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Among Us and Jackbox: hanging out, hidden roles, and house rules

On multiplayer gaming in place of in-person social gatherings
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Pixelated social interactions, brought on by the pandemic, are not so bad after all. HAYDEN MAK/THE VARSITY
Pixelated social interactions, brought on by the pandemic, are not so bad after all. HAYDEN MAK/THE VARSITY

According to the official rules, the majority of a game of Among Us is supposed to be played in silence.

I think my friends and I would play in silence if we were doing it in person, but after a day or a week of online classes, putting on the camera for a dedicated conversation feels too tiring for most of us. Instead, we start up a game of Among Us and chat over Discord’s audio call function about things unrelated to the game as we run around performing our various tasks. 

It feels a little like riding the subway together or holding a study group when we have no classes in common: everyone’s attention is divided, but we’re still saying whatever comes to mind and hearing each other’s voices. The game’s meeting function, where players confer about who they think the impostor is, feels a little like a quiz to check if we still know one another.

Our chatting — which, as a house rule, cannot be related to the game except during the designated in-game meeting times — doesn’t seem to compromise the hidden role mechanic of the game too badly. The impostor wins about 50 per cent of the time in our games, with a 20 per cent error margin depending on which of us it is.

All in all, I’d call it a good replacement for the things I miss most about hanging out with friends in person — the little things that happen by chance and wouldn’t have been worth calling a gathering for even if it were safe to gather right now. 

I’ve never been much of a party person, so small gatherings were my main form of social interaction before the pandemic. I had never really thought about it enough to predict how much I would miss it.

With dual delivery classes moving online for the rest of the semester, I’m gearing up to make more of an effort to actively seek out group activities in the hopes of feeling like I’ve done something other than just sit in my room and study. 

Like many of us, I’m trying to come up with little routines and rituals that work for me. Part of that is designating which chair I use for schoolwork and which I use for recreation; another part is coming up with house rules for gaming with my friends.

In addition to Among Us, my friends and I sometimes play Jackbox games. As a series of games that are essentially bundles of board game-style multiplayer games, those always feel a little more like a party. Full disclosure: back when parties were a thing, the few parties I went to tended to consist mainly of playing board games. 

Unlike Among Us, Jackbox tends to take up our undivided attention. We often spend the time between games either playfully arguing about which of the included games to play next or verbally constructing highlight reels of our favourite moments from previous games. 

Our house rules for Jackbox are things like ‘attempts at backseat driving are only allowed when we’re on the last two people in Trivia Murder Party,’ and they vary depending on who’s hosting. 

The variation in these rules and in the availability of games based on which party packs the host has helps make it feel like a simulation of going over to someone’s house for a party — though, of course, there are also some notable differences.

However, enough of these gaming differences are positive in nature that I think I’d be happy to keep doing this even at a point in the future when the pandemic has subsided. The presence of options like muting my microphone and adjusting the volume makes me feel more at ease and able to stay longer than I usually would have at an in-person social gathering. 

Also, any breaks in conversation can easily be turned to focusing on the game until someone thinks of something they want to talk about — rather than just saying filler words until the awkwardness reaches a critical mass and we start talking about recent movies half of us haven’t seen.

There are never more than 10 of us playing at a time since Among Us can have up to 10 players, and most of the Jackbox games we play can have up to eight, so we almost never have anyone playing who we don’t already know. At the start of the year, I might’ve regretted not making new friends, but at this point, I’m just glad we can hang out in a way that’s a little more casual than a recurring Zoom meeting.