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.
When the agency approached the Legion with the idea roughly six weeks ago, the response was enthusiastic, Mr. Elkouby says.
It has been more than 100 years since the end of the First World War, and more than 70 years since the end of the Second World War. With fewer veterans of those wars among us, the Legion was looking for a new way to connect younger Canadians with their experiences.
“As time goes on, we have to find new ways to reach young people and tell the story of Canadian veterans. This is a fantastic example of how to do just that,” Freeman Chute, senior program officer at the Royal Canadian Legion, said in a release.
Video games may not be the traditional way of teaching history, but considering their popularity, they may be an ideal way of reaching young people. Remembrance Island features about 30 pieces of information on various conflicts, each of them roughly 150 characters – short enough to be educational while not slowing game play to the pace of reading a textbook. Whether it will excite young people remains to be seen, but experts say it is an innovative approach.
“It’s a smart idea. You’re trying to engage kids in a medium that’s more their medium,” say Jeremiah McCall, author of Gaming the Past: Using Video Games to Teach Secondary History.
Maureen Bianchini-Purvis, founder, president and chair of the No Stone Left Alone Memorial Foundation, an Edmonton-based organization dedicated to honouring Canada’s veterans, also praised the game.
"As an organization focused on linking youth with remembrance, we are delighted to see a project like this reaching out to them in such a creative way,” she said in an e-mail.
A team at Wunderman Thompson had the idea for the game when considering the popularity of Fortnite. The game, in which players are trapped on an island and must kill each other until one player is left standing, has more than 250 million registered users.
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.
As players make their way from one to another, they encounter plaques offering information about each of them.
For example, one of the plaques informs them that, “The Vimy Ridge Memorial marks the site where all four divisions of the Canadian Corps attacked and were victorious together for the first time.”
It is difficult to predict whether Remembrance Island will be popular with Fortnite gamers, Mr. McCall says.
But it is likely that many parents will use the game as an opportunity to teach their children some history.
“If I had a kid of Fortnite age and I heard about this I would probably say, ‘Hey, let’s go check it out together,’ ” Mr. McCall says.
Berdien Johnson, a retiree in Kelowna, B.C., whose father was a combat engineer among the first wave of Canadians to land at Juno Beach during the Second World War, welcomed the news of the game.
“Any kind of history we can teach to our youth about the sacrifices that were made is perfect,” she said.
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