In late October, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known by her acronym AOC, organized what is perhaps the strangest voter outreach event in recent history. She livestreamed herself on the streaming platform Twitch playing Among Us, a hugely popular online game in which a spaceship crew needs to identify and vote out one or several impostors before they murder everyone. The stream showed people, especially members of Generation Z, who spend a lot of time on Twitch, how normal and fun politicians can be. Moreover, AOC’s choice of game may have revealed a deeper message: that you must vote to get rid of the impostor.
AOC reached out on Twitter and was joined a few days later by fellow Rep. Ilhan Omar and a handful of popular gamers, such as Valkyrae, Disguised Toast, and Corpse Husband. After taking care of a few technical difficulties, AOC started off by explaining the reason for streaming: to get out the vote.
“That’s really what tonight is all about!” she said.
AOC and her fellow gamers spent three hours having fun, accusing each other of being the impostor, cheering when they won, and shouting when they lost. Every time it was time to cast a ballot for the impostor, AOC would subtly say, “I’m voting early” (staying very on message).
In Among Us, your avatar – a three-feet tall astronaut in a bright colour of your choice – is either a crewmate or an impostor. As a crewmate, you run around the spaceship completing mundane tasks while also trying to determine who the impostor is – before they kill you. You can call meetings with the rest of your team when you see something suspicious or when a body is found. As an impostor, your task is to sabotage the ship. You can do this by breaking integral parts of the ship (such as the reactors or the oxygen tank), faking tasks, or by killing off the crewmates one by one – all without getting caught. Impostors can also hide using the air vents by “venting” through them. The game ends when all impostors are caught, when all tasks are completed (resulting in the crew’s victory), or when an equal number of impostors and crew members are left (resulting in the victory of the impostors).
Essentially, this is a game of deceit: the best liars win. Crewmates can report all of the impostor’s mistakes (i.e. murders), but if enough people believe the impostors’ lies, the impostor(s) will still win. Does this sound vaguely familiar? Let us imagine the 2016 elections as a game of Among Us.
The second you press “Join game”, your avatar pops up in the lobby. While waiting for the other players, you pick a cute hat. A red avatar with the name “Trump” appears and immediately starts talking nonsense in the chat. Another tiny astronaut, a blue one named “Clinton”, appears and starts a discussion. Thankfully, the game starts and you find out that you are a crewmate. Together with Trump and Clinton, you run from the starting point in the cafeteria to the administration room to complete the normally ever-lasting card swiping task. Strangely, Trump finishes that task in a second. While he runs off to the storage room, you and Clinton make your way to the hospital wing.
Seconds later, a body is reported by a yellow avatar. “Where?” you ask in the chat. “Storage,” they reply. When asked whether anyone saw anything suspicious, you say “Red was lowkey sus, faking tasks.” Clinton agrees and says “Yes, I think so too!” Together, you manage to convince another crewmate who boldly declares “I’m with her!” But alas, this is not enough to convince your fellow crewmates, so the vote is skipped.
The meeting is resolved, and the game continues. You suspect Trump but you do not want to follow him around because you still have many tasks to complete. When you finish your tasks, you decide to make a lap around the ship to see if there are any bodies. You enter the electrical unit, just in time to see Trump vent away, leaving Clinton to stand over a dead brown avatar. A green avatar enters after you and immediately reports the body. “Blue killed Brown in electrical!” they exclaim in the chat. “They were standing over their body!”
It turns out brown wasn’t the only one that died: the impostor(s) seem(s) to have gone on a full-blown killing spree, leaving only you, Green, Trump, Clinton, and a purple avatar named Pence. You try and explain that you saw Trump vent seconds before, but it’s too late. Everyone has already voted, and Clinton is thrown out of the spaceship. The screen goes black and Trump and Pence are revealed to be the winning impostors.
The parallel with 2016 and today
Apart from a slightly different voting system, this round of Among Us is reminiscent of what happened in 2016. Many politicians, experts and voters called out the suspicious actions of Mr. Trump, yet he still was elected president. It’s also worth pointing out again that good lying skills are a requirement for the impostor to succeed. This is why, during her stream, AOC said she was nervous about playing the game, claiming that she was “a really bad liar—I’m terrible at it.” Interestingly, she cited the same reason for not initially wanting to be a politician. Trump on the other hand, does not lack any skills in this department. During all three presidential debates of the 2016 elections, Trump made 104 false claims (compared to Clinton’s 13). Finally, it shows that one suspicious action from an otherwise relatively innocent player (i.e. Clinton) can be enough for fellow players to stop trusting them and exclude them from the game.
The similarities between Among Us and our world are even more eerie today. The crew members ironically believe that they have authority over the spaceship, just like we believe that we have control over stopping the Covid-19 pandemic or slowing down climate change. While the crew members try to stop the ship from crashing down by fixing the wires and filling up the fuel tank, we try to stop our world from heating up by swapping our motor cars for electric alternatives and eating less meat. Meanwhile, the impostor is faking their tasks and swearing that they are working hard to keep all of us alive.
What is perhaps most concerning, is that Trump remains the impostor. Just like the impostors in Among Us, President Trump was bestowed with additional powers that the average citizen or crew member does not possess. As a result, both real-life citizens and online crew members live in fear and anticipation of the impostor’s next move. Will the impostor kill another avatar? Will Trump pull out of another international agreement? We all try to resume our dull daily tasks, knowing that only a democratic vote can save the ship and the country from the otherwise inevitable breakdown.
It is unknown whether AOC had all of this in mind when she decided to play this game. Perhaps she knew all along, perhaps it was merely a coincidence. In either case, her initiative was highly entertaining and relatable. And with a real-time viewership of 439,000 (the Twitch record stands at 628,000) and an aggregate viewership of 5.2 million, AOC’s livestream certainly achieved its goal: reaching (young) people. Let us hope that these viewers got the deeper message. There is an impostor among us, and he has been here for four years. Time to vote him out!