Gaming becomes a prime arena for get-out-the-vote initiatives
Last week, two house representatives, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress, and Ilhan Omar, the first woman of color to represent Minnesota, made headlines when they joined two of Twitch’s top steamers, pokimane and HasanAbi, to play the popular game “Among Us” on Twitch in a multi-hour event to encourage young people to vote.
The event saw 435,000 concurrent viewers, nearly grasping the current record for a Twitch stream (628,000 concurrent viewers), according to Twitch. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is someone you can stream with,” read GQ Magazine, while The Guardian said: “AOC played Among Us and achieved what most politicians fail at: acting normal.”
What the event showed is that, in 2020, video games are the new political rallies. This election cycle, video games and gaming streaming sites have become the go-to places to reach people, especially young adults. Joe Biden’s campaign has utilized Nintendo’s popular “Animal Crossing” to sell digital yard signs and branded outfits, and partnered with gaming news program KindaFunnyGames to give a tour of the candidate’s themed island in the game.
As election day nears, gamers are the focus of several last ditch efforts to get young people, a demographic known for skipping out on voting, to the polls (or their mailboxes) this year.
This past weekend, in recognition of the inaugural “Vote Early Day” on Oct. 24, MTV partnered with gaming organizations for the first time on a multi-hour streaming competition called “Fall-o-Ween” as part of its “Vote For Your Life” campaign. The event was a partnership with the Video Game Entertainment News Network (VENN) and Gamers.Vote, a new non-partisan nonprofit that aims to get gamers to the polls.
While popular esports teams like 100 Thieves and Dignitas battled it out for a $40,000 prize donation to charities, celebrities like NBA’s Josh Hart, Felicia Day and Tee Grizzley made appearances. The entire event streamed to VENN’s Twitch channel, which has nearly 58,000 followers, and on entertainment site Fandom.
“This is the first election where young people can outnumber Boomers, so that’s why it’s so important to get them out to vote,” says Jay Osterman, manager of social impact of entertainment and youth brands at MTV’s parent company ViacomCBS. “At MTV, we’re doing everything we can to expand our reach and to meet young people where they are—and that is, more than ever, at home playing video games.”
According to a 2020 study from gaming industry trade group Entertainment Software Association, there are now 164 million people of voting age in the U.S. who play games, 59 percent of whom are predicted to vote this election. Propelled by the coronavirus, the number of people staying home and playing video games has skyrocketed.
Chris Erb, CEO of gaming-focused agency Tripleclix, says he is seeing more political activity in the gaming space than ever before. Still, it’s not the first election season where presidential candidates, organizations and brands have tried to reach this growing cohort. The Obama campaign placed early voting ads in games such as Nascar, NBA Live and Guitar Hero, says Erb.
Amazon’s Twitch, which has 17.5 million daily visitors on average, is a popular choice for companies and brands to turn to for their get-out-the vote initiatives. Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang set up Twitch channels, and President Trump launched a channel in October 2019 that was temporarily suspended for going against Twitch’s “hateful conduct” rules.
This Thursday (Oct. 29), Alicia Keys, Kerry Washington and America Ferrera will co-host Global Citizen’s “Every Vote Counts” livestream on the platform, with appearances from Amy Schumer, Shaquille O’Neal and Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as performances from Keys and Shawn Mendes, among others. The event will also air on CBS and social media sites like Facebook.
"People on Twitch show up for the causes and interests they care about,” says a Twitch spokesperson. “It’s been great to see continued interest in engaging the Twitch community to get out the vote and discuss important issues.” Beyond acting as a host for such initiatives, in September, Twitch introduced a gamers.vote extension that streamers could place on their channels, enabling viewers to register to vote without even leaving the site.
Another non-partisan effort aims to educate not only first-time voters, but kids who will eventually age into voting. Creative agency Sid Lee worked with Rock the Vote to craft voting houses within Minecraft, a Lego-like building game that in May crossed 200 million copies sold and saw more than 126 million people playing every month. From Oct. 24 to Oct. 29, players can learn about the electoral process and vote on 10 issues that are particularly important this election cycle.
“When COVID forced people to go home, and everyone is working from home, and the younger people are there too, gaming kind of became the place to connect with one another,” says Nick Labbe, copywriter at Sid Lee. “We were like, ‘Ok, great, the people we want to talk to are now back on Minecraft. Let’s go there.’”