When it comes to downtime, Congress isn’t allowed to have any — at least not when it involves things like “dodo codes.” The internet had a meltdown Thursday when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spent her evening connecting with fans on the uber-popular video game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.”
“This is what u have time to do during a PANDEMIC where your district is ground zero for deaths?!” wrote one rage-tweeter.
Others pointed out that it was after 6 p.m. and even lawmakers need to kick back, cut loose and drop in on strangers enjoying an adorable video game full of roly-poly little avatars.
AOC, who admits she’s still learning the etiquette behind island visits (a hallmark of the Nintendo Switch game), opened her Twitter DMs for a brief period to accept the dodo codes, which in turn let her explore new places in the game.
“People are asking for surprise visits to their spouse’s islands!!” the New York Democrat tweeted. “This is the love everyone deserves.”
Like any politician, she made the most of her interactions, donning a “hand drawn” purply-pink campaign shirt as her virtual persona made the rounds. “I haven’t sorted out exporting screenshots yet,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, a debate about leisure — being busy, appearing busy — exploded in her Twitter replies, with people comparing her gaming adventures to playing golf, shorthand in Washington for either the most heinous possible way you could waste the taxpayers’ time or an excellent way to get out in the sunshine. Some accused her of fiddling while Rome burns (or a pandemic continues). Others defended her gaming as self-care.
Either way, AOC will keep doing what she’s doing, which at the moment is using her new hobby to reach people stuck at home. The youngest House member, AOC is also among the most savvy on digital platforms. Should she appear on a late-night talk show inside the world of “Animal Crossing” hosted by “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” screenwriter Gary Whitta? Maybe or maybe not, but you better believe she will consider it.
Being hooked into pop culture is her thing, so for her, “Animal Crossing” makes sense. But the uproar calls attention to a problem that House members are grappling with across the board: how to convince Americans that they’re doing enough as they stay at home in their districts, even as the Senate returned to Washington this week, recalled by a determined Mitch McConnell.
You can only hold so many virtual town halls on Zoom before voters start to wonder how else you’re planning to take action. And in the meantime, all the usual strategies for proving you’re a human being capable of fun and empathy are feeling extra risky. The threat of backlash is real if you, say, try to humanize yourself by offering TV viewers a glimpse of your quarantine freezer, overflowing with lots (and we do mean lots) of ice cream. That’s what Speaker Nancy Pelosi did last month on “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” and now the president’s campaign manager is calling her “Nancy Antoinette” and the National Republican Congressional Committee is selling T-shirts with the slogan “Let them eat ice cream.”
We probably won’t be seeing “Animal Crossing”-themed attack shirts, if only because that would amount to trademark infringement. And even if we did, AOC might wear it as a badge of honor, since part of her mission as a democratic socialist is to challenge long-held assumptions about leisure and work.
For the time being, she can rest easy knowing that her communications strategy — bypassing old media, leaning into new media, playing “Animal Crossing” during a pandemic — is working out pretty well for her.
“I may have missed the window to give a dodo code and have her visit, but I love seeing people in Congress act like normal humans,” tweeted one admirer.
“I feel like I’m waiting for Santa,” tweeted another, dreaming of swapping virtual fruit. “Except this time I’m the one with presents.”