Yellow Kinda Sus?

I’m currently, and have been for months now, holed up in my room on the other side of the world from Medford, where my social life is almost entirely digitized. The rate at which I do my leisure reading is 0.5 book/month (a low point for me), so I’ve taken to looking online for entertainment or general mind-numbing.

Even for someone arriving late to every trend, it didn’t take long for Discord to
envelop all of my digital experience. A friend once reported that she lived in so many Discord chats, she was in a Discord room for every college course she was in. As confusing as Discord is to navigate, with its music-dominated voice channels and millions of tabs, it’s become inextricable from the social and even academic life of the average Gen Z-er.

The digitization of social life has given rise to ORGs, or online role-playing games. The pandemic has witnessed a recent upsurge of online gaming by people who’d hesitate to call themselves gamers. I remember, from March onwards, the worldwide obsession with Animal Crossing, which offers a stay-home alternative to the more outdoorsy Pokemon Go for our urge to amass animal-esque companions. My friend favors Club Penguin “nonprofits,” or copies of the original game. Magic Arena, the digital version of the card game Magic: The Gathering, has been a favorite. As casual online games make their way into special chunks of our day, “leisure” and “social interaction” have merged into one.

My experience with Discord started last semester when I first started playing this artsy video game, Sky: Children of the Light, where you’re a funky little avatar with a solar-powered cape that works as wings, making online friends along the way. Someone on Sky invited me onto a Discord channel for Sky players, and after a few days of polite lurking and the occasional heart react, I found myself on another channel for Sky fan artists, and yet another channel for the subscribers of a famous video game streamer on YouTube—and yet another, and yet another, and yet another, like an endlessly unfolding Matryoshka doll of digital sub-cultures.

Discord’s recent expansion owes itself to the sudden popularity of the multiplayer murder-mystery game Among Us, which requires a voice chat function. You begin the game stuck on a malfunctioning spaceship, assigned to either the role of the innocent crewmate or an imposter. As a crewmate your job is to repair your premises while working together to find, or “vote out,” the imposter before they kill everyone on the ship. With the explosion of the game’s popularity, I’m seeing a new version of contactless social interaction take form, one that thrives in specialized game jargon.

ORGs create close-knit community spaces, where slang is popularized and made inextricable from everyday gameplay, securing the game fandom or player base’s place into a niche culture seemingly impenetrable to outsiders. For instance, Among Us players have variations of a meme catchphrase that makes no sense outside of the game: “Yellow been acting kinda sus” or “idk Yellow kinda sus.” There’s the joy of being a “Yellow main.” You’ll often see players writing into the chat, “Yellow vented.” In Magic Arena, players love
community-made terms such as “Abzan” (indicating a white-black-green card combination), “Boros” (red-white), or “Rakdos” (black-red). “Anthem effect” refers to any magic spell that improves the stats of an entire team. To “rope” is to intentionally stall a timer countdown so that the opposing player forfeits.

Community-building and the language that mediates it can be found in the strangest and most unexpected of places. With the popularity of the casual online game not only as stress relief but as a distorted stand-in for our normal social interactions, there’s also something interesting about how we’ve collectively decided to insert ourselves into certain sequestered corners of the internet, into the liminoid, in which one finds a break from the “normal” world. I find that, even as I’m separated from the majority of my peers during this off-campus semester, I’m drafted into countless social rituals that make zero sense offline and perfect sense online.