The internet has crowned an unlikely new video game streaming superstar: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). AOC, as the 31-year-old Congress member from the Bronx is commonly known, played the hit video game Among Us Tuesday night on the video game livestreaming platform Twitch, drawing more than 400,000 concurrent viewers. That makes her stream one of the 20 most-watched streams in Twitch history.
It was Ocasio-Cortez’s first time playing a game live on Twitch; she’d launched her channel just one day earlier, on October 19, after casually asking her Twitter followers if they would like to play the multiplayer favorite with her.
“Anyone want to play Among Us with me on Twitch to get out the vote?” she tweeted. She then added that she had never played the hugely popular game before, “but it looks like a lot of fun.” There were several Twitch celebs among the nearly 44,000 fans and potential players who responded — and 24 hours later, there she was, keyboard on deck and headphones on.
Among Us lets up to 10 people work together to solve tasks on a spaceship. As many as three of those people are assigned the role of the “Impostor,” which means they’re secretly bent on killing everyone else on the crew and sabotaging the mission at hand. The way to win is to correctly identify all the Impostors or end up with only Impostors left alive. (The game is strikingly similar to the playground classic Manhunt.)
Ocasio-Cortez’s ultimate crew ran deep, with 12 streamers rotating in and out to play with her. They had millions of fans and followers between them; for example, two of Ocasio-Cortez’s teammates, the Twitch stars DrLupo and Pokimane, average 5 million followers each. Also in the mix was another politician: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), whose daughter joined the game later in the stream.
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)— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 19, 2020
At the start of the stream, Ocasio-Cortez directed viewers to I Will Vote, a website that aims to help people establish a voting plan. (She also encouraged New York residents to vote for Joe Biden via the endangered Working Families Party line on their ballots.)
She also had a bit of a learning curve as she tried to figure out how to actually run a Twitch stream. But once that was sorted, Ocasio-Cortez dropped her serious tone and got hardcore about Among Us. Before long, she was picking off other Twitch streamers and reveling in how well she was doing, all while other players called her out as a possible “Impostor” to entertaining effect. And whenever possible, she was sure to plug health care policy and stump for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
AOC talks healthcare with @Hbomberguy, who is from the UK, where healthcare is free. pic.twitter.com/3wMUZXpuF7— Brennan Murphy (@brenonade) October 21, 2020
The best moments from @AOC's Among Us stream on @Twitch last night. pic.twitter.com/13dGGgeWTF— The Recount (@therecount) October 21, 2020
It’s not hard for someone like Ocasio-Cortez to rally big-time Twitch streamers to play a game with her online, as a celebrity playing a popular video game on Twitch is almost guaranteed to rack up an impressive number of viewers. (Drake’s memorable 2018 stream of Fortnite with Ninja, one of the most successful Twitch streamers, is still the most-viewed stream ever.) And Ocasio-Cortez, whose landmark congressional campaign and win in 2018 established her as a political rising star, has already amassed many a young (and, likely, more Twitch-aware) fan over her short tenure. She’s beloved for her active social media presence, charming snark, approachable persona, and brazen willingness to criticize President Donald Trump and other polarizing political figures.
Her Twitch stream is also a peak example of her political savvy, proving that she knows how to reach a young audience better than most politicians. In the final weeks before the election, Democrats have been pushing extra-hard to encourage people of all ages to go vote. Ocasio-Cortez has used her substantial social media platform to do the same, posting Instagram videos and tweeting often about the importance of this particular presidential election.
But she isn’t just lecturing her fans and constituents about how voting is their civic duty. She’s also reaching out to them in much more fun, organic ways — like by offering to play video games with them in an effort to raise electoral awareness. And the idea to leverage a game as big as Among Us on a platform as big as Twitch with participation from well-established Twitch celebrities was tailor-made to get potential voters’ attention.
Among Us, first released in 2018, is available on mobile platforms (for free) and PCs (for $5). The game is easy to pick up and play, and built on a familiar conceit. It’s steadily grown in popularity since its debut, with it becoming a cultural behemoth this summer in particular. Now it’s a commercially and critically acclaimed hit with a broad player base. Its tiny astronaut characters and “Find the impostor” motive have become memes on Instagram, TikTok, and Tumblr, and the game developer Innersloth continues to iterate to fans’ approval.
The popularity of Among Us on Twitch can be attributed to its simple, goofy gameplay as well as its high fun viewing potential. Twitch isn’t a platform made solely for gamers to play games or watch other gamers play games; it’s also highly interactive and communication-based. During Among Us streams, it’s expected for viewers to jump into the chat and shout at players about who they believe the Impostor is. Players can speculate and react loudly to whatever happens, like if they are killed or kill someone else. Sometimes players don’t even have to play — they can just sit with the game open and talk with their viewers or other streamers they’re playing with about whatever they want. And as long as they’re funny or cool or attractive or interesting enough, they know they’ll be able to find a captive audience.
Ocasio-Cortez’s desire to play Among Us seemed earnest — it’s a fun game, and she’s shown an interest in video games before. Most notably, she volunteered to visit people’s Animal Crossing games earlier this year, when the Nintendo game was all the rage. Players posted screenshots of her hanging out on their Animal Crossing islands, complimenting their creative town designs.
Ocasio-Cortez’s excitement about playing Among Us, and the excitement of her fellow players, would have made the nearly four-hour stream a wild success even if it hadn’t attracted 400,000 viewers. It was a genuinely fun watch, with a side of civic engagement. Ocasio-Cortez proved herself a winning Twitch personality, ranking alongside the best of them; she laughed, she yelled, she gasped, and viewers did the same alongside her, all while she engaged with people on important issues. The combination of her willingness to get on Twitch and hang out, her smart choice to play a popular and accessible video game, and her savvy in assembling a game-playing crew full of familiar Twitch names helped cement her stream as a shining example of how (and where) politicians can meet the hugely important younger voting body.
Biden’s campaign has recently released in-game Animal Crossing merch, launched an in-game Animal Crossing campaign office, and gotten the help of a teen influencer to promote the Democratic candidate on Instagram. But on Tuesday, Ocasio-Cortez went much further than that. She dived right in and met many younger voters on their own turf. She even murdered some of them in-game. And for some voters, watching a politician they favor declare victory in their favorite video game will likely make a difference when it comes to expanding their awareness of what’s at stake in the 2020 election.