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Among Us Will Teach You Everything Wrong With Democracy


Finally, they came out with a politically-based multiplayer game just in time for political season in US politics. Among Us is currently the universe’s most popular video game. It is so popular that they were going to do a sequel but decided to put that energy into updates on the original game. It is also so popular that New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez played it on Twitch as a publicity stunt to rock the vote. Just to make this clear, she tweeted the announcement with correct meme usage and everything:


See, this is why you shouldn’t give up on this country. You haven’t seen what it can do when Generation Z zooms in. Right now the USA is 99% controlled by centenarian zombies whose idea of “progressive” is buying a horseless carriage. But I digress…

AOC didn’t just go through the motions. She played like a savage. She was playing for keeps, none of that photo-op fake participation here.

She certainly did better her first Impostor run than I did. Me, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but for my first dozen games I was always the first ejected by unanimous vote regardless. Apparently I started out acting too sus. But then, I’m inherently bad at politics simply because misanthropists don’t go around inspiring faith in their character. To work as part of a team, I have to have trust in anyone’s good nature.

But on the other hand, Among Us is a perfect representative of the problems with our existing political models. Perhaps a little too perfect. Let’s back up first:

Among Us comes from a long tradition of social deduction games

In Among Us, you’re all crewmates on a spaceship doing random stuff to keep it running. Except for the impostor, who is trying to kill the crew off without being detected. Anybody can call a meeting at any time to hold a vote to try to rat out the impostor.

From all this spans the most Byzantine schemes and social travesties on either team. Games turn into a witch hunt, with random expulsions of the innocent. Impostors, through the simple strategic mechanism of “lying,” can goad the rest of the crew to turn on each other. Like TV reality game shows, people get mad at you for being too good at it.


Veteran gamers will quickly identify the roots of Among Us: the old party game Mafia and its commercial board game cousin Werewolf. Each of them do require players to keep their eyes shut during “night time” so the villain party can do their dirty work. There’s also an earlier video game equivalent, Town of Salem, working largely off the same formula. If you guessed that it’s a model of the Salem witch trials, ding, you are correct.

Strategy is worthless in Among Us!

You might think, given the nature of this game, that you could reel off some clever algorithm based on John Nash’s game theory equilibrium to determine the pristine strategy for winning from every point of view. I’ve seen plenty of analysis of Among Us by some Internet armchair mathematicians out there already. But game theory has leaks in it just like real-life group activities (like democracy). Economics and politics are “soft sciences” both based on the assumptions that every human is a rational being whom can be counted on to at least act in their own self-interest.


(annoying political example)

Do I have to explain to you, in the first day of the dawn of the post-Trump administration, why that isn’t so? Let’s look at Donald Trump, for instance:

Even if you assume the alignment of the most radical, red-or-dead, die-hard Republican who ever lived, there is no way Trump’s M.O. would appeal to you as a rational voter. For example, what was he doing when his opponent’s winning vote count was at last announced?


Yep, he was just hittin’ the old links like it was any regular day. For a guy who, within 24 hours of officially losing the election, was claiming that it was rigged, unfair, etc., shouldn’t he have been more involved in the process? He was already expressing dismay at how his legal team had not succeeded in overturning the count. For a guy who insisted he’d fight the results with every fiber of his being, where was he? If YOU were getting cheated out of your rightful second term, wouldn’t you be in the office, orchestrating your legal action team? Perhaps paying a surprise visit to a counting facility to see what they were doing?

I mean, isn’t that kinda important???

Not to mention that he attacked mail-in ballots, signaling his supporters not to vote for him that way. He actually discouraged his own votes! Not to mention that he ignored the COVID-19 crisis and allowed 200K+ potential voters to die, many of whom were elderly and, statistically, likely his base. Over and over we saw this with Trump: He picks fights when he doesn’t have to, sabotages his own efforts, and was caught lying when the truth would sound better. There was never a bigger enemy of Donald Trump than Donald Trump.

Run that through your John Nash equation!

(end annoying political example)

Even outside politics, people do things for the dumbest possible reasons. Economics is also rife with these holes in perfect game theory. Despite our model of “supply vs demand” and economic behavior, psychologists point out that our purchasing decisions are warped by marketing, wanting to be popular, feeling bored, or just being in a hurry.


Likewise, a round of Among Us as far as I’ve seen is over in a couple minutes, tops. Here is one Reddit thread which will dash your rational strategy matrix forever. One of the biggest monkey wrenches in About Us strategy is people leaving the game when they don’t like their role. We can see from the stats in this case (no telling how this individual player affected games), that doing tasks is almost never the path to victory for crewmates, ejections have no correlation to when you’re actually the impostor, and voting as an impostor is just as viable as sabotage for a strategy.

Simple tips do work in Among Us

Those tips are all solid, and just about the total amount of effective tactics available. Because of the psychological factor and the many creative ways you can be deceptive, there are infinite stunts you can pull to vary the game. Which makes it a fun game, because it’s never the same game twice, and also hilarious when you try some arcane Xanatos gambit and pull it off.

But ultimately, deception and trickery are part of the strategy, which means that you have to make up new moves whenever you’re the impostor. Half the time you will be responding to crew-member behavior, deliberately trying to throw off suspicion. But at the same time, you have to avoid trying too hard not to look suspicious or that itself will make you sus.

What you end up doing is disappearing down this rabbit hole where you knew that they knew that you knew what they were thinking so you deliberately thought the opposite to throw them off. Take it away, Vizzini the Sicilian of Princess Bride fame!

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