The Storytelling Machine: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Proves the Cultural Power of Video Games

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Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) played the most popular video game in the world. More than five million people watched. It’s time to talk about games as a force of pop culture.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez livestreamed the social deduction video game “Among Us” on October 20 to a brand-new Twitch channel. Alongside fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and popular streamers such as JackScepticEye, Cr1tikal, and DisguisedToast, Ocasio-Cortez held over 400,000 viewers during peak viewership, the third most-viewed stream ever from an individual creator. Over five million people watched the recorded VOD, enough for the stream to rival Fox News’ primetime viewership.

But beyond the success of the event as political messaging, the surrealism of watching sitting politicians engage with “Among Us”, frequently one of the top five games currently being streamed to Twitch in 2020, is mind-boggling. The livestream held all the paranoia, intense arguing, and memorable moments the game is known for: AOC played Impostor her first game (and then accidentally self-reported her first kill!). Congresswoman Omar outed herself as Impostor by laughing maniacally when she should have muted her microphone. DisguisedToast marinated a sitting congresswoman! We tend to think of politicians as above us (pun intended), so it’s another magnitude of artistic power and authenticity to watch a sitting congressperson actively engage with a culturally relevant art piece. And given a lawmaker can’t read a popular book or watch a popular film with an entire audience, that artistic power is something that can only be accomplished through games. Beyond being a watershed moment for political communication in the Social Media age, this is a watershed moment for games.

But of course “Among Us” isn’t the only game that’s left its cultural fingerprints on 2020 (even if it was the only game this event could have worked with due to its multiplayer popularity). With film and TV productions having stopped due to the ongoing pandemic, the cultural void has been filled with streaming video like “Tiger King” and “Palm Springs” and with games like “Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout” and the inescapable hype surrounding the upcoming “Cyberpunk 2077”. We don’t need to wait for games to “become art” in order for us to take them seriously as part of pop culture. That already happened sometime between the releases of “DOOM”, “World of Warcraft”, and “Five Nights at Freddy’s”– but events like this do wake us up to the cultural power games have. If you don’t know the meaning of the word “sus”, it might be time to find out; otherwise, you’re about to be ejected from the multiplying cultural conversations we’re all going to have about powerful games. -Quint Iverson

THE STORYTELLING MACHINE is a column about how games tell stories. Read more here.

Photo: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is shocked to discover she’s playing the Impostor during her first game of “Among Us” (Quint Iverson)


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