The Royal Canadian Legion is trying to reach young people it says are becoming more disconnected with veterans and war history — and it’s using the video game Fortnite to get its message across.
Through the wildly popular battle royale game, players can visit Remembrance Island, which takes users along a trail of poppies through various historical locations in which Canadians have fought. Those include Vimy Ridge, the beaches of Normandy and the deserts of Afghanistan.
“The Royal Canadian Legion, being quite old, has a hard time to share their message with younger folks,” said Ari Elkouby, creative director of Wunderman Thompson, the Canadian digital marketing company which came up with the idea.
“We knew the wildly popular game Fortnite was where all these young people were, so we wanted to find a way to deliver our message to them.”
Contrary to some reports, the project isn’t a direct partnership with Fortnite or its developer Epic Games. But Fortnite allows (and encourages) content creators around the world to design their own islands as part of a customized gaming experience. So Texas-based creator Jadan Allen, 19, created Remembrance Island for the Legion free of charge — and free of violence.
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“It’s never been done before and it also reaches the younger audience that doesn’t know much about [veterans] and puts it in their home base,” Allen told CBC News in a FaceTime interview from Ravenna, Italy.
The message — and importance — of Remembrance Day is one that the Legion is desperate to keep alive as the list of surviving veterans dwindles. The Legion launched its digital poppy last year, which can dedicated to a veteran and shared across social media.
“We know some young people are losing the emotional connection to, and meaning of, Canada’s military past,” said Nujma Bond, communications manager at the Royal Canadian Legion.
“We hope to share a greater understanding of that history.”
Many are applauding Remembrance Island, saying it’s a unique way to help a younger generation understand the sacrifices of veterans.
Sad that it takes a Video game for our youth to understand the significance of Remembrance Day ! Hope they get it ! Good call for Fortnite!
In addition, some gamers are drawing attention to the Legion’s #PauseToRemember movement online.
According to the campaign’s website, it’s encouraging gamers to “stop playing” at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 and “display the ‘stream overlay’ on your stream,” to honour veterans “with a moment of silence.”
It’s even offering a rare alternative to try to reach gamers on their own terms — by taking a moment of silence at 11 p.m., when more people are typically playing online.
Introducing Ardwell Eyres, the world’s oldest Influencer. On November 11th at 11am we’ll be honoring Ardwell and other veterans by putting down our controller for a moment of silence. #PauseToRemember
Allen, who said he consulted his own veteran grandfather before completing the project, said he sees Remembrance Island as more of a digital “museum.” Young people can stop in for a moment of calm on their own time.
“You take this island at your pace. Whenever you feel ready to embark on the journey of Remembrance Island, that’s what this is for,” said Allen. “Fortnite is all about battles and war. So it’s kind of a good thing to just settle down sometimes and think about the past.”
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It’s difficult to predict how successful the campaign will be. Some on Twitter argue #PauseToRemember and Remembrance Island might have good intentions, but aren’t practical for those the movement is trying to reach the most. Multi-player online gaming, for example, can’t be paused.
Others say a shooter-survival game in which players face off until only one is left standing, isn’t necessarily a good tool to educate young people about war at all.
“I have some real mixed feelings about this,” said Twitter user @Shalashaskka. “On the one hand, I love the idea of using games as virtual showrooms … On the other, I’m not sure that Fortnite is the best place for a memorial based on wartime sacrifice.”
But Elkouby said the whole point is to turn the platform “on its head.”
“In something where violence is a regular occurrence, we wanted to take a moment and say, ‘Hey, you know what? For some, the violence was very real,'” said Elkouby. “And we want to honour those who had sacrificed … for us to play these games and be free to live in this country.”
“Can’t make everyone happy, but I think we did a great thing.”