Far from the niche hobbies that they once were, modern video games have now become immense cultural touchstones with influences far outside of the digital systems they inhabit. Games become franchises, they become a way for us to express ourselves, and they foster communities of cooperation and ongoing competition. Recently illustrating this concept in action is the new and very unofficial Among Us fighting game. It’s an odd take on a very different original title, and it’s a perfect illustration of how the gaming industry has evolved into the broad and culturally influential state it enjoys today.
The Fan Game
Entitled Among Us Arena, this fan game takes the classic Among Us characters and pits them against each other in one-on-one combat. Just like in the original game, each player controls the same, and the eventual goal is to survive to the end. How the players reach this point, however, illustrates a completely different approach.
Other than the betrayer in Among Us, the game is about as indirect about violence as a competitive title can get. Rather than attacking each other outright, most of Among Us is about using subterfuge and stealth to protect your team. Even when they claim victory, the good guys don’t rely on direct attacks, instead choosing to flush the enemy out the airlock into the cold vacuum of space. In Among Us Arena, victory is instead decided by who can best punch the other player in the face, a rather stark contrast.
Once Among Us became a hit, it also became a meme factory. Enjoying a peak average user count of over 150,000 people, the game became an obsession for players and streamers alike. All of a sudden everything became ‘sus’, certain colors became legendary for player’s collective efforts and imaginations, and the game became much more than just a piece of software.
It’s this idea that’s built gaming up as more than just the sum of its parts, to become an institution that reaches far into the cultural zeitgeist. Of course, video games are hardly the first form of interactive entertainment to achieve this feat, as they followed in the footsteps of games like bingo. Taken in its modern incarnations, bingo rooms like Housey and Flash bring in huge player-bases, sharing in shorthand and esoteric jokes. Built off a foundation going back generations, bingo has similarly cultivated a culture that elevates that game beyond what it could achieve otherwise.
Collectively, it’s the culture of games that both shapes audiences, and leads developers to adopt certain styles and gameplay systems. When MOBAs became popular with players with DOTA, League of Legends then built on this basis to bring the genre to new heights. When PUBG took the world by storm, Fortnite changed tack to bring in a new audience, and in doing so became one of the most popular games of the generation.
Looking at the big picture, gaming culture reflects how both sides of the player and producer equation find balance. Culture serves as a guiding force, to try to find a place that makes everyone happy. While the industry is still full of games that miss the mark like Anthem and Marvel’s Avengers, there’s no questioning just how influential the greater cultural component of gaming has become. Now affecting other serious and respected industries like film with movies like Free Guy and Sonic the Hedgehog, there’s no telling how far this part of gaming could go. What we do know is gaming is no longer just about playing, and it’s only going to get bigger.