I am not a gamer.
To give a very recent example, I bought No Man’s Sky when I was swayed by all the hype about the recent Beyond update that supported VR users. I played the game a grand total of 90 minutes (in desktop mode, no less), set it aside, and haven’t touched it since. I much prefer the open-ended nature of social VR and virtual worlds, and even the open world exploration offered by No Man’s Sky, with its millions of procedurally-generated planets to explore and asteroids to mine, bored me. I just couldn’t get into it.
Yes, I have tried MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), mainly because I was curious to see how faithful the game would be to Tolkien’s books. But I never got past Level 20 on my hobbit. Again, I couldn’t be bothered with all the battling and leveling up required. Yawn.
So, thus far I have successfully avoided the cultural juggernaut known as Fortnite. But when I read in The Globe and Mail newspaper today that the Royal Canadian Legion (the Canadian military veterans’ association) had decided to create a custom-built Remembrance Island within Fortnite to celebrate Remembrance Day on November 11th, I was intrigued.
Ahead of Remembrance Day, the Royal Canadian Legion hopes to teach children about the sacrifices men and women in this country have made in conflicts dating to the First World War with a game, one built inside the popular survival video game Fortnite.
Remembrance Island, a custom Fortnite island launched by the veterans’ organization, features First World War trenches, D-Day beaches and the Vimy Ridge cenotaph. Unlike Fortnite, there is no violence on this island.
Instead, players start at the beaches of Normandy and follow a trail of poppies through environments depicting conflicts Canadians have fought in, stopping at trail markers that offer information about each one until finally arriving at the Vimy Ridge Memorial, where they are asked by the Legion to share a moment of silence of their own on Nov. 11 at 11 at night — a time meant to meet gamers on their terms.
“It’s an opportunity to meet younger Canadians on their own turf and educate them about the contributions of Canadians who have served our country,” says Ari Elkouby, executive creative director at Wunderman Thompson Canada, the agency that developed the game on a pro bono basis for the Legion.
The agency partnered with a licensed Fortnite island builder, someone able to design unique islands within the game, to create Remembrance Island.
Given the nature of Remembrance Day, when the country celebrates sacrifice, not violence, it was crucial that the game exclude any combat or ability to destroy or defile anything on the island, Mr. Elkouby says.
“We wanted to kind of flip the idea of Fortnite on its head, where Fortnite is a place where you fight and you battle to a place where you respect and remember,” he says. “We wanted to ensure that the sanctity of what we were creating was maintained.”
Each of the game’s eight environments – trenches from the First World War, the Pool of Peace, the Vimy Ridge Memorial, the Battle of Ypres, D-Day on the Beaches of Normandy, a ruined town to show the liberation of Europe, Hill 355 from the Korean conflict, and a sandy landscape depicting Canada’s mission in Afghanistan – were created by researching archival materials, Mr. Elkouby says.
So, I decided to download Fortnite (it’s free), and I followed these instructions to pay a visit to Remembrance Island.
I stumbled around a little bit at first, like a deer caught in the headlights (What? There’s no beginner tutorial!?!! I’m just being DROPPED OUT OF THE BACK OF A FLYING BUS?!??), but eventually, I was able to orient myself and successfully reach Remembrance Island.
Trying to find my way around in the darkness, following the trail of red poppies, I came to my first destination: the beaches of Normandy.
As I went along, pop-up text laid out the scenes, explaining how the battle played out, and what the soldiers faced:
I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but I really did feel at times as if I were a lost, scared, confused soldier, running across the nighttime battlefield landscape, not knowing what lay around the corner.
I leave you with a 40-second video put out by the Royal Canadian Legion to promote Remembrance Island in Fortnite:
And, now that I (kinda) know what I’m doing, I might just pay a return visit on Remembrance Day, November 11th, to virtually salute Canada’s veterans. I think this is a genius idea for outreach to younger Canadians!