As part of a plan to encourage voting in the November election, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went live on Twitch Tuesday night to play the sudden hit indie game Among Us. The stream lasted more than three hours, with an audience peak of 439,000 viewers, making it one of the top 10 all-time livestreams by an individual broadcaster on Amazon-owned Twitch.
Ocasio-Cortez’s stream is the latest event in what’s become a surreal few months for the makers of Among Us, a game of “social deduction” for up to 10 people. InnerSloth, a three-person indie studio in Redmond, Washington, developed Among Us in Unity and released it for mobile devices in June 2018.
The three team members at InnerSloth, artist/designer Marcus “Puffballs United” Bromander, programmer/composer Forest Willard, and artist/”general task-doer” Amy Liu, all came up through the artistic/gaming community on Newgrounds. Bromander in particular is known for a long-running collection of Flash games, which InnerSloth recently compiled and released on Steam as The Henry Stickmin Collection. As a studio, InnerSloth has also released a 2015 mobile game, Dig 2 China.
Among Us initially received almost no attention from the wider gaming audience, which Willard has attributed to InnerSloth being “really bad at marketing.” InnerSloth stuck with it, however, sometimes updating it as often as once per week and launching the game on Steam in November 2018. The team lived off their savings while steadily adding more features and downloadable content to Among Us, which gradually grew the game’s audience and base of players.
Then, this past July, the content creators suddenly found Among Us, and it blew up virtually overnight. It turned out to be a perfect game for streaming, as it’s short, tense, dynamic, group-based, and built around arguments and accusations, much in the spirit of party games like Mafia and Werewolf.
It initially became popular in Korea, Brazil, and Mexico, before breaking into the American audience in a July broadcast by top Twitch broadcaster Chance “Sodapoppin” Morris. Since then, Among Us has circulated throughout the modern content-creation ecosystem, with many YouTubers, Let’s-Players, and other internet personalities signing up to play a few rounds.
That, in turn, translated into a sudden boost of sales for the game, which quickly became popular among players looking for social interaction during the COVID-19 pandemic. A look at the unofficial Steam Charts for Among Us tells a story of the game’s rapid climb out of obscurity; it’s seen a nearly 1,000% boost in its player population since this time last year, with well over a quarter million people playing Among Us on Steam at time of writing.
InnerSloth has made multiple updates to Among Us in the last few weeks, and announced at the end of September that it would cancel plans for an Among Us 2 in order to continue supporting and adding content to the original game. This reportedly includes a full code rework.
Join me, @pokimanelol, @hasanthehun, & more on Twitch TONIGHT as we help folks make a voting plan at https://t.co/TskRLfhCt3 and officially declare orange sus on Among Us 🍊
Tune in 9pm tonight at https://t.co/nZap5fuerN https://t.co/HeKMeDDjXf
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 20, 2020
Using Among Us to get out the vote isn’t as strange an idea as it might sound. Players take the role of Crewmates, spacemen doing repair work on their ship or base, but one to three of them have been randomly chosen to play as Impostors, alien shapeshifters who are out to kill everyone else. (AOC’s stream got off to a funny start when she was selected to be an Impostor in the first round.) The result is a tense murder mystery/slasher movie, where players know they’re being stalked, but not by whom.
The Crewmates’ only defense is to call a meeting where they can try to deduce from available information which of the remaining players are Impostors. If they’ve got evidence, or can at least argue a convincing enough case against another player, they can then call a vote to punt an accused Impostor out the nearest airlock, which may very well end up killing an innocent Crewmate.
In a lot of ways, Among Us is about how players can game that vote, which makes it a cynical but apt analogy for the political process, as well as a sort of bizarre testament to the value of an individual vote in small, close races.
Ocasio-Cortez was joined on her Among Us stream by fellow Rep. Ilhan Omar, who played on a surprisingly sweet gaming PC, and several high-profile Twitch broadcasters including Pokimane, Disguised Toast, and DrLupo. The whole event reportedly came together very quickly, from Ocasio-Cortez tweeting out an interest check on Monday afternoon to her crew throwing together a full Twitch channel for her, using fan-created graphics, by Tuesday night.
Ocasio-Cortez’s Among Us stream is the second recent high-profile attempt to draw the gaming audience into politics, after last week’s debut of “Biden Island” in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Interested Animal Crossing players have an open invitation to visit a carefully-built, campaign-themed island hideaway, complete with a virtual representation of Joe Biden himself.
Notably, AOC is also a professed fan of Riot Games’ MOBA League of Legends. She announced back in July that she had hit Silver III in the game’s ranking system, playing as the support magician Sona. In other words, she’s there to boost her squad, which seems appropriate.