Disclaimer: at the time of writing this, I work for the video game company Activision Blizzard. All views in this post are my own, not my employer’s.
Earlier this week, Twitch fans around the world witnessed a remarkable intersection of gaming and politics. US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez streamed the popular mobile game Among Us, along with fellow US Representative Ilhan Omar. The Twitch stream played to a concurrent peak audience of over 400,000 people, turning the stream into a campaign rally of sorts, where AOC encouraged viewers to vote, and vote early. Communicating with young voters is critical, especially given the coronavirus pandemic, and gamers are typically a tough audience to reach. For all those reasons, this Twitch takeover was a big win for AOC.Embed from Getty Images
Using games to promote politics may seem pretty unique, but this actually isn’t the first time that something like this has happened. Just earlier this month, the Biden-Harris campaign established its own island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The island is fully equipped with Biden-Harris signage, voting booths, and even digital avatars of Biden and Harris themselves. In fact, Obama may have been the first to pioneer in-game activations for a presidential election. Back in 2012, the Obama campaign put in-game advertising in 18 different titles including Need for Speed: Carbon and Madden NFL 13.
Unfortunately, promoting politics through video games isn’t always as fun and lighthearted as one may think. Just days after the stream with AOC, Among Us fell victim to a pro-Trump hacker. The hack spammed players with pro-Trump messaging using the in-game chat functionality. InnerSloth, the developer behind Among Us, has been scrambling to get the hack under control. As the media and technology landscape continues to evolve, we’ll continue to see civic engagement take on new forms, and new risks along with them.
If you didn’t get a chance to see AOC in action, you can check out all of the highlights in the YouTube video right here. Enjoy!