In an interesting turn of events this week, Nintendo released a new set of guidelines to be used in conjunction with Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Get Animal Crossing: New Horizons at 33% OFF here! or through Amazon.). The main focus of these rules was to prevent businesses and individuals making money exploiting the popular platform, but also asked that users refrain from bringing politics into the mix. Once again the lines between gaming and politics are being blurred, so lets have a look at how videogames, and their players, have been utilised by politicians in the past.
Having exceeded twenty-six million units sold since its release eight months ago, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is played across the world and not just by the common man. From Danny Trejo, to Chrissy Teigen, celebrities have been enjoying terraforming their islands and occasionally interacting with fans. More recently, a few new faces have joined the AC:NH family, and it is them that these new guidelines would appear to be directed at.
Weeks before the American Election, Joe Biden’s campaign team revealed they had been working on a very special project: Biden HQ. An island filled with all things Joe and Kamala, an idyllic space where political posters were strewn along side ice cream stands, and an opportunity to reach a younger demographic had been created. You have to admire the thought and detail the island designers went to; Biden’s house is set up to include both his and Harris’ offices, plus a merchandise store and a campaign office in the other rooms – the latter is strewn with coffee mugs and papers supposedly to simulate the hard work staff face in the run up to an election. (Is anyone else curious to know what Biden’s HHA score was?) The rest of the island is set up as a simulation of the voting process, with booths and informative signs including about how to vote by mail.
Imposters Among Us
In this age of social distancing and reduced group sizes, new means of reaching voting demographics is required. From the safety of their homes, Switch owners could take photos with the now-President-elect and pick up a yard sign for their own island. This is certainly the biggest virtual move of an American politician since the rise of gaming platforms, but its certainly not the only example. In October, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined congresswoman Ilhan Omar and famous faces from the Twitch platform to stream round after round of Among Us, the mafia-style game that has taken the world by storm.
Now it’s by no means unusual for politicians to have a Twitch account. Bernie Sanders, Biden, and Donald Trump have all attempted to use the platform to reach a wider audience. Interestingly, Trump has been far less active in recent months and even went so far as to say he would not use gaming platforms for campaigning as he preferred to speak “to real Americans”.
All of these prominent politicians have used their Twitch to mainly stream rallies or speeches, and not for its usual focus of gaming, although Sanders did do a fireside conversation with watchers regarding Covid back in March. This was not AOC’s angle however, as she brushed up on her Among Us knowledge and took on some of the biggest streaming names in the business.
What also sets AOC apart is the sheer number of people who tuned in to watch her stream, with a peak of over four hundred thousand viewers during her first game. According to Twitch Tracker, this places her as one of the topmost watched live streams on Twitch ever. A huge achievement given she set up her account twenty-four hours before going live.
Another surprisingly refreshing aspect of the stream was its – for the most part – seemingly apolitical nature. AOC did not attempt to interject the conversation with left-wing politics, instead she focused on having fun and occasionally reminding American viewers to vote early if they could – but didn’t tell them whose name to put a cross next to. At one point she even said that her main goal was to “officially declare orange sus”, a far step away from the downloadable Vote Biden signs for your Animal Crossing front garden.
But the use of gaming for political campaigning is not a new occurrence, it goes back much further to another Democratic nominee of 2008. Barack Obama was the first presidential nominee to use campaign advertising in a videogame, his likeness alongside a sign that early voting had begun were placed in both NBA Live 08 and Burnout Paradise. Now whilst the advertisements themselves were unlikely to encourage players to vote for Obama, the ‘earned media’ of people discussing the decision and seeing it reported elsewhere, encouraged voters towards the Obama campaign. It showed they were more appealing to the gaming demographic which boosted more wide-spread mainstream coverage. Since 2008 there has not been a huge rise in politicians featuring as ads in popular videogames, perhaps because games devs don’t wish to alienate certain players. However, this example did open the way for later politicians to recognise the potential for the widespread interaction that gaming offers.
The fact of the matter is that gaming is only going to increase in popularity as the years go by. In 2020, according to ESA, three quarters of households have at least one gamer in residence and with the restrictions of social distancing and the lack of alternative entertainment, it wouldn’t be surprising if this number increases. This being the case, it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect to see more instances of political interaction in the coming years. But as of yesterday, it would seem they will not happen on a Nintendo owned platform, which begs the question: is there really any harm in politicians or political activists using games to spread their messages?
It may be that Nintendo does not wish to alienate certain demographics or opposition voters from their games by allowing people like Biden to utilise the platform. On the other hand, there was nothing to stop Trump, or republican congressmen building their own islands or creating Twitch accounts. It’s a level playing field which, so far, only some are tapping into the conceivable potential. It will be interesting to see where the next decade of games and politics leads us. Get Animal Crossing: New Horizons at 33% OFF here! or through Amazon.