Inside the Royal Canadian Legion’s bold partnership with Fortnite

In Fortnite’s fields, the poppies grow…

With more than 250 million players worldwide, Fortnite is an online gaming phenomenon. Yet its frantic, combat-focused gameplay doesn’t exactly lend itself to somber reflection.

The Royal Canadian Legion is hoping to change that with the creation of a new custom island called Remembrance Island. It is available in the game’s Creative Mode, using a dedicated island code (5053-3302-4847).

Developed by Wunderman Thompson Toronto, Remembrance Island contains virtual representations of eight locations where Canadian soldiers fought and died—from the trenches of World War I, to the beaches of Normandy and the deserts of Afghanistan.

“It’s like a living history book in a way,” says Ari Elkouby, executive creative director at Wunderman Thompson. “As much as parents [complain] about their kids spending too much time on this platform, I think this is a fun one, where they might say ‘Go ahead and log on this time. Just make sure you visit Remembrance Island and learn a thing or two.'”

Unlike Fortnite’s regular game world, Remembrance Island is strictly a no-combat zone, best embodied by its slogan: “No battles. Only respect.” The only activity available to players who drop into Remembrance Island is to follow a trail of poppies that winds its way through 30 digital plaques, each containing a short overview of notable battles in Canadian war history.

“It’s taking something that is inherently violent and turning it into something educational,” says Elkouby. “We’re encouraging anybody who visits the island to visit each marker to learn something about Canada’s military history.”

The initiative is part of the Royal Canadian Legion’s ongoing efforts to ensure that younger Canadians remember the country’s veterans. According to Veterans Affairs Canada, there were 41,300 surviving veterans from World War II as of March 2018, with an average age of 93.

According to a 2018 report in The Globe and Mail, about half of the Canadian Legion’s approximately 270,000 members are 65 or older, requiring the organization to meet younger Canadians on their turf in its efforts to raise awareness.

The Royal Canadian Legion also recently partnered with Toronto’s Zulu Alpha Kilo on a campaign for its digital poppy drive that asked online gamers to lay down their virtual arms on Remembrance Day.

The campaign featured a PSA combining archival war footage with on-screen prompts similar to those found in in-game tutorials, such as press X to jump and Y to shoot, followed by the message “Pause to remember…that war is not a game.”

The Royal Canadian Legion is a definite outlier in a gaming world populated by brands like the NFL, Nike and Wendy’s, but it’s hoping its presence will lead a segment of the Fortnite population to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation.

“It’s our hope that young Canadians will take a few moments to visit this unique environment and learn about the men and women who gave their lives to protect our freedom,” said Freeman D. Chute, senior program officer at the Royal Canadian Legion in a release.

“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.”

Chris Powell