Last week, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put out a tweet asking, “Anyone want to play Among Us with me on Twitch to get out the vote? (I’ve never played but it looks like a lot of fun).”
She followed it with a tweet asking what streamers her followers would want to watch play a game with her, and eventually compiled her crew: representative Ilhan Omar (and eventually Omar’s daughter), and popular Twitch streamers Pokimane, HasanAbi, Disguised Toast, DrLupo, Myth, mxmtoon, Jacksepticeye and Cr1TiKaL. Later in the stream, some of the streamers were switched out, with Hbomberguy, Corpse Husband, Gus Johnson and Valkyrae joining the game in their place.
Among Us is a 2018 Mafia-esque game that has spiked to popularity in 2020 under the attention of popular Twitch streamers. The mobile version is free with ads, while the Windows version is $5, and that, combined with the simple gameplay, make it fairly accessible. Accessible enough for a Congresswoman to play with experienced gamers.
Ocasio-Cortez’s stream gathered an audience of 439,000 viewers, with the record for viewers of a Twitch stream being about 628,000. Her Twitch channel has 704,000 followers, compared to Joe Biden’s 2,800 or Donald Trump’s 146,000. As of writing, Ocasio-Cortez has one stream video (her Among Us stream), Biden has 13 (mostly speeches by other people), and Trump has 110 (streams of his rallies, going back to two months ago).
Getting an enormous amount of Twitch followers in one stream is incredibly impressive, especially for a cause like getting people to vote. Getting popular streamers to play a popular game to raise awareness for voting is certainly a more in-touch strategy than many politicians have been able to pull off before (like when Hillary Clinton encouraged voters to “Pokemon Go to the polls” back in 2016). But I’m still on the fence over whether I support the move 100%.
It’s not that I don’t think people working in politics aren’t allowed to play games outside of work, and it’s not that I don’t like Ocasio-Cortez. I think she has a very strong online presence, and she’s much more relatable to my generation (early Gen Z) than other politicians like Biden or Trump.
When she played Among Us with Twitch streamers, it felt more like watching one of my aunts play, rather than some decrepit political skeleton, and that’s part of the problem for me.
I’ve long been suspicious of companies and brands attempting to appeal to younger generations to sell their products, and I’ve written more than a few articles about it. And Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitch stream feels like what these brands want — a genuine connection with impressionable consumers and influencers. Without any “silence, brand,” without hardly any pushback aside from a few trolls, Ocasio-Cortez delivered a message to thousands of willing viewers.
Sure, the message was “go vote,” but what if it wasn’t? What if McDonald’s had a CEO similar enough to Ocasio-Cortez, that could stream on Twitch with Cr1TiKaL and promote McChickens? What if Baby Nut (who turned 21 in August and now goes by Peanut Jr.) started streaming on Twitch with the Kool-Aid Man and actually managed to do so in a way that felt human?
I know I risk sounding like a conspiracy theorist, but I’m genuinely concerned about a future where we might vote for politicians because they played a game we like on Twitch, rather than because we agree with their policies. Though playing a game to remind people to vote is a better and more popular method than the traditional benefit concerts and baby-kissing, it’s important for voters to remember that politicians are not your friends, even if they’re your Crewmates.