There’s something uniquely frustrating about being unable to complete a task you know how to do. As someone who frequently partakes in difficult games, I’ve come across all manner of challenging encounters, puzzles, and boss fights. I’ve carved my way through the bloody streets of Bloodborne, gone flawless in Destiny 2 raids, and shot through every Call of Duty on Veteran difficulty. I am used to keeping my cool under pressure. So can someone explain to me how the fuck the card swipe mini-game in Among Us is giving me such a goddamn difficult time!?
Let’s back up.
Among Us is a multiplayer game that released 2018, but only gained massive popularity in 2020 thanks to various Twitch users streaming it. Players assume the role of either a crewmate or an imposter posing as a crewmate in a space station. The crewmates’ job is to complete various mini-games called “Tasks” scattered throughout the ship before the imposter kills them. Every time a body is discovered, players enter a discussion period where they can attempt to figure out who’s the imposter. Everyone can then vote on who they think the imposter is to send them hurtling into space. A match ends when the imposter is ousted, the imposter kills everyone, or the crewmates complete all their tasks.
These tasks often don’t require much from the player, as they are meant to be quick, bite-sized breaks from the paranoia-inducing environment. Yet, one mini-game has swiftly become the bane of my existence — the card swipe. To complete this, all I have to do is take my identification card out of my space traveler’s wallet and swipe it from left to right in a card reader. That’s it. That’s the entire task. But somehow this task is more rage-inducing than literally anything else. For whatever reason, the card reader is very particular about what speed you slide the card.
Go too fast? Fail.
Go too slow? Fail.
Stop for even a nano-second when sliding the card? You guessed it, fail.
— Anthony Kongphan (@AnthonyKongphan) September 18, 2020
I’m not the only one who has this problem, as many members of the Among Us community have been laid low by this plastic card. Despite being the wonkiest mini-game in the entire game, there’s a mad genius behind its design. Among Us is a game about anxiety and deception, as friends are pitted against one another in an attempt to lie their way to victory. Death is instant if the imposter attacks, since you are absolutely defenseless in the best of scenarios. However, when you are completing the card swipe task half of your screen is completely obstructed. This makes you even more vulnerable since you cannot even see if someone is in the room with you. You know you have to complete it quickly because the impostor could be skulking around the corner, but Among Us just doesn’t quite let you.
So the fear sets in, and what should have taken three seconds now takes ten or fifteen. Unlike the other tasks, it plays to your need to be efficient. Among Us is a game where every action you take could spell life or death as you never know who’s the killer. That person in the room with you could be the killer so you better swipe that card fast so you can run. Yet, the task doesn’t work like that and you panic. It’s a mini-game designed to feed into the paranoia and stoke your feeling of helplessness. It’s brilliant and frustrating in equal parts. A gameplay element that only enhances the overall theming of Among Us, where almost everything is out of your control.
When you are relying on your teammates to make the correct vote, tasks are the only mechanic that the crewmates can directly impact by themselves. A brief glimpse of power in a game that often strips it away from you. This is what makes the card reader just the worst. We all know how it works, but it never does. Among Us robs users of their agency for a brief moment, reminding them of how weak they really are. If everyone just took a breath and swiped the card then we wouldn’t have any problems.
But you can’t, because there’s no time to lose and everyone’s out to get you. And did someone just enter the room? I thought someone just entered the room. Maybe it’s my imagination and…
Oh well, at least the card swipe noise makes a dope beat.