Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the interactive politician. She knocks on doors; she receives neon Post-it devotionals at her Capitol Hill office. She makes macaroni and cheese and fields climate policy questions on Instagram Live. Tonight, she went live on the streaming platform Twitch to do something she says she hates more than anything, in front of 440,000 live viewers: lie.
Ocasio-Cortez was playing Among Us, a recently viral game with Mafia-like mechanics. On Monday she had soft-launched her Twitch channel with a coy tweet asking whether anybody might be interested in playing with her. In a parenthetical, she added, “I’ve never played but it looks like a lot of fun.” The response was frenetic. A who’s who of internet celebrities threw their blue checkmarks in the ring—makeup YouTuber James Charles, KindaFunny’s Greg Miller, actress Felicia Day, even Chelsea Manning, who is currently building her own gaming PC. Also coy, lefty politics streamer Hasan Piker—noted AOC fanboy and Young Turks alumni—responded with a lowercase “hi!”.
Then came the gamers. Imane “Pokimane” Anys replied, “it’d be an honor” with crying and prayer hands emojis. Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo wrote he would “offer myself as tribute.” Fortnite star Ali “Myth” Kabbani proposed to “do wires together.” Esports got in there, too, with FaZe Clan inviting AOC to an Among Us tournament and the Overwatch League team Washington Justice offering to help “rep DC.”
Ocasio-Cortez is far from the first politician to go where the gamers are. Bernie Sanders’ fireside chat on Covid brought over 50,000 viewers to his channel in March. Twitch temporarily banned Donald Trump’s channel, launched late last year, for violating policies against “hateful content.” Joe Biden’s campaign has one, too, with a bafflingly low 2,500 followers.
But other politicians’ Twitch streams are, for the most part, chats, rallies, or if you’re the Biden campaign, lo-fi train footage. Ocasio-Cortez games. And fellow first-term congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who created her own Twitch channel, joined her, her Twitch icon a stoic Gundam. By the time Ocasio-Cortez went live at 9 pm ET Tuesday night, over 260,000 people had hit “Follow” on her Twitch channel. Twenty minutes before she signed on, 50,000 viewers sat in wait, filling her chat with encouragement and emotes.
Piker’s chat was effusive as well. “What a wonderful day,” said Piker, grinning into the camera. Chat rolled on: “TOP QUEEN ON TWITCH” and “LET’S GOOOOOO” accompanied crying Pepe the Frog faces. An ad for the Marines played. Then, Anys went live. “I’m so hyped I want to throw up,” she said to 30,000 viewers. “I think this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life, actually,” she said.
Next came Ocasio-Cortez. “This is pretty insane,” she said from a tiny square at the bottom of the screen to 163,000 live viewers. Soon, 200,000 more would arrive. Admitting she just started playing Among Us Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez described how, with two unscheduled hours on Monday, she ran into Best Buy asking for webcams and mics. There weren’t any, because of the pandemic, so she outsourced to her community. Grassroots.