- John Jeong
Why Among Us is Actually an Allegorical Masterpiece About Cold War Era America
Among Us. You know it, you’ve seen it, you’ve played it, and you either hate or love it. What you definitely can’t do is get away from it. Among Us is as ubiquitous across the world now as air pollution is in the ozone layer. To many, it is a simple party game that hit it big due to a surge of publicity from endorsements of influential online content creators; but to those with a more discerning eye for media, Among Us’s true nature reveals itself to be a once-in-a-century masterpiece of allegorical fiction about Cold War era America.
To elaborate, Among Us is not a game about tiny multi-colored spacemen--it’s a game about the Cold War, the Red Scare, and McCarthyism in 1950s America. To the average media consumer, this may seem preposterous. However preposterous it may seem, the facts don’t lie. Every aspect of Among Us, the very DNA of the game, is clearly tailored to support its allegorical message.
Take its setting for example. The base map of Among Us, called “The Skeld” is a spaceship that is returning to Earth after an intergalactic expeditionary mission. This emphasis on space travel and futuristic exploration of the cosmos is undeniably designed to call back to the Space Race that dominated much of the Cold War; both the USA and the Soviet Union sought to be the first to transcend the heavenly firmament by placing men in the unknown abyss beyond it. This aspect of competition in the realm of space tightly resembles players struggling to overcome one another inside the spaceship.
The setting is merely the tip of the allegorical iceberg; the gameplay of Among Us also serves to highlight the widespread paranoia and fear that was commonplace in America during the Red Scare, which was further exacerbated by McCarthyism. Among Us involves a group of ten players, eight or nine of which are allied crewmates who work towards the common goal of maintaining the integrity of the spacecraft by completing “tasks” so they can safely reach Earth. Meanwhile, there exist one or two secret “imposters,” monstrous enemies who hide in plain sight as fellow crewmates. The imposters seek to undermine the integrity of the ship and slowly kill off the crewmates one by one, while avoiding detection and acting as a member of the collective.
This basic premise might not sound like much, but it is a dead ringer for the societal fears of Americans during the Red Scare. In the allegory constructed by the game, the spaceship represents America. The hardworking, industrious crewmates who perform their jobs for the purpose of maintaining the spaceship represent the idealized image of how an American citizen should behave and think. The imposters, on the other hand, represent the perceived threat of the Soviet Union and its spies: insidious, subversive individuals who impersonate good, law-abiding Americans in order to degenerate society and destroy the country from within… Imposters.
The fact that the imposters look like monstrous, shapeshifting aliens reflects the propaganda-driven public perception of Communism and Communists during the Cold War: anarchic, inhuman savages who lack emotion and seek the spread of violence and death to all who oppose their ways. Additionally, there is a consistent trend across all of Among Us’s marketing material that casts the crewmate wearing the red spacesuit as an imposter. This is no coincidence when you consider the emblematic use of red by the Soviet Union as part of their heraldry and national aesthetic. In fact, many Americans of that era colloquially referred to Communists as “Reds'' for that exact reason.
Finally, and perhaps most compellingly, Among Us masterfully recreates the tumultuous condition of the American justice system under McCarthyism through the use of the “emergency meeting” and the “ejection vote” features. These two components comprise the only real recourse crewmates have at their disposal to fight against the Imposters. In the game, any player can call an emergency meeting at certain times, and upon doing so, all the living players will be summoned to the center of the spaceship to preside over a makeshift court; a maelstrom battleground of deceit and paranoia where players will implicate each other for perceived inconsistencies in behavior that casts the suspicion of traitorism upon them.
The criteria for what constitutes such inconsistencies is vague at best, but all such behavior is encompassed under the umbrella terminology of “sus,” derived from the English adjective “suspicious,” meaning “causing one to have the idea or impression that something or someone is of questionable, dishonest, or dangerous character or condition.” Notice that the usage of “sus” as an identifying label for anyone who falls outside the bounds of normal society almost perfectly mirrors the real-world usage of “communists” by McCarthy-aligned federal authorities. Just as “communist” became a buzz-word for marginalized people who did not conform to polite American society, “sus” also became a buzz-word for players who failed to conform to the image of an unassuming crewmate.
There is an interesting overlap between the kinds of people accused of being Communists by McCarthyism and the kinds of players accused of being Imposters by Emergency Meetings. Those who lack a job and therefore are not seen as contributing to society were often noted as suspected communist sympathizers by federal investigators, just as those crewmates who are identified as not doing their appointed “tasks” and therefore not contributing to maintaining the ship often garner suspicion.
The ejection vote constitutes the other half of the allegorical equation in Among Us’s reflection of McCarthyism. The ejection vote is a democratic process directly succeeding the emergency meeting in which crewmates cast ballots for those who they believe are the most likely to be Imposters in hiding, based on the often superfluous and insubstantial evidence advanced during the emergency meeting. The crewmate who receives the most votes of no-confidence is ejected out of the spaceship airlock into the cold, lifeless void of space, which is portrayed in humorous fashion belying the fact that an execution is taking place. Much like how the court proceedings of suspected Communists under McCarthyism were only nominally impartial and just, the ejection vote is only nominally a democratic process.
In actuality, it more closely resembles a mob lynching than an organized, reasoned decision-making process. Many times, the vote to convict comes down to a single person, more often than not the crewmate who leveled the accusation against the suspect in the first place.
Speaking of accusers, in the various scenarios depicted in Among Us, there is often a single crewmate that establishes himself in a leadership position and spearheads the questioning of crewmates, thereby preying upon the collective fear of the crewmates for his or her own advancement. This crewmate can serve as an allegory for the man responsible for McCarthyism, the eponymous Senator Joseph McCarthy. Fittingly, the game reflects the real McCarthy’s political downfall as this overzealous crewmate is eventually voted out and ejected by his former supporters.
Among Us. It is almost fitting that just like the thing it serves as an allegory for, the game itself has declined in societal relevance since its heyday, with its wide-reaching influence now only a shadow of its former glory. However, just like how--or perhaps even because--the legacy of Cold War era America lives on in ideologically-driven fear of marginalized groups and ethnocentric foreign policies, allegorical works like Among Us, which seek to highlight and critique the darkest times in human history, will always retain value, no matter the era. Among Us will undoubtedly be immortalized by history as a modern masterpiece of allegorical fiction, standing shoulder to shoulder with Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, The Real Housewives of America, and 1984, as shining pillars of the genre.