Among Us Taps Into Our Obsession With Betrayal

But when applying those same markers of self-determination—mastery, autonomy, and relatedness—to the role of the imposter, your level of self-determination falls into the extreme. Your mastery and progression is marked only by the length of time you’re able to stay hidden as the imposter. The longer you go without being caught, the more you believe you’re doing well even when there’s no guarantee you’re winning. You even have full autonomy in how you approach winning the game. Whether you sabotage the ship, plant doubt in your crewmembers’ deliberation meetings or pick off crewmembers one by one, everything you do impacts the entire outcome of everyone’s game. You are, in effect, puppeteering the entire experience and feeding off of high self-determination.

“Everything you say and do affects the other person’s play experience,” says Madigan. “You’re not just doing it in a vacuum. You’re going through and you’re affecting the outcome of that game and the experiences that other people have, and they’re going to be talking about you during the meetings, and after the game, and so forth. It really is like a direct connection to other people.”

Want to Win? Embrace Autonomy and Enjoy the Community

The deliberation meetings themselves function as a microcosm for what makes this game work for all parties: Every member has complete autonomy in how they approach every meeting and how they represent themselves. There is a shared experience of agency in how each deliberation plays out.

“That seems like a real-extreme example of that autonomy principle at work,” says Madigan. “You’re not just choosing responses from a menu, right? You’re speaking into voice chat or typing into chat.”

And if you’re not quick to call out someone for being “sus,” you could easily be on the chopping block as chaos unfolds rather quickly with players dropping one-word questions, responses, and suspicions. As the imposter, your best bet is to plant the seed of doubt into what others are saying and let others bandwagon to their own conclusions. This form of persuasion, although deliberate, often goes under the radar as others are so singlehandedly focused on discovering your identity.

“This old adage in psychology is that when we’re unsure about something, we look to other people who are similar to us and look at what they’re doing to help determine what we do,” says Madigan. “Confirmatory information bias is another kind of well-trod, well-understood phenomenon in human psychology, where we pay more attention to things that support our beliefs and pay less attention to things that don’t.”

And by playing others against each other, you are effectively controlling how others react to the situation you’ve created.

“A lot of it often comes down to not just what do you make other people know, but how do you make them feel?” says Madigan. “Do you make them feel smart? Do you make them feel like they can trust you? Do you make them feel like you’re their friend? It’s that nuance and handling of those relationships and eliciting those feelings.”

For those who play Among Us, the autonomy piece is perhaps the most attractive quality to the game’s design, and it shows when piecing apart the numbers behind how players win the game. According to Tran, imposters, those with the most autonomy, win 57.69 percent of the time. Of those wins earned by imposters, 35 percent win by killing everyone, while 17.6 percent win by voting out non-imposters. Of the 42.3 percent of crewmembers who win, 38.5 percent win by voting. Only 3.8 percent of crewmembers win by completing their tasks, and only 5 percent of imposters win by sabotaging the ship—evidence that, when given the choice, imposters and crewmembers alike will always scramble to take the game into their own hands before picking the most obvious path to glory.

“The part where you vote someone out or you discuss definitely turns the tide a lot for both crewmates and imposters,” says Tran. “All you need to do is to be able to talk to people, and hopefully be a good liar. And if you’re not a good liar, that’s OK, too. Because, honestly, people will think you’re lying anyway.”

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The Rise of One of the First Video Game Workers Unions

Online gaming culture had a track record of toxic culture, particularly the right-wing “Gamergate” movement, and that kind of culture rubbed off on the workplace. Games companies, in the wake of the 2020 racial justice protests, rushed to put out statements saying Black Lives Matter, but they rarely, Agwaze said, acknowledged the conditions they created inside their companies.

One of those companies, Ustwo, billed itself as a “fampany,” an awkward portmanteau of “family” and “company.” It proclaimed its commitment to diversity and inclusion, but when it fired Austin Kelmore, GWU-UK’s chair, its internal emails criticized him for spending time on “diversity schemes and working practices,” and for being a “self-appointed bastion of change.” One email, shared in The Guardian, proclaimed, “The studio runs as a collective ‘we’ rather than leadership v employees,” but also said that Kelmore had put “leadership . . . on the spot.” (The company spokesperson told The Guardian that Kelmore was leaving for reasons unconnected to his union activity.) GWU-UK fought for Kelmore, but even before the pandemic, such processes took time; after the pandemic, they were backed up even more.

Agwaze’s time organizing with GWU-UK had taught him that companies were often less efficient and practical than he’d expected. “They’re more of a chaotic evil,” he laughed. Few of them were aware of the labor laws, or of how their actions would be perceived. Then, as with the Black Lives Matter protests, they scrambled to try to win some goodwill through largely symbolic actions, like donating money to racial justice organizations.

Still, all of this reflects the start of a change in the industry, signaled by the rise in political awareness within and about games. Members of the UK Parliament have even formed an all-party group to look into the gaming industry, though Agwaze noted that GWU-UK’s invitation to speak to the group had been delayed as a result of Brexit and the general election in December 2019, and then because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, it marked a change from the assumption most people had, he said, that “it’s fine, because it is video games. It must be fun, even in its working conditions.”

With the pandemic, Agwaze said, some of the union’s usual means of gaining new members—in-person meetings and speaking engagements— had to be scrapped, and the 2020 Game Developers Conference, where they’d planned a panel, was postponed. New members were finding them anyway, however, because of immediate problems on the job. “They are more like, ‘Oh, shit is on fire right now! I need to find some union assistance!’” he said. Workers at some companies were being furloughed, but being asked to keep working without being paid.

Others were being told they had to go to the office despite the lockdown. And then there was the immigration question. The games industry, Agwaze noted, depended on immigrant labor—he himself was an EU migrant living in the United Kingdom, a status that could be disrupted by Brexit and, under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the government’s intention to crack down on migrants. The pandemic exacerbated these problems: Workers who lost jobs were unsure about their visa status, and with the backlog at both the Home Office and employment tribunals, there was a lot of uncertainty among workers that brought them to the union for help.

All of this meant progress—and more challenges—for Agwaze and the union. The workers at games companies, and in the broader tech industry, were finally starting to understand themselves not as lucky to have a dream job, but as workers who are producing something of value for companies that rake in profits. After all, as Agwaze noted, “for the one and a half years we’ve been around now, we’ve been the fastest-growing branch of the IWGB. We’re the fastest-growing sector that they’ve ever had.” The union is a crucial step toward changing power in that industry and claiming more of it for themselves.


This article has been adapted from Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone by Sarah Jaffe © 2021. Available from Bold Type Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.


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The Swashbuckling Escapism of Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meier has one of the most recognizable names in the video game industry. But who is he beyond a name on a box, anyway?

A recent thread on Reddit asking the community about the first game they ever played gathered over 45,000 comments, with classic names like Tetris, Super Mario Bros., and Spyro topping the list. It got me thinking about which video games had the biggest impact on me as a kid. These days they’re a major part of my life, but it hasn’t always been that way. I was born in the mid-’90s, so I missed out on the earliest consoles, and after the loss of our beloved Gameboy Color (stolen in the prime of its life), the technological heart of my house became the family’s desktop computer. 

author young in front of computer
Courtesy of M.J. Lewis

It was my dad’s domain, and I would squeeze in next to the dial-up modem to watch him play classic dad games like Football Manager and Airline Tycoon. Generally I was content to spectate, until one game managed to promote me to player: the 2004 release of Sid Meier’s Pirates! 

Looking back on the game now, it’s easy to see why it appealed to me so much. You start out as a buccaneer, steering your ship across an open-world map of the Caribbean in search of fame, fortune, and your lost family. Encounters on the waves lead to real-time naval battles, where players use the number pad to fire their cannons at an enemy vessel while attempting to deftly maneuver through their cannonball onslaught. It’s surprisingly tactical: You can pick the type of cannonball that your ship fires, with different types dealing specific damage to the enemy ship or its crew. Reducing the number of crew makes it easier to win the ensuing sword fight, a tense battle against the enemy captain on the deck of his (hopefully) half-wrecked ship. 

This could feel needlessly bellicose if it weren’t so damn fun—and profitable to boot. Taking an enemy vessel gets you crew, goods, and gold but could harm your reputation with whomever the ship was affiliated with. A good reputation will see you welcomed at the faction’s settlements to sell your goods and, most importantly, dance with the governor’s incredibly buxom daughter. The dancing mini-game plays out on the number pad and is essentially a rhythm game, requiring quick reflexes and an impeccable sense of timing. My dad had neither, and I clearly remember him calling me over to the computer to help him get the full combos he needed to impress the courtiers. 

So far Sid Meier’s Pirates! has open-world exploration, naval battles, trading and reputation systems, and fighting and rhythm mini-games, but I haven’t even touched on the game’s turn-based strategy parts. This game absolutely refuses to be constrained by a single genre and offers players a veritable smorgasbord of game mechanics. For some, it was too much. But why were those choices made? 

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How One Rabbi Uses Roleplaying Games to Build Community

At his Bat Mitzvah in his Reconstructionist Jewish synagogue, Rabbi Menachem Cohen hoped to be saved. “I was waiting for God to plunk me on the head and take me on a spiritual trip. A spiritual acid trip, without ever taking acid,” he says.

It never happened. Many of us, especially in our pandemic-induced exiles, hope to be pulled away on a hero’s journey, the term coined and explored by the literary scholar Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The arc fits into many media, from books to popular films. According to Campbell, the myth is that the “hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

We all want to be the person elected to go out and slay the dragon. Unfortunately, we are relegated to our humdrum work lives.

Cohen started playing Dungeons & Dragons at age 10. After his coming of age ceremony, Cohen was hoping to be called away the same way a hero would. “I was playing D&D and was interested in Big Magic. Fireballs, teleporting, flying, psychedelic spiritual journeys.” But his coming of age ceremony was less than magical. “I read from the Torah and made mistakes and no one noticed.” The ritual consisted of parties and monetary gifts.

He strayed somewhat from Judaism after that, seeking but not finding in religion the magic he found instead in role-playing games.

After years away from home, he returned to his home city of Chicago in 1994, pulling up to his mother’s house on the night of Rosh Hashanah, brought back by a job as a sign language interpreter at a temple for the hearing impaired. Soon thereafter, he was introduced to The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz, a Jewish Buddhist. The bestselling book captured the ongoing relationship between Jews and Buddhists. “I saw that the esoterica I was longing for in the world was in my backyard,” Cohen said.

The magic he sought he discovered in the every day, in prayers and rituals. It was not Big Magic, but small magic. The wonders in the ordinary. He got more involved in the Jewish Renewal movement, attending retreats and week-long gatherings. Cohen eventually took a 4-week intensive on Jewish shamanism, and soon started blending games with his religious practice.

In one of our Zoom calls, Cohen told me the Old Testament story of Bathsheba and David: The Ancient Jewish king saw Bathsheba bathing and desired her so much that he ordered her husband to the front lines of battle, where the man died. David then took his widow for himself. Nathan, the prophet, reached out to David and told him a story about a poor man with only one sheep who he loved like a child, and a rich man had a huge flock of sheep. The rich man then took the impoverished man’s sheep to serve a guest he cared little for. When asked for his reaction, David says the rich man should be punished. 

“Nathan, I always imagine trying not to smile, says, ‘You are the man.’” From this allegory, the king realizes his mistake. “The fictional distance of the story lets David not throw up his ego and defenses and see the truth. And Nathan keeps his head.” This biblical anecdote sets up a framework that leaders and therapists could use when playing role-playing games.

In academic game design theory, there is a theory called “alibi.” According to a paper by Sebasian Detering, a researcher at the University of York in England, “Adults routinely provide alternative, adult-appropriate motives to account for their play, such as child care, professional duties, creative expression, or health. Once legitimized, the norms and rules of play themselves then provide an alibi for behavior that would risk being embarrassing outside play.” These adult-appropriate motives allow us the separation we need to tackle important issues, or explore ourselves in a way that we’d normally be too defensive to do so objectively.

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What Hades Can Teach Us About Ancient Greek Masculinity

We can’t imagine that most, if any, men looked like kuoroi—Zag himself represents such an ideal. Kuoroi are more like the idealized and fetishized bodies we see in media, propaganda, and art today. Myron’s Diskobolos, the representation of masculinity in its dynamic aspect, was infamously appropriated by Nazis as their eugenic metric for beauty. This cuts to the heart of identity production in ancient Greece, where “one is what one does.” In Bodily Arts, rhetorician Debra Hawhee writes, “For ancient Athenians, physical beauty and moral superiority were inextricably tied.” It’s no surprise, then, that gods—what Jean-Pierre Vernant calls “divine super bodies”—are hot. Of course, we moralize bodies too. Kuoroi are as indicative to the values of ancient Greece as Hades is to our own culture.

Weren’t They Kinda Gay, Though?

Zagreus and Thanatos, the twinkish personification of death himself, epitomize the ephebe, but older men had a role too. Whether of a statue or person, men of all ages participated in ritual undressing. As historian Donald G. Kyle recounts in Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World, “disrobing fully to become nude for sport became an assertive communication of maleness, ethnicity, status, freedom, privilege, and physical virtue.” It was then a man’s responsibility to maintain his physicality at all times, ready for sport as much as battle. Men were supposed to react to these instances of public nudity with infatuation, recognizing that these bodies are beautiful, virtuous, and good. And the nude man should respond with modesty or shame (aidos). Even nude kuoroi portrayed modesty through their limited motion. 

But compulsory homoeroticism is not the same as queerness. 

To better understand how the Greeks treated same-gendered relationships, we need to talk about one of the most overlooked institutions of Greek life in our reinterpretations of their stories: pederasty. 

An institution of the aristocracy, pederasty was a courting between younger and older men: the eromenos and erastes, loved and lover. The older man is bound to protect and teach, while the younger, in his teens, honors the older and maintains the bond between their households. These pairs may also do combat together, a way of encouraging each to fight. Kyle writes, “Pederasty had a role in education at Athens and elsewhere, but it was predominantly a social fashion among the elite, one reflected in the pottery and poetry of that class and related to its associations with symposia, gymnasia, and athletics.” Gyms were carefully regulated with hours and schedules to foster pederastic relations, eventually serving as a place of education where philosophers would teach. 

Plato is just one noteworthy example who “applauds pederasty, which barbarians saw as shameful, as a band of friendship that inspired higher thoughts.” The role of gyms is noted by Thomas Scanlon, who, in Kyle’s words, “presents nude physical education (gymnike paideia) as an effective form of socialization—an erotically charged relationship of mutual respect whereby mature males set cultural examples for teenage youths.” Often homoeroticized, these couples are described through romantic or spiritual connections. Philosophers, all participants, would even claim that these connections transcended relationships men had in their arranged marriages with women. 

Perhaps the most famous pederastic couple is Achilles and Patroclus, refigured in Hades as adult lovers on a more equal footing. While classical philosophers were unsure which was older (scholars today claim that Patroclus was the elder erastes), they did depict the two as lovers. Still, homosexual and gay would be anachronistic identifiers to give the ancient figures, both tied to 19th-century beliefs of gender and sexuality that simply didn’t exist before then. Achilles, as he’s preserved in myth, is no longer eromenos. While he is classically portrayed as an ephebe, he is much older in Hades. But Achilles and Patroclus could only be such historic lovers because they were not mortal men living in Homeric Greece. It would make more sense that, as his teacher, Achilles took on the role of Zag’s erastes (a ship I will gladly let sink).

It’s worth reiterating here that the mythical figures of Achilles and Patroclus are outliers as intelligibly queer men. We don’t know enough about coercion and consent to dig into the possibility of romance in real pederastic relationships, but we don’t have to. After the eromenos shaves his first beard, he’s no longer a boy. Continuing sexual relationships with men into adulthood was disgraceful, as the pederastic relationship rests on its age difference. In Greece, masculinity was tied to an active role, to giving. While the eromenos as an adolescent could receive, in the passive role, it was disgraceful for a man or an erastes to desire such things. Accusations of such behavior became a common oratory practice to discredit an opponent. A man subject to his desires, they argued, was womanly—the worst thing you could be.

So What Were the Women Up To While the Men Were Busy?

Women were institutionally and socially subordinate to men in civic life, while their bodies were often portrayed as the antithesis to virtuous masculinity. Korai, statues of women, are shown in static poses that signify laziness, that they’re undisciplined and asymmetrical alike. When in motion, women are cast as unbalanced for their lack of control over emotion and sexuality.

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The Next Gen Console Games You Should Actually Care About

It’s not Halo 6, though. Developer 343 Industries ditched the numbering convention (due to Microsoft’s wishes) for the latest entry. It’s still the continuation of Master Chief’s labyrinthine story and sequel to the (admittedly bizarre) events of Halo 5. This “entirely new chapter,” according to Xbox general manager Aaron Greenberg, will follow John-119 and his compatriots, picking up sometime after Halo 5.

Halo Infinite was originally slated to debut this year, but it was pushed back due to development difficulties brought on by the pandemic. When it finally arrives, it’s set to offer an explosive new campaign that follows the mercenary group the Banished, and it will bring back the Halo weapons, vehicles, and attitude we’ve come to expect over the years, including a possible battle royale mode and extensive multiplayer options. 

It’s about time we return to the world we fell in love with so many years ago, and the fact that it’s an Xbox Series X/S title makes its resurgence even more fitting.

cracked doll face girl
Courtesy of Bloober Team

The Medium

Bloober Team is known for its visceral psychological horror games, from Layers of Fear to Observer. Its latest project is The Medium, which is set for a 2021 debut. It’s a stark departure from painters gone mad and dystopian cyberpunk futures. This time around, The Medium takes players into the world of medium Marianne, who can travel in and out of the spirit realm, for a game that will exist in two different planes.

This third-person adventure will allow players to shift between realms at different segments throughout the game, with Marianne putting her spiritual powers to use by sealing off hostile spirits and interacting with pots of psychic energy called spirit wells. From the look of things so far, it’s set to feature some truly unsettling visuals, accompanied by the legendary Akira Yamaoka’s score and singer and voice actress Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s vocals.

The Medium has been under wraps for some time, though there’s additional information promised for 2021 ahead of its release. If it follows in the footsteps of earlier Bloober Team titles, players will be in for some seriously chilling narrative moments as well as more than a few jump scares. 

pragmata suit and little girl
Courtesy of Capcom

Pragmata

Capcom is hard at work on a new title called Pragmata, and it looks fantastic. There’s just one caveat: We know very, very little about what it is or what it’s about. It’s supposedly set for release in 2022, but it’s likely we’ll start hearing more about the project when 2021 rolls around, given that all we have at present is a very mysterious cinematic trailer.

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In Minecraft, All the Server’s a Stage

On the morning of the Doomsday War, president Tubbo surveyed the grassy hills of his domain, L’Manberg. His second-in-command, TommyInnit, rested beside him on a bench, nodding stoically. “Listen,” TommyInnit began, pausing dramatically. “I know you had to exile me.”

Gesturing with their Lego-like avatars, TommyInnit and Tubbo were winding up tension in a Macchiavellian political drama that has unfolded over the past year in Minecraft. Last week, over 1 million people tuned in to watch live. TommyInnit said they’d leave the past behind them; he wasn’t mad anymore. L’Manberg’s future was in jeopardy. “It’s got to be me and you versus Dream, just like it always has been,” said TommyInnit.

Dream is the owner of the Dream SMP server, since May the home of a virtual world built whole-cloth by dozens of characters navigating intrigue and betrayal, with arcs and storylines more unpredictable than any reality television. Video games aren’t just pop culture, but material for its creation. And out of that knowledge, a new theatrical tradition has emerged—gunky and psychedelic and stupid and random in that “lol so randOm” way only the internet can be. Some of the most popular online video games have become stages for live theater, broadcast to millions over Twitch and YouTube.

That includes Minecraft, part game and part digital sandbox. It’s like if the imagined dramas kids invented around their Lego sets were manifest and infinitely malleable. Blocks and blocks of colored terrain form perfect replicas of the Spirited Away universe or Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing. Building is the base skill, but there is also a Survival mode, in which players can collect items, craft tools, and fight creatures or each other.

Dream SMP is just that: The player Dream’s survival multiplayer server, where top Minecraft celebrities have constructed an ongoing, mostly improvised narrative over dozens of combined hours of livestreaming. On Twitch, the participants separately go live on their own channels to further the fictional drama through their unique perspectives for their millions of subscribers. Their fans have assembled Thucydidean wikis describing each and every conflict: the BT period (Before TommyInnit), the controversial election between the So We Are Gamers (SWAG2020) and Politicians of Gaming (POG2020) parties, the Second Pet War, right on to Doomsday.

“Stories are usually told in a more traditional way in television, movies, and musicals. What happens here is unique,” says Dream SMP’s Quackity. “To a lot of people, Minecraft is a game where people mine and gather resources. We’ve legitimized the fact that we can tell very interesting stories through video games.”

Dream SMP has a small and exclusive writers room. It’s on Discord. The personalities making up the storyline meet secretly in voice channels to sketch out general plot points: an election, maybe, or a new building. Written declarations of war (“Sometimes you just gotta kill some people sometimes yaknow – Sun Tzu”) or military strategies. Once the livestreams roll, though, things can quickly go off the rails, and often do. Quackity recalled waiting on stage at a podium for the results of Dream SMP’s presidential election. His SWAG2020 running mate, GeorgeNotFound, wasn’t showing up. It turned out he slept through the event.

“We joke about this. This entire Dream SMP lore happened because of GeorgeNotFound,” says Quackity. Abandoned, Quackity made an impromptu political party with a drunk-acting insurrectionist, Jschlatt, to form SchWAG2020. They won with 46 percent of the popular vote to POG2020’s 45 percent.

Role-playing in online video games is about as old as online video games themselves; In the ’90s, players in role-play multi-user dungeons (RP MUDs) prescribed rules of engagement and constructed elaborate storylines through elaborate, made-up characters, all with text. In early massively multiplayer online role-playing games, players would forego the prescribed plot to leverage avatars’ fashions, emotes, and customizable homes toward communal storytelling. But live video platforms like Twitch and YouTube have reformulated private video game role-play into entertainment, and entertainment into business. It is an art form that has become a bonafide viewing experience, a culture machine, closer in lineage to live theater than Tyler “Ninja” Blevins’ Fortnite trick shots.

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Twitch Is Having a Political Renaissance

“The gap between TV and digital is narrowing each election cycle, and as campaigns become closer and targeting particular groups more important, we should see more activity in digital,” said Audrey Haynes, a professor of political science at the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia, in an email exchange with WIRED.

In political advertising, digital is often referred to as the realm outside of TV and old-school leaflet canvassing. This could include Google and Facebook ads, YouTube videos, Instagram or TikTok posts, and even memes.

According to Haynes, while a majority of political ad dollars still go to television, internet advertising continues to grow, taking up 18 percent of total ad spending in 2020. Television has a wide reach, but it cannot microtarget as effectively. That’s where online ads can fill in those gaps.

Haynes explained that you have to engage voters where they are, and depending on the demographics you’re targeting, Facebook isn’t your best option. “If those are voters you need to mobilize, you need to make sure you develop a message and strategy to communicate that message where they are at and in a way that is not likely to generate a backlash. It takes creativity, but it can be done.”

To ensure that NGP was reaching gamers in an authentic way during its general election stream, it brought on Malik Forté. While Forté most often hosts gaming and esports events and is well known for previously being a banner host and analyst for the Overwatch League, he found himself being both presenter and educator.

“It got to the point where I found myself explaining the electoral college to people multiple times throughout the stream, just so they could understand how the system works,” Forté told us.

Beyond the occasional trolls, Forté did find people who were genuinely curious and interested in learning more about the electoral process—though he found himself having to defend an electoral system that can leave many in non-battleground states feeling unheard.

“Folks who consume gaming content, we tend to see through a lot of the smoke and mirrors, like advertisements and influencers tend to throw in our faces on the regular,” said Forté. “So I think it’s really important to just take all that down, take all the smoke and mirrors away, and create a transparent conversation around civic engagement and around politics in general.”

But Twitch is changing rapidly. It now hosts not just video game streams and esports tournaments but also more general broadcasts, from Bob Ross marathons to regular chat sessions. In fact, the Just Chatting category is now the largest on the site, and the one growing most rapidly.

“The site has switched from gameplay to more of a reactionary manner of content,” said Jefferson. He believes this type of content is more conducive to VOD, allowings clips to rack up views on YouTube or Reddit. Jefferson went on to say, “Hearing someone who is relatable (streamers) provide insight into all this is a welcoming lure that is dominating the meta.”

This was most evidenced by Hasan Piker, a liberal political commentator turned streamer (also present on AOC’s Twitch stream), who ran a nearly nonstop election week broadcast. Piker spent 80 hours streaming various election results, and at one point reached a peak viewership of 230,000 viewers. In the days after the election, he would consistently see over 100,000 concurrents.

The goal here for Ufot, Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight, and other grassroots efforts around the country is to turn young nonvoters into “supervoters.” According to Cambridge University, elections that can drive high turnout among young adults will leave a footprint for subsequent ones. Getting voters engaged as soon as they turn 18 could mean a lifetime of reliable votes.

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The Biggest Video Game Surprise Hits of 2020

A gorgeous, lifelike world with verdant greenery and lush landscapes? Check. The freedom to go anywhere and do as you please? Double check. An anime-styled protagonist tasked with finding their missing twin after being separated during their travels to distant worlds? Triple check

Developer miHoYo’s Genshin Impact had everything it needed to become a massive hit, and potential players were initially drawn to its anime aesthetic and gorgeous animation. But it looked quite familiar—almost exactly, some would say,  like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, down to cooking, combat, and exploration.

While Genshin Impact does share multiple similarities with Nintendo’s massively popular Zelda sequel, it diminishes its own influence to write it off as a “copycat” game with little to offer. In reality, it’s a wide world teeming with new areas and content to discover, satisfying combat, challenging puzzles, and a grind that can keep anyone coming back for more. 

There’s a reason that it ended up grossing over $393 million on mobile devices, where it debuted, in just two months, which made it the second-largest mobile game in history. Not bad for an “anime game,” a derogatory phrase many tossed at Genshin Impact in a bid to undermine its success. Though it’s free-to-play, it isn’t mired in the same trappings as other games in the genre, and it truly is free in that, if you put in enough world, not only can you reach a satisfying endgame, but you can collect all of the characters available to explore the fantasy world of Tevyat.

While Genshin Impact is available across multiple platforms, including PC and consoles, the fact that such a beautiful, smooth game can come to life on mobile and offer such an all-encompassing experience is nothing short of astonishing. Perhaps the only thing that really should be surprising about its success is that people aren’t tired of listening to companion character Paimon just yet—she can be a little grating. 

Among Us

Avatars in Among Us hit by flame
Courtesy of InnerSloth

Have you heard? Not understanding how or why Innersloth’s online multiplayer game Among Us reached the heights it did in 2020 is basically sus. No one could have predicted how this unassuming game would catapult to such heights of popularity, especially since it initially released two years ago in 2018.

The setup is simple: Four to 10 players gather in a spaceship. A handful of players are selected to be the “impostors” for each round in this suspenseful game of Werewolf. Across three maps, regular players, called  “Crewmates” (they resemble pudgy astronauts with few discernible features), are asked to complete a series of tasks around the ship. Impostors must complete tasks concurrently with “real” players, though their job is to sabotage Crewmate progress and even kill them. The idea is to figure out which of the team is actually an impostor before a successful sabotage is completed or all of the Crewmates have been eliminated.

It’s devilishly simple to understand, but as in any game with a social element, massively difficult to conquer, given that every new game is different, with human players approaching it in different ways. The game enjoyed a small following in 2018, but it wasn’t until 2020 that streamers like Sodapoppin, Pokimane, xQc, Shroud, Ninja, and PewDiePie eventually jumped on board to stream their exploits with the game. 

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How Cyberpunk 2077 Sold a Promise—and Rigged the System

Performance aside, the game, as a whole, is just OK. While some people do quite like it, Night City gets same-y. Combat is whatever. But that wasn’t the point. The point was the great dissonance between built-up expectations and reality, the feeling of broken trust.

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CD Projekt Red is directly responsible for the size of that gap. Years ahead of launch, CD Projekt Red offered journalists curated previews that inspired breathless ledes like Metro’s “Cyberpunk 2077 may be the best video game ever made” in 2018. A year later, cinematic teasers and short, monitored gameplay sessions led some to suggest that Cyberpunk 2077 should be on top of gamers’ “most wanted” list. In June, CD Projekt Red had reviewers stream the game from a PC the company controlled. “It’s a playground rife with opportunity,” wrote Eurogamer at the time. “It’s a game about deciding who you want to be.”

In the meantime, the scaffolding was bending: Cyberpunk 2077 experienced three delays, including after January of this year, when CD Projekt Red described the game as “complete and playable,” and after it claimed the game had “gone gold,” or been completed, in October.

In November, CD Projekt Red sent nondisclosure agreements to journalists ahead of Cyberpunk 2077’s launch that forbade the inclusion of original gameplay footage in their reviews. They could share screenshots, but the only gameplay footage they could publish had to come from CD Projekt Red. Infringing obligations in the NDA could amount to around $27,000 per violation. (WIRED’s practice is not to sign NDAs from companies we cover.) In Cyberpunk 2077 the video game, the item database characterizes NDAs as “junk … a standard document that prohibits a lot and offers little in return.”

Reviewers also only received the PC version of the game, keeping the abysmal last-gen console play out of view. In a call with CD Projekt Red’s board today, joint-CEO Adam Kiciński admitted that the company had “ignored the signals about the need for additional time to refine the game on the base last-gen consoles” and showed the game mostly on PC during their marketing campaign. (He did apologize.) Once reviewers received their games—often mere days ahead of launch—they mainlined the main storyline and as many side quests as they could muster, wrote a couple thousand words, and posted them online on December 7, three days prior to Cyberpunk 2077’s December 10 launch.

CD Projekt Red had nearly a decade to architect the great Cyberpunk 2077 mythos. Game reviewers had just a couple of days to assess it, and were hamstrung in how they could portray it. Gamers who had dropped $60 on this cyberpunk pleasure palace back in 2019 reeled; all the hot air came whizzing out. One professional reviewer, Kallie Plagge, gave Cyberpunk 2077 a 7/10 on GameSpot—not even a pan—criticizing it for one-dimensional world building, disconnected side quests, and large-scale technical issues. Mass harassment attended the review. Reactionary YouTubers, who did not have access to the game, dedicated long videos to dismantling her critique, dissecting her playtime and playstyle. But just days later, once gamers had finally played Cyberpunk 2077 themselves, many did a 180. “Everyone talked shit about her, but I’m starting to agree with Kelly [sp] Plagge,” read one popular post on /r/cyberpunkgame.

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