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Politicians Playing Among Us

7 minute read | Last updated 3-Dec-2020 |An icon depicting a retail tag with a heart for 'favourite'CBC

On my tech column with CBC Ottawa Morning, I explain how politicians are using the online game, Among Us, as a platform to reach younger audiences. Take a listen to the full column or read the transcript below.

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Transcript

[00:00:00] Robyn: It’s an online murder mystery game with growing popularity. The video game, Among Us, has more than 100 million downloads and it has picked up some high-profile fans, including US Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Over the weekend she played a round against NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh. The six-hour livestream drew around 100,000 viewers. Here’s a taste of part of their matchup.

[00:00:29] AOC: Jagmeet! You just killed him right in front of me.

[00:00:31] Jagmeet Singh: What? [laughs] Wait a second. It is? That must be those AOC that did it.

[00:00:35] AOC: Wait.

[00:00:36] Jagmeet Singh: [laughs].

[00:00:36] AOC: Wait.

[00:00:36] Jagmeet Singh: …pin it on me.

[00:00:38] AOC: no.

[00:00:39] Jagmeet Singh: That is…

[00:00:40] AOC: Wait a second. Wait a second. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. I’m…

[00:00:45] Jagmeet Singh: AOC then…

[00:00:45] AOC: Wait.

[00:00:46] Jagmeet Singh: …turning it on me.

[00:00:47] Robyn: That’s Jagmeet saying congresswoman, commonly known by her nickn- nickname, AOC. And they were playing a game of Among Us over the weekend. Let’s talk a bit more about the game and, the audience that it is reaching. Our tech columnist, Mark Nunnikhoven, joins us now. Hi, Mark.

[00:01:02] Mark: Morning, Robin.

[00:01:03] Robyn: Among us. I was looking at some of the reviews, it says that it is a simple game that is deceptively complex. How does it work, exactly?

[00:01:13] Mark: Yeah, it’s- it’s premise is pretty straight forward. it’s set in a fun little atmosphere of you and, some of your friends are [00:01:20] trapped on a spaceship. You’re little, space-faring people. 4 to 10 of you playing at the same time and you are traveling through space and you need to go and maintain your ship. The trick here is that one of the people on the ship is an alien shape-shifting imposter. And that alien goes about sabotaging the ship and murdering your crew mates. your goal is to figure out who it is before it’s too late.

[00:01:44] Robyn: You’ve given it a go, I think, Mark. What did you think of it?

[00:01:47] Mark: I- I did. I started playing a little bit, and it’s hilarious. It is a ton of fun. a huge advantage here is there’s a bunch of different game modes so- so if it’s just you can play, on a public game and join some, other random folks on the internet. But you also have the ability to do private games, or local games over your Wi-Fi. So if it’s just you and your friends, or if you set up, with other famous politicians and streamers, you can have a private little shared experience that’s, a really nice thing in this day and age when we can’t go out and see each other.

[00:02:16] Robyn: When did you start noticing that politicians were fans of this game?

[00:02:20] Mark: Yeah, that’s popped up. i- it happened, in October when AOC, was on with Representative Omar, and some very popular esports, celebrities like Myth and Pokimane and Valkyrae, who are very big in the space. They all have, millions of followers on various platforms.

[00:02:34]but this game has been popping up as a, more casual alternative in the esports te…scene. So instead of something involved, like Fortnite, where you really have to understand the game to enjoy watching it, this is a far more relaxed… think, casual board game, among friends just- just played online.

[00:02:52] Robyn: I was noticing that, the CBC podcast, Front Burner, had a whole episode on this yesterday and, m… specifically, w… they were taking a look at how left-wing politicians are taking full advantage of these digital spaces. how do you reflect on that?

[00:03:07] Mark: Yeah. It was a fantastic episode. Highly recommend that everybody check that out. and it is a very interesting point, is that, AOC started, streaming, a couple months ago and she’s got 700,000 followers, of her streams on this platform Twitch, which is dedicated to game streaming. and we’re seeing this, more and more. So we obviously… We saw it, with, Honorable Singh, joining this- this weekend. and we’ve seen it a little bit with… the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern had been on a stream, not with a gamer, but with a famous wood carver who’s on that platform and has just as big of a audience as most of these people.

[00:03:38]I think it’s a really good trend because it’s far more relatable. Unlike, if you reach out to a politician on Instagram or Twitter, where it may be their team that’s responding to you. You’re never really sure. when you’re watching them live on a stream gaming, it’s a far more authentic and, relatable interaction. as long as they are being authentic and it’s really hard to, put on your political, persona, when you’re trying to [00:04:00] figure out who just murdered your crew mate.

[00:04:01] Robyn: [laughs]. I was gonna ask you, is it possible to get political messages out while you’re playing this game?

[00:04:06] Mark: I- it is. so the way that they’re playing this game is normally, if it’s just, you playing with strangers of the internet, it’s a text chat. that, makes it a little harder to, convey anything beyond just the simple mechanics of the game. But when they’re streaming it, they have set up a… either a video chat or a conference call on the side, so that it’s a far more, in depth experience. And so they’re having conversations as they’re going along.

[00:04:28] And the first stream with AOC and, representative Omar, they were, trying to get people out to vote. Register and vote for the US election. And, in this stream, Jagmeet and A- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were talking about some of the differences in the response between our country and the US for COVID-19, some challenges around health care. And they were doing it in a way that really made it, it wasn’t as, a posed opportunity. It was far more, just, like a dinner table conversation.

[00:04:55] Robyn: According to, National Public Radio, NPR, in the states, the basics of this game have actually been around since 1986. That it was, previously called Mafia or sometimes people called it, Werewolf. How come you think it’s suddenly taking off in popularity now?

[00:05:09] Mark: Yeah, and- and I think it’s- it’s really just the moment. so this game was actually released in 2018. It’s made by a small, two person, studio called Innersloth. And the game actually, flopped out of the [00:05:20] gates. even though it’s really accessible, it only costs about $6.00 Canadian. but now, in 2020, when we can’t go anywhere, this is something that’s really easy to do together online. and you don’t have to be a serious gamer. I relate it to, murder mysteries.

[00:05:34] Robyn: [affirmative].

[00:05:34] Mark: when you can go up… you used to be able to get together, for a murder mystery dinner, or way back, in the 80s when you could get VCR games, that walked you through the murder mystery. Or even something like Clue. But I think it’s just the accessibility of it now. The ease of being able to set it up as a family game. even if not… if outside of the household, and still, adhere to- to the distancing restrictions. I think that’s really why it’s having a moment right now. ‘cause it’s better than just having a simple video call with your fr… family.

[00:05:59] Robyn: In-Indeed. Okay. Mark, good to talk to you, as always. Thanks so much.

[00:06:02] Mark: Pleasure. Thanks, Robin.

[00:06:03] Robyn: That’s Mark Nunnikhoven. He is our technology columnist. He’s also the vice president of cloud research at Trend Micro.