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Leave it to a lawyer to take a popular video game like "Among Us" and ruin it with legal analysis. But like anyone who's been to law school, sometimes I can't help but notice the legal issues that pop up in a fictional world. If you aren't familiar with the game, here are the highlights:
Using their PC or mobile device, players find themselves on a two-dimensional space rig as crewmates, adorable space-suited characters who can wear a variety of objects as hats. (My personal favorite? The fried egg.) The crewmates have jobs to do around the vessel, but there's one problem: One person onboard is an imposter. The imposter has two objectives: Sabotage maintenance of the ship and murder as many crewmates as possible.
When a body is found, players must account for their whereabouts and discuss who might be the imposter. The crewmates take a vote, and the player found to be the most suspicious is ejected from the ship.
It's no surprise that the game, which came out in 2018, has exploded in popularity this fall. It's fast-paced, fun, and played online - the perfect way to have a friendly game night in a pandemic. But you know what's even more fun? Looking at it like a law school exam and spotting the legal issues that might arise in this scenario.
The United States Constitution guarantees that no one shall be deprived of "life, liberty, or property without due process of law." Since being ejected into space means almost certain death (unless you're a tardigrade), someone accused of being the imposter would be entitled to due process under U.S. law. Whether they get it is up for debate.
The accused does get a chance to defend themselves, but, at most, only a few minutes pass between an accusation and ejection from the ship. Is that enough? In 1970, the United States Supreme Court held that due process required a hearing before an impartial judicial officer, the option of having an attorney's help, the ability to present evidence, and the chance to examine all materials being used against them. However, in subsequent cases, SCOTUS made it clear there was no laundry list of procedures that were always "due."
Plus, someone facing criminal charges with a penalty more severe than six months in prison is entitled to a jury trial. But while the law requires a "speedy" trial, the vote in Among Us might be...just a little too speedy.
Being accused of murder at work is probably enough to ruin a person's reputation. And although someone who's been ejected into space is unlikely to have time to file a defamation suit, crewmates who remain could have a decent defamation claim. That is, if they can prove they aren't the imposter.
There are likely some workplace safety and other legal issues at play in the Among Us universe as well, but I've had enough fun for one day. Plus, in the perhaps not-so-distant future there might be different rules for handling a murderous imposter who infiltrates a galactic crew. I'll leave that to the space lawyers who, by the way, have the absolute best job.
And if you're accused of being the imposter? Try distracting everyone with a discussion of how unjust the penal system is on this ship.
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