Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th Congressional District, can make another addition to her resume: Twitch streamer. Yep, you read that correctly. Last week, AOC hosted a three-hour live stream playing Among Us with fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and some of gaming’s biggest personalities in an effort to inspire a young generation to go out and vote this election season. She was able to amass over 426,000 viewers that night, the second-highest peak viewership ever recorded on Twitch. It’s safe to say AOC made history as the country’s first member of Congress to play video games on her own live stream channel, but this was bound to happen at some point.
Believe it or not, AOC is a gamer herself. She made a tweet back in July about how she reached Silver III in League of Legends, which caught gaming Twitter by surprise; she even stated how bashing her political criticizers is “child’s play compared to inting 13 year-olds.” Spoken like a true gamer indeed. There was also one point where she actually had to describe what Twitch was to her fellow colleagues in Congress. If you are shocked that a U.S. Congresswoman is a huge fan of video games and gaming culture, consider the fact that there are 2.7 billion gamers worldwide.
Video games are fun and appealing. It’s that simple. There are so many genres of video games that there is literally something for everyone to enjoy. You can control athletes and go up against professional teams in sports games like Madden or NBA 2K; you can try to outsmart your opponents in online multiplayer like Halo or League of Legends; you can also manage your own fictional community in social simulation games like Animal Crossing or The Sims. I’m not kidding, there’s even a video game where all you do as the player is drink a can of soda and walk around a level constructed entirely in Microsoft Paint (it’s called Soda Drinker Pro). It’s no wonder that with a great variety of video games there would be billions of people around the world who would be attracted to them.
But it’s not just playing video games that creates enjoyment for people. Watching others play games can be just as fun as playing them yourself. Not everyone reading this may have had this experience, but if you did, imagine when you were younger and had a get-together with some friends at their place. They may have had a game console and two of them may have gone head-to-head or played co-op together. Everyone else there would have been sitting around watching them, rooting them on even. It’s the equivalent of watching a sporting event; there’s a lot of action and suspense going on, and just like how you may have played a particular sport and know all the rules, you might vicariously relive your experiences in a familiar video game through the person you’re watching play it while rooting them on at the same time. That, or you’re just attracted to what’s happening on the screen.
Live streaming services such as Twitch take this practice of watching others play and magnify it to a whole new level. To be fair, Twitch wasn’t the first website that allowed people to watch others play video games. It was actually YouTube that was the original home of “Let’s Plays”, videos where someone would pre record themselves playing a video game and then later upload it. Viewers could either leave a like or dislike, and they would post a comment down below. Twitch, however, allows gamers to do all of the above in real time. Rather than watch a prerecorded video, viewers can watch that person play alongside them and even chat with them at the same time. This eliminates the passage of time presented in posted comments on a YouTube video. Between watching a pre recorded Let’s Play series and viewing a streamer play video games live, the latter is far more appealing.
Video game live streams are also wholly unique from any other form of entertainment. Many of the most watched games on Twitch are multiplayer games, but there are also lots of streamers who will play single player games. These single player experiences have a story built into them and usually follow one or more characters throughout, not unlike a movie or TV show. In addition to watching the events of the video game unfold, viewers can also watch the streamer’s reactions in playing out these events within the game in the narrative and gameplay. Streamers take on a unique role of being both the main protagonist and an athlete, embarking on a virtual journey while having to abide by the confines in the game design. If they fail, they get penalized and are set back, just like a sports game. There are some instances where even the viewer can involve themselves; streamers might ask their chat for help in one area, and there are even some multiplayer games like Hyper Scape that have viewer integration as part of the gameplay.
It’s no wonder that the unique experience gaming live streams offer draws so many people to them. Anyone can do it, and there are an abundance of people to watch. Viewers could watch a big name personality like Jacksepticeye or Pokimane and even discover someone new that reminds them of their old friends. It is a big market, and there are plenty of notable people outside of the gaming universe who are attracted to it. Musical artist T-Pain was one of the first big names outside of gaming to stream on Twitch, and more celebrity streamers have popped up since then. From actors like James Buckley to basketball players like Devin Booker, there are a plethora of famous people who see the appeal of Twitch and the ability to talk directly to others who are watching.
Like so many other hobbies, video games have the power to bring people together. There are so many reasons as to why video games themselves are so appealing and why billions of people play them. Watching others share that enjoyment engenders a sense of comfort in the viewer, and it is why live streams are so popular. Many people who are unfamiliar with Twitch or gaming live streams might see this as the next big form of entertainment, but in reality this has been going on for nearly a decade; if anything, it’s become more of a beloved pastime. AOC is special in that she’s the first big name in politics to stream on Twitch. She felt right at home with all the other streamers and had a lot of enthusiasm playing Among Us with everyone. Who knows what she’ll play next time, but you can guarantee there will be a lot of people watching her.
(Cover Photo: TechSpot)