Video Games Get Political: Joe Biden Joins Animal Crossing While the Army Recruits on Twitch

by birtanpublished on October 2, 2020

hello welcome to the pop-off pc mag show where we talk about video games the industry news trends our opinions um today so hopefully between you know by the time you watch this and later on there will hopefully be elections in the united states um and you know because every everything is political including video games so for this episode we're going to talk about some of the ways recently you're doing games and politics has been intersecting uh and joining us today is my let's say friend uh pc mags max eddie max thanks for

Joining us make it sound like we're secretly married or something my friend no i'm very publicly marrying somebody else so um that's not it so yeah so yeah um you know max um you play video games sometimes but you also have a lot of political technology opinions so i thought you'd be a cool guest yeah yeah and it's i've crossed over really well with my main work at pc mags around security which is entirely about politics these days uh

When we're living in a world where elections are a target for hackers and whatnot like it definitely isn't uh is in everyone's mind so we're gonna ramp up to that serious bit in a moment but i thought we should start off with something a little bit lighter i know one of the games that you have been playing uh like everyone has been animal crossing uh new horizons on the nintendo switch um and then it came out not that long ago that uh you know

Presidential candidate joe biden and kamala harris have started a kind of virtual campaign strategy animal crossing um you can get like biden harris uh you know little lawn like images you can put on your island for like signs and stuff like that uh where were you what were your thoughts when you saw that max i thought it was really really smart like there's part of me that's like oh this is kind of lame you know like they're

Trying to hitch their wagon to something popular like if this was 20 years ago it'd be yu-gi-oh cards or some crap but what i thought was really smart about it is that unlike a lot of other video games there is nothing negative about animal crossing it's all positive everything it's so feel good there's never going to be a controversy where like there's a i don't know like like in a lot of shooters where there's a really tasteless level or something that gets everyone in

A bunch of trouble that's not going to happen in animal crossing it's like completely safe for the candidates and also because of how the gop has really positioned itself this year they can't get in on this can you imagine a donald trump little dude with like the flowers coming out of his head like that's not the brand but we're hanging hanging out with tom no could be the only one who'd be into him it's tom nook yeah no i agree i think it's a smart move i just think the only

Kind of downside to is just the politician who's doing it i'm just like um like it's just there's a there's a danger of feeling like like oh what are the kids into oh this video game um as opposed to because i think aoc did something pretty similar before all this i think she was actually visiting people's towns yes for a hot minute um but you know she seems like she has a more like legitimate stake um like it's the more legitimate connection to the people playing that game

Because you know she'll go on like twitch streams and talk about donkey kong she actually seems to play it whereas with the the biden harris thing like they had little knees of them but there was no evidence that they'd engage with the game at all so it does seem a little bit disingenuous right yeah it's it's like oh here like our digital people are going to do that um you know people comparing it to hillary clinton's pokemon go to the polls thing but we were talking about

This um i think that anecdote gets kind of misconstrued because the way she says that has like a level of contempt and like she knows that she doesn't know what she's talking about in a way that i find kind of honest as opposed to like pandering which i think this has a kind of danger of feeling like yeah absolutely i think they're they're two completely different political reactions one of them is sort of like making a joke brushing off whatever

Comment was i think this she was like answering a question someone asked her about pokemon go yeah someone's like do you know what that is like i just hope that they pokemon go to the polls like yeah i hate that i have to say this but yeah i think that this is very much a different thing this is sort of taking a a campaign choice in a new direction i think it's actually more comparable to um we all forgot about it because everything went crazy in 2016 but um hillary clinton put out an app that let you like

Take pictures of yourself and then put trump quotes like next to you to sort of like off like demonstrate how ridiculous they were that didn't go anywhere but that was very much in the trying to be in the moment right because we were all editing our photos and posting on instagram and all that this this seems much more in that vein yeah i don't think it's just interesting as proof of animal crossings like success and like saturation in culture at large right like that game is that game came

Out this march it's already i think on track to be the best swelling switch game which is you know there's like what like 25 million units or something like that last i looked um i think yeah i think it also just speaks to how well that game is doing i just wonder how nintendo feels about this right like i have to imagine they're not pleased about it like they've always seemed to be very very much trying to stay out of um controversy as much as possible like

You probably more know more about that than i do it's very interesting that reggie after retiring from nintendo has been a lot more public about being a black person so i mean shout out to him that's great i i think it's interesting that a game that is so culturally japanese is what's being used in an american election because there's stuff in that game like you can get kimonos on racks like things that are very rooted in a particular place that is not

Where this election is happening and it is a little bit fascinating to me that this like fundamentally american thing our electoral process is being done on a platform that was ported to this country and really like is so disconnected from it in so many ways yeah it'd be one thing if they were like campaigning like the sims or something but yeah yeah yeah which is sort of even the sims like doesn't really have any ties to any real place i guess um yeah all um that's what we got to do we got

To get joe biden's face on a planet that's what i want you gotta get them or you can just have them like it just exploding in the fireworks like you have a different image in the fireworks it's funny because like the ds one or the 3ds one was the one where you were the mayor so they kind of they wanted a more political animal crossing that's right i forgot about that completely yeah uh so yeah you know look out for that on your island uh as we head into this

Election um we were talking a little bit about twitch also during that and something else i wanted to talk about here is the ways in which twitch the twitch and and politics are intersecting twitch is you know obviously amazon's uh live streaming servers where people primarily primarily stream themselves playing games but in you know in the recent past we've seen everything from like concrete like some

Congressional hearings on twitch to like you know like aoc showing up on these charity streams uh to like major candidates just having a twitch presence um so yeah like how do you feel about that i think it's really interesting to see the way that this concept of parasocial relationships has has really just become part of the the moment that we're living in where like youtubers or the whole thing is we're looking dead we're kind of doing it right now like you're looking

Dead into the camera it feels like a personal interaction you're sitting with someone doing kind of a mundane activity but that's like fun and enjoyable to be in their presence and we're now using that in a very like i don't think it's weird at all it's like a totally logical extension to go to politics where it's sort of encouraged that you have a like an emotional parasocial relationship with politicians you're supposed to think that they're

Like you that they believe in you that they share your values it makes a lot of sense it's a little gross well that's not even the grossest part um kind of you know the other the other side of that too is also we've seen uh the the us army try to use twitch as a recruitment tool you know um and make like uh you know it was another gaming website uh it kind of was like average like it's like a native ad like oh talk like interact with us and the army is sponsoring this and

People are like ew uh to the point where they delete the tweet and then go back to aoc she had introduced i think at least maybe she co-sponsored a bill to curb their ability to do that uh and that failed um but it does you know it brings up the image of these ancient ghouls being explained what twitch is um the army has an interesting history with video games specifically they have a video game that was fairly successful as i recall this is a long time ago now but it was

Around it was a i was trying to remember the name of it earlier today is america's army yeah that is the one america's army that is the one and it did fairly well like i remember being like fairly well received among uh gamers so like it's not surprising to me that they would try to move into adjacent spaces um i i think it is interesting that that twitch because twitch sort of pushed them out eventually isn't that how that story ended that they were pushed off the platform i mean they're

Back on now uh i think i think they might push them off just as they're waiting to see where this bill went right like but i think once it failed they were like all right you know and they're like just don't talk politics in the chat what's interesting is that there was a backlash at all like uh you know i think we're very much used to the military having a kind of omnipresent uh sense in american culture uh you go to like nascar game nascar events or other

Other popular sporting events and you'll you'll see army recruiters there you'll see see them all over the place so it's it's unusual i think that there was a push back at all that that they're saying like no no this space is not an okay place for you to recruiting and i wonder why that is actually yeah yeah i don't i don't know um i think part of it is you know like regardless of political i think there is like it's not to give gamers credit i do think like

Gamers are sensitive sometimes so when they're like they feel like they're being exploited by people who don't have like any like real connection to them um i think that could be part of it um or you know they could just be disillusioned for a myriad of reasons um yeah like it sounds like pandering right gamers don't appreciate pandering they want to have the authenticity right yeah yeah that's that's that's kind of my read on it um but that's still going on you know

But they're back on it and we'll see uh how that how that goes you know obviously knowing no one can force anybody to sign up it's so ultimately their choice it's just like a kind of an advertising okay twitch as like a draft well we i was gonna say like you we registered for the draft like that's the thing we all did right but i'm saying like right now at least they're not like you know oh if you watch the stream you know you're in order like that like in

The 16 out of 1700s or something or you take the king's guinea in the bottom of your glass of beer that some uh some british guys shoved into your hand you get impressed into the navy or whatever oh man they're so much darker we could go with this line of thought um so that sounds like the perfect segue then i think kind of the last topic we want to talk about here is um yeah you do a lot of you cover a lot of the ways a lot of the ways in which technology and the elections elections in general uh intersect um and

You know obviously gamer culture and technology there's a lot of overlap there um so yeah as we kind of head in this election like yeah what are some of your thoughts about how that could play you know in terms of like meddling and you know things like that there's been a lot of discussion in security circles about sort of um tactics that we saw first from communities online engaging in what we probably wouldn't consider to be

Mainstream political speech but then being ported into it so a great example is um during the democratic uh primaries there was all that kerfuffle with the app where the app wasn't working but the real problem was that they weren't the people who were at the polls were not able to call in to report it manually and that was because the phone number for reporting had been dropped onto 4chan and 8chan or some chan website and people just bombarded it with calls so

Why were they doing that was that really you know did were they all so offended by the idea of a democratic primary or was it just because they wanted to troll some people and it was like a really easy low-stakes way to do that so that that's like a naturally occurring denial of service attack so we're starting to see like these this crossing over of tactics i think gamergate is another really good example that's been cited by a lot of people we were talking about steve bannon's wow

Farm his gold farm before this that's cool that happened why do we live in this world yeah so gamergate i think was definitely ahead with a lot of tactics that we then saw used by the internet research agency and i don't want to say like oh yeah the russians are definitely taking pages from the gamergate playbook but a lot of them are very similar and i think that the sort of social fractures that gamergate exposed as well as other online controversies were definitely

Exploited during russian disinformation operations in 2016 because that was you know i was reading some research about it this morning like that that was the main goal with a lot of the russian operations was to sort of get into wedge issues in the united states and just make them really big and really uncomfortable for everybody and also deploying memes and sort of like the the ancillary culture that goes along with these operations

Is very much from like you know they were gamergate memes like almost immediately like people making in jokes about this like horrific thing they were doing i think an important distinction when you say wedge issues is that there are issues that already existed it's not like because i get i get a little noise sometimes where people talk about like oh people sometimes sound as if the russians like invented racism in america like to like throw the election which is very much not the case but yeah you're right that's still you

Know exploiting the business that already exists in a big way yeah yeah it's interesting too is to see one of the reasons why you know there's this big deal a little while ago about whether or not the russians were given polling data from the gop and that's you know come up in various investigations recently uh but part of the reason why you would want to do that is because russia doesn't necessarily understand how american culture works so like russia

Didn't invent racism but they did have to learn it from us and that can be difficult if you don't really understand the way the way the culture operates um i think the difference now between 2016 and now is that it's probably gonna be much more subtle than it was in 2016. cool that's a cool thought to leave us out on is that it's going to be even harder to stop and detect i think it's just wild that um you know being someone who covers games in you know 2014

Having a front row seat to like the same sorts of tactics that are just going to end up destroying the world i'm personally floored by the idea that clever memes are like a a thing that a country that builds intercontinental ballistic missiles also needs to invest in right now and that's just completely mind-blowing to me cool so people with good politics invest in memes also um all right that's a lot to think

About going to this election here so i gotta go lie down uh max thanks so much for joining us oh it's a pleasure uh yeah we'll see you next time you

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