Everything about Among Us is designed to fan the flames of paranoia, but during its early days it delivered a very different kind of terror. When I say “early days,” I’m referring to the space year 2020; I can’t claim to have liked this multiplayer murder-‘em-up before it was popular. But I was around when, struggling against a massive influx of players, Among Us started glitching out — and it was really something.
If you’ve never played Among Us, matches are a mash-up of Secret Hitler, The Thing, and Columbo, if Columbo’s “one more thing” were asking people if they had a Snapchat. As an impostor your aim is to kill off your fellow crewmates, either by sabotaging the essential parts of whatever isolated location you’re roaming or, more commonly, by stabbing them in the face when no one’s looking.
As a crewmate you potter around completing vision-obscuring tasks and panicking about the narrow corridors that force players into close proximity. Will this be the time when, as you fumble with the galaxy’s worst ATM, you feel cold steel puncture the back of your skull? At least, that’s what happens now that Among Us’s glitches have been all but eliminated.
Because Among Us glitches weren’t just some occasional, minor irritation; they would plunge a match into sheer chaos, subjecting every player to the same bizarre, confusing torment. I’ll never forget the first time Among Us glitched out on me. I’d joined a match taking place on the Skeld, Among Us’s starship level. A couple of minutes and a few impatient yells later, the game began.
Only it didn’t. We had freedom of movement, sure, but we’d been dumped into some bizarre amalgam of the Skeld’s cafeteria and the dropship we’d been milling around in not five minutes earlier. It was the kind of horrifying scenario you’d find in some late-night sci-fi anthology series, two vessels hyperspacing to the exact location, merged into one doomed lump of metal.
Even without the chat box, the panic was palpable, characters flailing around trying to dislodge themselves from behind chairs and walls. Eventually someone flailed their way over to the meeting button and activated chat, and people started flinging theories about — someone was cheating, there were too many players, Among Us was haunted, it carried on right until the chat timed out.
People eventually quit, but what made it especially memorable, and chilling, is that I have a mortal fear of long-distance space travel. I’m well aware the chances of me going into space are next to nil; I don’t have a billion-dollar rocket I can christen with one of my underpaid workers’ piss bottles. But in my mind, the terror of some alien creature is secondary to ending up adrift but alive in the nothingness of space, the fate that befell Ripley at the end of Alien.
Stephen King started me off on that train of thought with “The Jaunt,” a short story that explores the pitfalls of hyperspace travel and ends with a passenger screaming and tearing their eyes out, and the fear has been reinforced by other works, such as Love, Death & Robots’ “Beyond the Aquila Rift” and The Cloverfield Paradox. No matter what you might think of Paradox, you can’t deny that Elizabeth Debicki has one hell of an entrance.
The more I played Among Us, the more it became apparent that the glitch I’d encountered, though hugely disturbing, was just the tip of the iceberg. There were glitches that would leave players standing on a spaceship’s wing, others that would create motionless, duplicate players. The latter was a little distressing, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to turn around and find they’d moved.
I was twice granted the curse of immortality; having been ejected from the spaceship for being the impostor, which I absolutely, definitely wasn’t, I found myself back in the cafeteria. Was this some space-based take on Groundhog Day? Sure, this instance may have been another player’s attempt at cheating, as I know I didn’t invoke it, but most of these glitches didn’t give anyone a clear advantage.
I found myself looking forward to Among Us’s bugs and glitches, partly because I loved seeing other players try to work out what was going on, but also because I enjoyed the air of unpredictability it lent the game. It used to be that one in 20 games would devolve into some glitched-out spectacle; you’d go in expecting John Carpenter’s The Thing and end up with Event Horizon.
Sadly, while there are still occasional issues with Among Us, it’s more stable than it’s ever been, and I miss those buggy days. Perhaps it was because developer Innersloth fixed the glitches in question, or maybe it really was down to server load and getting a handle on that made it go away. Either way, you’re far more likely to die at the hand of a particularly silver-tongued impostor than end up permanently pinned behind a bulkhead.
Maybe an Among Us 2 will deliver the nightmare fuel I crave. How about it, Innersloth? I have this Stephen King story you really ought to read.