship—evidence that, when given the choice, imposters and crewmembers alike will always scramble to take the game into their own hands before picking the most obvious path to glory.

“The part where you vote someone out or you discuss definitely turns the tide a lot for both crewmates and imposters,” says Tran. “All you need to do is to be able to talk to people, and hopefully be a good liar. And if you're not a good liar, that's OK, too. Because, honestly, people will think you're lying anyway.”