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Why Among Us Has Captivated Filipinos More Than Anyone Else

Lying is the heart of the game.
IMAGE Among Us
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Before he started regularly streaming Among Us back in early September, video content creator Mailus was struggling to draw in viewers. With just 800 followers on his Facebook page, and just around thirty people tuning into his content, the thought would often cross his mind: “Kailan kaya ako magiging one thousand followers?"

Now, at the end of November, he has 8,600 fans and counting. That's almost a thousand percent increase in followers in just three months of exclusive Among Us streaming. By his count, “umaabot ako ng 70 to a hundred viewers" per video, Mailus told SPIN Life. “Walang mintis.”

Before he began playing Among Us, the 24-year-old streamer dabbled in League of Legends and Mobile Legends — multiplayer arena battlers that are juggernauts in the online space, with gigantic marketing budgets and development teams. By comparison, Among Us was produced on shoestring finances and a squad of three… not even enough to crew an Among Us spaceship.

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The game released without fanfare back in 2018. Despite the unpromising start, developers InnerSloth plugged away diligently at it. “We stuck with Among Us a lot longer than we probably should have from a pure business standpoint,” programmer and business lead Forest Willard told Kotaku. “We tried to quit and should have quit several times.”

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Then, in 2019, a breakthrough. YouTubers in Korea and Brazil began casting the game. And then, the year after, the pandemic brought on a perfect storm as gamers, hungry for social connection, began picking up party games. Among Us shot to the top of streaming platform Twitch.

According to mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower, Among Us has over 49 million app downloads in October 2020 alone, and is estimated to have earned $4 million in that same month.

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Mailus — whose real name is Mark Hector Guina — told SPIN Life that he picked it up only recently, upon recommendations from friends.

Lying is the heart of the Among Us experience. For those who’ve never played it, Among Us is a cutesy, sci-fi version of the classic party-slash-summer camp game Mafia.

Now, he’s more than fifty episodes deep into a daily show called “MAG LOKOHAN TAYO PERO BAWAL MAG CHEAT.” (Yes, in all caps.)

“Seven to eleven o’clock ng umaga ang stream schedule ko. Monday to Saturday, and optional kapag Sunday,” Mailus said.

Photo by Innersloth.
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Stream team

The affable, baby-faced IT graduate runs a tight Among Us ship. With his trademark headband and unruly hair, Mailus keeps up a constant patter as bean-shaped, be-visored crewmates run around the murderous confines of the in-game spaceship. Anyone who drops by his streams can join his games, and slots usually go fast when he drops a room code.

According to his statistics, majority of his viewers are female, and are also very young. Mindful of the nagging issues of toxicity in the game, he sternly warns players against cheating and keeps everything wholesome.

“Di ako papayag na may ginagawang kabastusan sa stream ko kasi inaalagaan ang kabataan,” he said. (In fact, he’s so wholesome that when a generous viewer gave him 500 stars at a recent stream, he shouted, “Holy moly!”)

Other than that, his game rooms are open to all.

“Bata o matanda, basta marunong kang magsinungaling, pwede kang sumali,” Mailus said.

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Lying is the heart of the Among Us experience. For those who’ve never played it, Among Us is a cutesy, sci-fi version of the classic party-slash-summer camp game Mafia. Four to ten crewmates enter a digital spaceship, but among them are a number of impostors who can sabotage the spaceship and kill crewmates. As the crew goes about their appointed tasks, it’s the crew’s task to sniff out the fakes, calling emergency meetings where they vote out the suspected wolves among the sheep.

To protect themselves long enough to murder enough crew members and win the game, the impostors must know how to lie, and lie very well.

Photo by Innersloth.
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It’s not just a matter of keeping your story straight, either. (“Ginawa mo ba talaga 'tong task na 'to?” Mailus would ask at emergency meetings. “Nadaanan mo ba talaga ang ganitong color?”) Cunning impostors can also lean on their chatbox charisma to misdirect suspicion, or lay low and hope to coast under the radar, invisible until it’s time to strike.

With its flat graphics and low-key aesthetic, Among Us is an unlikely candidate in lists of the year’s most popular games. But as Quartz’s Adam Epstein wrote, “The appeal of Among Us lies in its sociability. Anyone can easily set up a game with their friends — no masks or social distancing necessary.”

But beyond its ease of use and low barrier to entry, Mailus joked that it’s the playful deceptions that make the game so appealing to Filipinos.

“Ayoko sana maging rude,” he theorized, tongue partly in cheek, “[pero] feeling ko [sikat ang Among Us kasi] maraming manloloko dito sa Pilipinas. Dun lumaki ang Pilipino... sa pag-i-i-scam.”

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It’s an appealing hypothesis. The social nature of the game definitely plays a large role in Among Us’ popularity. Compared to the fast-twitch skills required to win at, say, Mobile Legends or Call of Duty Mobile, all that’s required for success is a glib pokerface and a useful penchant for half-truths.

Liar, liar

We jokingly asked him that, with more than 150 hours of livestreaming Among Us, has he become a better liar in real life?

Mailus answered us seriously. “Di ko siya ina-apply sa totoong buhay. Ang pina-practice ko talaga ang pagsasalita ko sa mga tao. Yan ang mga gusto kong i-master. Like, how to speak when we speak honestly, [so] that it comes from the heart.”

But for those who want to become better impostors, Mailus has these specific tips.

First, it’s important to know when to keep quiet. The spotlight naturally falls on vocal crewmates, whether they’re defensive impostors or overzealous crewmates making a case to kick someone out.

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“Minsan sa sobrang pagiging expert mo, ikaw na ang nahuhusgaan nila na baka ikaw ang impostor,” said Mailus. “So maganda, you can just ride with them. Kausapin mo lang sila, say something and say some details, but not too much.”

He also gave this useful piece of advice to impostors: Always have someone with you.

“Kasi pwede ka nilang saluhin. [Sasabihin nila,] 'Oy, I can vouch for this person,' pero di nila alam imposter ka pala,” he said.

All you need to do, Mailus said, was to find that one crewmate who will trust you. Once you’ve fooled that crewmate, everything else will follow.

“Kasi ang diskarte ko sa pagiging impostor ay hindi ako mala-kill,” Mailus explained. “Ang ginagawa ko is magaling ako makipag-usap sa mga tao. Kaya kitang i-manipulate, kaya kitang gawing kaibigan, kahit ako po'y isang imposter. Minamahal nila ako, pero pinapatay ko sila.”

He paused. “Masakit sa akin,” he said.

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Truly wholesome, indeed.

This story originally appeared on Spin.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Lio Mangubat
Lio Mangubat is an editor at Summit Books.
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