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AOC just played ‘Among Us’ on Twitch. Over 400,000 people came to watch.

Embracing video games can make for good politics

- October 21, 2020

On Monday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “Anyone want to play Among Us with me on Twitch to get out the vote?”

“Among Us” is an online game released in 2018 in which players on a spaceship try to root out a murderous alien impostor before it kills everyone. The game is similar in style to party games such as “Mafia” or “Werewolf.” It has become enormously popular during the coronavirus pandemic.

Political scientists have plenty to say about politicians and the news media. However, they don’t necessarily know as much as they should about current video games. That’s why this post is a collaboration between a stereotypical clueless dad/political scientist, who stopped keeping up with video games around the time “Half-Life” was released in 1998, and a teenager with impeccable gaming chops who carried out the primary research for this post.

AOC’s initiative attracted enormous interest.

After Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — or AOC, as she is commonly known — posted her tweet, many creators and gamers replied, hoping to get a chance to play with the congresswoman. Those added to the stream included political streamer Hasan Piker, as well as popular gaming streamers Pokimane, Myth, Disguised Toast and Dr. Lupo, and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Over the next 48 hours, AOC kept people up to date on Twitter as she put together her own streaming setup and created a channel on the Twitch service, which allows people to stream video games and other activities to a live audience. Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post.

AOC’s experiment was highly successful by any reasonable measure. It had a peak live viewership of well over 400,000 people. AOC now has more than 600,000 Twitch followers and, according to the Verge, her initial videoclip accumulated over 4.7 million views by Wednesday morning. These are big numbers, suggesting that there is a large audience for politicians who are willing to do live gaming if they have the right profile.

Gaming can allow politicians to reach an unconventional audience.

So why might politicians want to play video games in front of a live audience? The answer is that it allows them to talk to an unconventional audience. As Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan recently wrote, most Americans pay little day-to-day attention to politics. Many of them vote, or can be persuaded to vote, but reaching them is tough precisely because they aren’t likely to watch TV shows about politics or read articles about political issues. Politicians who want to attract these potential voters need to go where those voters are. That explains, for example, why President Barack Obama went on the daytime TV show “The View” when he was in office.

AOC said she wanted to play “Among Us” to get out the vote. Although detailed demographic information isn’t publicly available, it’s a pretty safe bet that “Among Us” players and Twitch users tend to be younger. Many of them (including the co-author of this article) are too young to vote. But those who are eligible to vote often don’t. On average, young Americans are less likely to vote than other age groups. Playing “Among Us” on Twitch is probably a good way to reach some of these potential voters.

In addition to encouraging people to vote in general, AOC also provided more specific information to left-leaning voters in New York by promoting the New York Working Families Party (NY-WFP) during her live stream. New York voters can vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-N.Y.), on the Democratic line, but they also have the unusual ability to vote for Biden and Harris as candidates of the NY-WFP. If they vote for Biden and Harris on the NY-WFP line, they not only signal their support for the left to Democratic leaders, but they also help keep the NY-WFP alive. Under new rules introduced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the NY-WFP needs at least 2 percent of voter support in the presidential race if it is to keep its place on future ballots.

So how did Ocasio-Cortez and Omar do?

So how did AOC and Omar do as gamers? AOC was able to hold her own throughout the evening, even though she had very little experience with the game, and made fun of her mistakes. Omar struggled at the beginning because it was her first time playing the game. But once she understood the basic rules, she quickly became one of the most dangerous impostors on the stream. When she was randomly picked as the alien, Omar would take out crew member after crew member until, inevitably, one of the crew members’ bodies was reported. After this, she was able to employ her debating skills to cast the blame on other members of the crew.

Jack Farrell is a high school student.