Filtering through the North American server of Among us, users will come across a variety of lobbies with odd titles. “HornyRPOnly” or “SingleGirl”, even “Hrny Bakugo RP”. Inside these lobbies are a slew of excited gamers, looking for like-minded individuals to cyber with. As a 27-year-old looking to play his favorite guilty pleasure game, but with no intention of exploring those particular places, I chose “Eggsalad”, a seemingly innocent lobby. And that’s where I met him: the blue astronaut who asked me to be his girlfriend the second I chose pink skin.
Gamers or not, most people have heard of Among us. The MafiaThe Innersloth-style game grew in popularity at the start of the pandemic, to the point that its merchandise fills the shelves of every toy store, and still carries a following of dedicated gamers who use their PCs, consoles and cellphones to make false accusations and call themselves sus.
What most might not suspect, however, is that Among us is now also a conduit for singles and loners, and a place for underage gamers to explore cybersex. However, it is not the first of its kind.
The cybercriminal has been around in multiplayer games and chat rooms for decades. It has moved from online messaging platforms like AOL and MSN to virtual realities like SHEEP and second life. Whether the sex is depicted or simulated, these niches exist within most online communities and especially in gaming.
Rather than bringing the beds closer together in MedBay, most sex role-playing games in Among us is done in the halls themselves. The pre-game chat function is the communication channel; whether it’s naughty foreplay or details and dirt. With no official barriers to keep children away, there are fears that these could become an arena for underage gamers to experience online grooming and sexual harassment.
I can remember my days on Habbo Hotel, my choice of online community as a tween. This virtual chat room, aimed at young people, has been hosting customizable avatars in different public and private rooms for more than 20 years. In her early years, I picked up the username Littlexhottie, a title that certainly didn’t describe me at age 11. Back then, you couldn’t create an account unless you were 16 or older. However, I simply moved my birth year back a few years and was instantly in it.
I’d load into chat rooms that matched my interests, like “Emo Room” or “Anime Clubhouse.” For the most part, these topics were discussed in the room. But more often than not, the bluster would lead to flirtation and explicit messages.
As an awkward, high-spirited preteen, I felt completely in love with any user who told me I was cute. I genuinely believed them, despite the fact that they only had my avatar to go by. Many of these romantic proclamations would lead to being isolated in a private chat room and then being awkwardly pressured by peers to engage in cybersex.
Whether my participation was out of curiosity or fear of disappointing my internet boyfriends, it’s a very uncomfortable memory to look back on. I remember nervously checking over my shoulder as I read posts about being stalked by bluedragon889 on our family computer.
Cases like mine are typical examples of children engaging in sexual exploration, but also highlight the vulnerability and fragility of the safeguards put in place to keep underage gamers safe when playing online. . According Observer Research Foundation data, cases of online pedophilia have almost doubled in anonymous reports and advice since the start of the global pandemic.
For the most part, the Among usThe X-rated roleplaying lobbies make efforts to restrict whoever enters, but not based on age. If the username doesn’t reflect anything sexual or anime-related, players are usually kicked as soon as they load. Meanwhile, trying to join one of the StripBakugo lobbies is near impossible unless personally invited or a player has a large my hero academia pun.
Halls usually hold around two to three people maximum, and most often just stand between two individuals. The topics of conversation and the pace of courtship vary from room to room. Some players are more courteous, asking for their age or names rather than jumping straight into the chase. However, the most common chat phrase spoken as an introduction would be “Snapchat?” While some chat will then progress to a different platform, most players choose to kick all remaining members and set the lobby to private. However, a few lobbies were happy for me and others to stay.
Most of the users I spoke with said they were between 14 and 17 years old. Of all the rooms I attempted to enter, only one in 20 said they were over 18.
Younger gamers generally sought out boyfriends and girlfriends, while older gamers said they were interested in sexual role-playing. One player, who requested that his username remain anonymous, told me that he comes in once or twice a week, but mostly for role-playing. They rarely play a real game of Among us.
The target audience is the main source of concern in the face of this phenomenon. Games with goofy avatars and funny moments are appealing to the general public, but especially appealing to children. Cartoon-style astronauts are the familiar mascots of this kid-friendly game. Stuffed animals, toys, clothing and other products can also be found in department stores and popular game stores.
The game’s developer, Innersloth, has a very strong stance on maintaining a gaming environment that is not only enjoyable for all audiences, but also safe for child gamers.
“One of the features we launched early last year was the implementation of child accounts and an associated quick chat feature. We partnered with SuperAwesome to build and enforce it, a company that specializes in secure digital engagement services and used by other games.Through this we have put in a ton of work to make sure we are COPPA and GDPR compliant,” said Innersloth Community Manager Victoria Chan.
Through this, Among us implements a system that essentially locks players into a child account if they are under the age of digital consent in their country; which COPPA defines as 13 in the United States. These account users can only play with others who use Quick Chat, pre-written phrase selections that can be used to communicate in-game, rather than typing. This makes communication much less personal, but eliminates the possibility of being exposed to sexual lobbies or inappropriate speech.
In addition to the chat function, usernames in this mode can only be selected via a random generator with friendly verbiage. Additionally, parents can access and change account permissions, after government-approved verification.
“Among us is also built with guarantees. We have an ever-changing reporting system and chat/word censorship moderation that tries to weed out any harmful or derogatory language. Players can be flagged for inappropriate names/chats, and we proactively address anything people do to try and circumvent filters,” Chan said.
However, this leaves the responsibility for reporting behavior in the hands of the player themselves and relies on parents knowing the specific features of the child account to implement these safeguards in the first place. While Chan encourages players to report any behavior that negatively impacts gameplay, players regularly use slurs and hate speech in-game, albeit with some spelling or punctuation changes to circumvent censors. When I contacted Innersloth again, asking them to respond more directly to the issues of people using cyber lobbies discussed in this article, they chose not to respond.
Among us continues to be popularly watched and played according to Games view statistics. The game has found ways to stay relevant and appealing to a wide range of audiences. Whether it’s through the three different maps available or the different roles to take on, he’s always found ways to keep his content engaging.
More recently, Innersloth announced that Among Us VR will be released in the holiday season 2022, allowing players to explore the spaceship from a first-person perspective and take out teammates with their own hands. Games are available to be added to wishlists on Steam and Meta Quest.
In the end, I let my blue astronaut suitor down easily; I explained to him that our age difference bothered me and that I was perhaps very ugly under my helmet. He accepted that, and we played a few more games together before he finally met her, surely. the onethe beautiful purple astronaut in the cherry hat who joined our lobby.
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