Lentis/Among Us: Social Behavior in a Virtual World

Among Us is an online multiplayer social deduction game developed by InnerSloth and released on June 15, 2018; up to ten players are stuck on a spaceship with 1-3 imposters. Players must vote out all the imposters or complete all their tasks to win the game. In each round, there are two phases. During the task phase, players try to finish their jobs and avoid getting killed by the imposters. All forms of communication are disabled in the task phase. The discussion phase is started upon discovering a body or pushing the emergency meeting button. Players debate the identity of the killer using the text chat and vote on a suspect. Suspects are ejected from the ship if a plurality is reached.

Among Us as a Sociotechnical CaseEdit

Among Us participants include public lobby players, private lobby players, hackers, and streamers. Among Us provides insight into player psychology and social behavior in an unmoderated environment.

Rise in PopularityEdit

Among Us downloads increased by 20 times in 2020.[1] Well-known streamers, such as sodapoppin and xQc, began playing the game and collaborating with other popular streamers.[2] Due to COVID-19, many countries and states have implemented "stay-at-home" orders and other restrictions.[3] People cannot gather or meet with friends. People are social animals; social relationships affect mental health, physical health, and mortality risk.[4] Users can interact remotely with friends through Among Us.

ParticipationEdit

Among Us built its popularity upon the success of existing games. In other social deduction games such as Mafia, the majority of players can only participate during discussions.[5] Once players are dead, they can't participate. In Among Us, everyone has tasks, even after death, so the players stay engaged.

ConsequencesEdit

Due to the game’s popularity, many toxic players flooded the public lobbies in Among Us. These players spammed chats with negative comments and targeted other players. Eris Loris, a hacker, flooded chats with pro-Trump messages. InnerSloth had to make an emergency update to address this issue and urged players to use private lobbies.[6]

Many politicians have started using Twitch as a platform and utilized Among Us as a political tool. Most notably, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez started streaming Among Us on Twitch in an attempt to mobilize young people to vote in the 2020 election. She was able to gather more than 400,000 viewers to watch her stream. However, others criticized her for “electioneering” [7]

AccountabilityEdit

Accountability is an "obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s action".[8] In video games, users demonstrating poor behavior such as inappropriate language, harassment, or cheating can be banned or suspended.

Anonymous PlayersEdit

Users are anonymous; players are not associated with accounts and nicknames can be changed freely. InnerSloth gives players who quit three games in a row a five-minute penalty.[9] Because people are not held accountable, this encourages selfish behavior; many people leave games. Users have started a petition on Reddit to set a ten-minute penalty for players that leave at the start of a match; as of December 7, 2020, this petition has received 14,200 upvotes.[10]

Lack of EngagementEdit

Users are not engaged with each individual session because they can easily join other games. Players feel they are at an unfair disadvantage because they expect to have more players on their side. Some users in a lobby may form groups so they communicate with third-party software or speak a different language.

During its surge in popularity, Filipino users flooded the English chat due to not having a dedicated server, and many exhibited toxic behaviors such as voting off English-speaking players. Many players became angry because they couldn't engage in conversations. Froyobowl expressed this sentiment in a Reddit post which received 2,500 upvotes as of December 7, 2020, that stated "Please stop ruining the game for others;" "English chat is not a Filipino Tagalog".[11] InnerSloth has since added a Filipino chat, but users are tired of the lack of accountability. Steam Among Us player count has dropped from 176,453 average players in October 2020 to 114,334 in November, 2020. [12]

User PsychologyEdit

TrustEdit

Trust is the ability to depend on another; a trustworthy person is perceived as benevolent (kind), ethical, competent (can complete tasks), and predictable [13]. Among Us fosters distrust between users. Players explore a large map with limited vision. Walls block their sight, and people need to perform tasks in different locations. Users have trouble communicating and tracking each other without a chatbox. An imposter is disguised among the crew. Reciprocal norm is the social convention that compels people to return a favor[14]. Imposters can utilize this behavior to gain trust from crewmates; by defending another player, that player will then feel compelled to defend the imposter.

Gathering InformationEdit

Users gather information by checking player locations at the Command Center, viewing the Security Room cameras, walking around, etc. Visuals tasks such as medbay scan can be seen by other players and guarantee a crewmate's innocence. Players can group together to watch each other and provide alibis. Users may change their behavior depending on the situation. For example, if a group of friends is in a lobby, they may feel safe grouping because they trust one another. A user with a medbay scan task may choose to call an emergency meeting so that he can tell other players to follow him and confirm his innocence. Players gather information directly with their senses or indirectly through conversations with other players. However, indirect information is not always accurate.

Eyewitness TestimonyEdit

In 1974, Loftus and Palmer studied if the language in eyewitness testimony can alter memory. They asked test participants to estimate motor vehicle speed from a crash video. Participants were asked with different verbs "About how fast were the cars going when they (smashed/collided/bumped/hit/contacted) each other?"[15] Stronger verbs (smashed) correlated with higher speed estimations. The experiment showed that leading questions modified the witness's perception and memory of the event.

In Among Us, imposters can only kill adjacent crewmates. During the voting session, players discuss the location of the body and vouch for each other. Players are generally referred to by their character's unique color. For example, if Blue was killed on the West end of the ship and Red was witnessed at the East end immediately prior to the murder, then they cannot be the imposter due to their location alibi. Likewise, if Red was seen running away from the room where the body was found, then they are considered suspicious. The discussion revolves around the eyewitness testimonies of the players.

Imposters need to explain their own logical inconsistencies and lack of alibis to the rest of the group in order to avoid suspicion and getting caught. Imposters want to take control and change the narrative through the use of leading questions and statements to confuse crewmates and deflect accusations.

GroupthinkEdit

A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.

—Irving Janis, conductor of initial research on Groupthink [16]

Once an accusation is made, especially in public lobbies lacking voice chat, other players often immediately vote to eject the accused. This can occur before the accused is given a chance to defend themselves. As a team, the crewmates want to make logical decisions and root out the imposter with minimal casualties. However, as an individual, it is best to go along with the collective decision. Dissenters are deemed suspicious in later rounds. The desire for group voting unanimity leads to irrational decision-making and avoiding alternative solutions such as abstaining until further information is gathered.

Bystander EffectEdit

In experiments prompted by the brutal murder of Kitty Genovese[17], social psychologists Latané and Darley attributed the bystander effect to two factors: diffusion of responsibility and social influence.[18] The perceived diffusion of responsibility means that individuals feel less personal responsibility to take action when there are more onlookers. Social influence means that individuals monitor the behavior of those around them to determine how to act. The lack of action can have tragic consequences such as the one-hour long drowning of Raymond Zach 150 yards from the shore despite the presence of firefighters, police officers, and roughly 75 beachgoers.[19]

Imposters can sabotage critical components which starts a countdown timer. Crewmates lose if the timer ends before the component is fixed. Fixing the component takes time away from a crewmate's task[20]. With so many other players, users often assume that someone else is fixing it.

ConclusionEdit

Further work is needed to extend the examination to specific aspects of game theory, the study of calculated interactions among rational agents.[21] In Among Us, players are motivated to win. Each player decides whom to trust and whom to vote against based on imperfect information[22] and their own logical conclusions. Other video games can also be examined for their insights into human behavior. Video games serve as the perfect environment for studying game theory due to clear definitions of winning and solidified rules. Among Us' issue of accountability is explored in another Lentis casebook section regarding the hidden identities of players.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Gough, C. (2020, September 30). Downloads of Among Us worldwide 2020. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/985771/among-us-downloads/
  2. Cuevas, Z. (2020, October 16). How and when did Among Us get so popular?. Android Central. November 11, 2020, https://www.androidcentral.com/how-did-among-us-get-so-popular
  3. About COVID-19 restrictions. (2020, December 7). State of California. https://covid19.ca.gov/stay-home-except-for-essential-needs/
  4. Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51 Suppl(Suppl), S54–S66. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501
  5. Plotkin, A. (2010, February 14). Werewolf. Zarf. https://www.eblong.com/zarf/werewolf.html
  6. Statt, N. (2020, October 23). Among Us developers scramble to block massive 'Eris Loris' spam attack. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/23/21530984/among-us-spam-hack-attack-eris-loris-innersloth-maintenance
  7. BBC (2020, October 21). British Broadcasting Corporation. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Among Us game watched by 400,000. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-54630330
  8. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Accountability. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. December 6, 2020, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/accountability
  9. IS (2019, January 25). Innersloth. First 2019 Update! November 7, 2020, https://innersloth.itch.io/among-us/devlog/64794/first-2019-update
  10. DrunkBamboo. (2020, September 21). Implement this to avoid people leaving on the fly (with game errors as an exclusion). Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/AmongUs/comments/iwsr4z/implement_this_to_avoid_people_leaving_on_the_fly/
  11. Froyobowl. (2020, August 27). Please stop ruining the game for others. Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/AmongUs/comments/ihfxo4/please_stop_ruining_the_game_for_others/
  12. Among Us - Steam Charts. (2020, November 7). Steam. December 7, 2020, https://steamcharts.com/app/945360
  13. McKnight, D., Cummings, L., & Chervany, N. (1998). Initial Trust Formation in New Organizational Relationships. The Academy of Management Review, 23(3), 473-490. December 7, 2020, http://www.jstor.org/stable/259290
  14. Waude, A. (2017, January 23). Norm Of Reciprocity: Persuasion Using The Social Norm Of Rewarding Positive Behavior. Psychologist World. December 6, 2020, https://www.psychologistworld.com/behavior/compliance/strategies/norm-of-reciprocity
  15. Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 13(5), 585–589. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0022-5371(74)80011-3
  16. Janis, I. L. (1972). Victims of Groupthink: A psychological study of foreign-policy decisions and fiascoes. Houghton Mifflin Company.
  17. McFadden, R. D. (2016, April 4). Winston Moseley, Who Killed Kitty Genovese, Dies in Prison at 81. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/05/nyregion/winston-moseley-81-killer-of-kitty-genovese-dies-in-prison.html
  18. Latane, B., & Darley, J. M. (1968). Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10(3), 215–221. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0026570
  19. Alameda police, firefighters watch as man drowns. (2011, May 31). ABC7. https://abc7news.com/archive/8161285/
  20. zeitless. (2020, September 29). REACTOR. MELTDOWN. GO. THERE. NOW. Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/AmongUs/comments/j1y42n/reactor_meltdown_go_there_now/
  21. Ross, Don, "Game Theory", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2019/entries/game-theory/
  22. Gallego, L. (2017, April 19). Game theory I: Perfect information. Policonomics. https://policonomics.com/lp-game-theory1-perfect-imperfect-information/#:%7E:text=Imperfect%20information%20appears%20when%20decisions,the%20rest%20of%20the%20players.