“Among Us” is a game of manipulation, deceit and murder — all qualities we don’t want in our politicians. So why did 435,000 viewers tune in to watch U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez play it live on Twitch last week?
Reminiscent of “The Thing,” “Among Us” is a game where astronaut crewmates must solve the puzzle of who within their bunch is actually an alien impostor killing them off.
The game is hugely popular right now with top influencers on Twitch—a platform that allows people to broadcast themselves playing video games—and YouTube. Ocasio-Cortez’s stream is among the 20 biggest streams ever, according to TwitchTracker. The stream was also one of the biggest traffic drivers to iwillvote.com and more than 5 million people watched it after it went offline.
“It was brilliant on so many levels,” said Dr. Diana Cohen, a political science professor at Central Connecticut State University who teaches Internet and Media Politics. “She was meeting voters and prospective voters where they are.”
Ocasio-Cortez is not the first politician to be on a massive streaming platform, nor is she the first to insert herself into the gaming space. President Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders are both on Twitch, too, and former Vice President Joe Biden even launched a “Biden HQ” island in “Animal Crossing” where his avatar shouts “No Malarkey!” at visiting players.
And former Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton, in an infamous clip from 2016, proclaimed that young people should “Pokémon Go to the polls.”
But Ocasio-Cortez succeeds where other politicians fail because of her social media prowess, digital literacy and genuineness, Michael Cerulli, president of the College Democrats of CT, said.
“Young people can smell a rat from 20 miles away. If you’re 70 years old and you’re trying to use Twitter like you’re 20, people are going to notice and think you’re not genuine,” Cerulli said.
Cerulli pointed to U.S. Reps. Jim Himes and Jahana Hayes as politicians who use social media effectively. Himes — who Cerulli interns for — tweets like any 54-year-old dad would, he said, and Hayes, a former teacher, tweets like an educator.
Cerulli also said that Trump is very genuine with his digital communication, as he “showed us all who he is really early on” and tweets like it.
Cohen said she saw Ocasio-Cortez’s authenticity while watching her stream after the congresswoman made it clear from the start that she was gaming to encourage voting, but then still went on to play for more than three hours.
“To me, that’s not just words. That’s an authenticity and a willingness to engage with the community,” Cohen said, adding that Ocasio-Cortez allowing herself to be “vulnerable” as a newbie was also a smart move, as politicians usually want everything to be predictable and tactical.
Additionally, Cohen noted that Ocasio-Cortez’s political messaging throughout the stream was subtle enough not to turn viewers away.
“Gamers game because they want to escape the real world, so she was taking a bit of a risk. I think part of her brilliance was recognizing that and just doing so when it flowed seamlessly,” Cohen said.
The stream speaks largely to how politicians can remain relatable while campaigning. Viewers got to see Ocasio-Cortez react in real-time, wrestle with whether to hit the “kill” button and fail miserably at talking her way out of being booted off the ship, all while she gently pushed them to vote in the 2020 election.
The fact that the stream propelled the “Orange is Sus” meme — “orange” being the orange crewmate with Trump-style hair — to the point that people made it into lawn signs and stickers was also a testament to its success, Cohen said.
“When you see the sticker or yard sign, it brings back a positive memory and continues the message, and that’s why this is so brilliant. It’s continuing the conversation for weeks to come,” Cohen explained.
Cerulli believes it’s a turning point in political communication.
“People should recognize this is how politicians are going to talk to voters here on out,” he said. “Show voters who you really are. People, especially young people, have got a really high b******t detector.”