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The internet’s viral obsessions are as unpredictable as they are fleeting, but chances are if you’ve been online for the past few weeks, you’ve seen a sudden influx of tweets, posts, and stories about Among Us, a mobile game that’s somehow managed to worm its way from indie developer to a veritable phenomenon with a cult following. With its familiar premise, simple (yet adorable) character design that translates flawlessly into a perfect Halloween costume, and the everlasting appeal of pulling one over on your friends, Among Us shot to No. 1 on the ranking of free mobile games on the iPhone app store, and nowadays you can’t scroll for 10 minutes on Twitter or TikTok without coming across some clip of a sneaky kill or a meme about the viral game. (Even members of Congress are getting in on the action.)
Among Us’ premise is simple: A group of unsuspecting astronauts (the players) work to complete a list of mini game-like tasks while an undercover impostor works among them (get it?) to secretly sabotage and kill the entire crew. Round by round, the crewmates discuss who they think is the most suspicious of the bunch, and vote to eject members of the crew one at a time. The game ends one of two ways — either the crew is able to successfully suss out the impostor (or, in some cases, impostors) while finishing their tasks, or the impostor(s) kill a majority of the crewmates and claim victory.
If the premise sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a riff on the party game "mafia" (sometimes also called "werewolf"), in which a group attempts to sniff out a killer and/or spy among them round by round. For the science fiction and horror nerds among us (no pun intended), the concept may ring a bell because it’s nearly identical to the plot of the classic John Carpenter film The Thing. Among Us has had many comparisons to werewolf and mafia, but after playing a few rounds, I couldn’t stop thinking about how closely it resembles Carpenter’s movie.
As any good horror fan (or student of pop culture) will know, Carpenter’s The Thing is an iconic ‘80s horror film (a remake of the ‘50s film The Thing From Another World, which is in turn based on a 1938 novella Who Goes There?, but I digress) whose central conceit is that a group of scientists are attempting to survive the attacks of an alien that lurks among their crew. The alien (the titular "thing") is able to disguise itself by shapeshifting into near-perfect replicas of living beings, including dogs and, of course, people.
What results is two hours of pure paranoia, during which both the audience and the crewmembers struggle to decipher truth from lies as bodies keep popping up one by one. Though whether it’s intentional remains to be seen, Among Us has somehow managed to perfectly replicate that terrifying sense of paranoia and smush it into a 5-10-minute mobile gaming experience.
When you really sit and think about it, the comparisons become clearer and clearer. The Thing takes place on a remote scientific research outpost in Antarctica: One of the three available maps on Among Us is “Polus,” a snow-covered research base whose name is likely a reference to either the North Pole (the setting of the '50s Thing movie) or the South Pole (the setting of Carpenter’s film).
Then, of course, there’s the game’s already-iconic avatar design — monochrome jumpsuits that appear to be a hybrid of a spacesuit and a snowsuit, with an eerie light glowing from their visor. It's oddly reminiscent of the poster for Carpenter’s '82 film, which famously features a figure in a jumpsuit with a bright light shining in place of its face — a design so iconic that Empire magazine ranked it among the 50 best film posters of all time.
If you’re still convinced that these are all just very, very specific coincidences, here’s the clincher — one of the ways in which crew members can be killed is ripped straight from the film. The game randomly cycles through a number of kill animations that pop up whenever the impostor claims a victim, and one of them just happens to feature the Impostor's body splitting open to reveal an extra set of teeth in its chest, and lashing out with a tentacle and claiming its prey. The kill, of course, is nearly identical to The Thing’s most famous scene, during which a seemingly innocent crewmember’s chest opens up, revealing a toothy maw, while another crewmember is attempting to use a defibrillator on him. The monster then chomps off his rescuer’s hands and lashes around with numerous green tentacles. Among Us is certainly less violent, but it's clearly inspired by the iconic moment from The Thing.
Although I can’t say that I ever wanted to experience the terrifying reality of constant paranoia and fear that the cast of The Thing finds themselves in, thanks to Among Us, I can cast suspicion, point fingers, and secretly gang up on my friends all from the comfort of my own home.