How a 1911 South Pole Expedition lead to the Video Game Among Us

Among Us is an online multiplayer deduction game from 2018 that became massively popular in 2020.

While the gameplay is inspired by party games like Mafia and Werewolf, the narrative backdrop is inspired by Ridley Scott’s Alien film from 1979 and John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982.

The Thing specifically has a plot very similar to what happens in Among Us, the film being about a research team in Antarctica hunted by a shape-shifting alien.

Among Us references the film in several ways. Most notably the snowsuit-like spacesuits that the Crewmates wear, the icy Polus map, and one of the game’s death animations.

John Carpenter’s The Thing was itself based on John Campbell’s ‘Who Goes There?’ from 1938. ‘Who Goes There?’ had previously been adapted to film in 1951, as ‘The Thing from Another World’.

How a 1911 South Pole Expedition lead to the Video Game Among Us

At some point in his youth John Carpenter watched ‘The Thing from Another World’. But he was disappointed by how much it deviated from Campbell’s story. This caused him to be as faithful as possible to the source material when he eventually made his adaptation of the story.

Many have drawn similarities between The Thing and the 1936 H.P Lovecraft’s novel ‘At the Mountains of Madness’. The similarities in these two works can be traced back to similarities between ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ and ‘Who Goes There?’. Both novellas are set in the Antarctic, star a bunch of scientists on a research expedition, and feature shape-shifting alien monsters that can be divided into smaller parts that act independently.

How a 1911 South Pole Expedition lead to the Video Game Among Us

‘At the Mountains of Madness’ was released two years prior to ‘Who Goes There?’, in the same science fiction magazine. The magazine’s name was Astounding Stories. That is, until John Campbell took over as editor in 1938, the same year he released ‘Who Goes There?’, and renamed the magazine to Astounding Science-Fiction. Campbell’s early editorial run of the magazine is incidentally remembered as The Golden Age of Science Fiction, which lasted from 1938 to 1946.

It seems likely that Campbell at some point read Lovecraft’s story, and then later wrote his own spin on it. Whether it was intentional or not.

But Lovecraft’s work was inspired by an even earlier science fiction story; ‘In Amundsen’s Tent’ written by John Martin Leahy, released in the Weird Tales horror magazine in 1928.

While not as similar to ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ as ‘Who Goes There?’ ended up being, ‘In Amundsen’s Tent’ features the same basic framework as those stories. A group of explorers goes to the South Pole, discovers an alien monster, gets chased by it, and then killed.

It is not extremely similar to ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ beyond that. But it is known to be one of Lovecraft’s favorite Weird Tales stories. So it clearly provided a jumping-off point for Lovecraft to write his own story.

‘In Amundsen’s Tent’ itself was obviously inspired by the real-life Norwegian South Pole expedition. That culminated in Roald Amundsen and his crew arriving at the South Pole on the 14th of December 1911, being the first ones to ever do so.

The story is about another fictional group of explorers who finds a horrifying creature in the tent erected by Amundsen’s crew on the South Pole, set a few days after Amundsen’s team left the pole on the 18th of December, but before Robert F. Scott arrived there on January 17th 1912.

Robert Falcon Scott was the leader of the British Antarctic Expedition taking place simultaneously to Amundsen’s expedition. Discovering that they had arrived a whole month after Amundsen was a real hit to morale for Scott’s team.

But they still had to make their way to safety after learning that their journey had been for naught. Their journey back was hampered by a mix of unexpectedly bad weather and poor leadership from their support team. Eventually, Scott’s party succumbed to the ravages of the polar winds.

The tragic death of Robert Scott and his team lent an air of horror and mystery to the South Pole expeditions.

Scott’s journaling efforts helped uncover some of the mysteries around his death. But it also helped provide a narrative structure to future horror stories set in Antarctica, many of them presented as journal notes and diary entries.

I think it’s fascinating where the winding roads of history can lead you once you start heading down one of its paths. That we can start at a video game attaining worldwide popularity in 2020, and end up at Norwegian and British South Pole explorers in 1911 is pretty amazing. Who knows where that road could have lead me if I continued down it.

Related video: Why You Should Play Video Games (A Message For Non-Gamers)

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