There is Danger “Among Us”

“Among Us” disturbs me. Probably not at all for the reasons you may first think. It is an online multiplayer video game, except it is a low tech ‘retro game’. For those of us who grew up in the 80s, the first time I saw it I was reminded of “Space Invaders” and “Missile Command”. Apparently, if you wait long enough everything once popular will become a fad again, including video games. Back to basics is popular today, whether you are a third grader or a college student. In Among Us you don’t lay grenades in a building to kill hundreds of people; you don’t steal cars or beat up prostitutes; nor do you beat up your opponent until he/she is a bloody mess. In Among Us you find yourself on an alien spacecraft with others. Players take on one of two roles — Crewmates (majority) and Imposters (predetermined smaller number). Crewmates try to avoid being killed by an Imposter. A recent article in the NY Times described the game as such, “Among Us is very different than other highly social video games like Fortnite, for instance. It’s more similar to a board game like Monopoly, or a party game like Werewolf, where players need to read personalities and determine if they’re being lied to in order to win. The large group size makes it easy to invite new friends into the group.”

So why am I disturbed?

Despite the benefits gained from the social interaction among the players and the deductive skills developed as a player masters the game, ultimately the game rests on deception and trust. The Crewmates (knowing they aren’t Imposters) are constantly scanning and completing tasks and testing others — learning that even if you are friends they may lie to you. They are being trained to accept and expect deception. Imposters are working to deceive the others … which is psychologically training users how to convincingly lie and trick ‘friends’ in a game that has implications that carry over into the real world. How will these fundamental personality strategies influence players in their lives? Will their friends understand when you campaign the group to vote them out that this wasn’t personal and just a strategy? What if they are playing with a pedophile that is regularly hopping into this game to gain access to your child and slowly ‘teaming’ with them to win the game, or your child’s trust?

Today, the average child spends 14+ hours online, with many of them spending far less than half those hours on academic work. The question becomes how can we as a society believe these types of games will not adversely affect our children? Online influences are no different than the influences we experience in our day-to-day interactions with our community, friends, etc . . . There are no shortages of studies exposing changes in brain structure as a function of excessive internet use and playing of violent video games. Strangely, we have no trouble believing that exposure to Sesame Street and ABC Mouse provides children with a long-term positive influence in their lives, but when it comes to negative influences we become willfully ignorant.

Our society is already jaded, lacking trust in institutions like the media and law enforcement, and in people such as politicians. Do we want games like Among Us to add to this cynicism by providing young gamers with a fundamental bias against trusting others and rewarding deception? What I find most disturbing is the fact that no one is even discussing this as a potential unintended consequence at all.

At the risk of imitating Chicken Little (“The sky is falling!”) I cannot stress enough the importance of parents educating themselves to the potential dangers of some video games, such as “Among Us”. Gaming is no different than real life. If children spend time in systems that encourage violence, deception, and callousness, they will be more susceptible having their character influenced by these negative traits.

Do we want our children insidiously programmed this way, regardless of whether it is intentional?

Clinical Psychologist, Attorney, Digital Citizen Academy Founder, Formerly FBI Child Abduction Serial Killer Unit