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MLK mode shows Fortnite’s serious metaverse aspirations are a pipe dream

Fortnite is no stranger to pulling real-world figures and media into its virtual space. Travis Scott, Will Smith, LeBron James, and Ariana Grande are only a few real-life superstars whohave appeared in the popular battle royale. However, none of those were as controversial as Epic’s decision to bring Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington to Fortnite.

Celebrate MLK: TIME Studios Presents March Through Time in Fortnite

Time Studios Presents March Through Time in Fortnite is a new mode that places players in Washington, where they can witness Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech and learn the civil rights history behind it in a new way. I found its heart to be in the right place, but the mode itself doesn’t sit right with me.

What is Fortnite?

Let’s start by looking at Fortnite as a whole. The game began as a simple zombie survival mission and evolved into a media juggernaut once it transformed into a unique battle royale experience.

Players from across the globe queue up in hundreds of matches every day where they can play as Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty, the famous streamer Ninja, or even Ariana Grande. They take up arms to kill everyone on the island and be the last one standing, claiming Victory Royale.

That’s not all Fortnite is anymore, however. Epic Games is one of many companies that is chasing what is known as the “metaverse” with their game. In layman’s terms, that entails making the game into somewhat of a virtual reality world where players can hang out and go to different events with one another.

The two largest examples of this are Ariana Grande and Travis Scott’s virtual concerts, which made millions of dollars. There are also smaller-scale concerts, tons of promotional tie-ins, like an MCU-inspired Thanos mode, and movie trailer premieres. Of course, the next natural step is to move toward the educational sphere, right?

Fortnite’s current branding is the issue

It is 1963, my grandmother is attending the March On Washington

It is 2021, her grandchild is doing the toosie slide as a fedora joker in the fortnite March on Washington

— Tom Cruise Fucking You & Asphyxiating You (@Java_jigga) August 26, 2021

Take everything I said that Fortnite is earlier, then look at the video above. Now tell me if something seems odd about adding a Martin Luther King Jr.-focused history lesson on civil rights to a game where the Joker can dab. Thankfully, Epic saw the response and disabled nearly all emotes for the MLK event, but unsurprisingly, it still doesn’t fit the typical bill for the game.

What Epic set out to do here was a great thing. In fact, I’d even call it a very bold effort to educate children on such an important matter where many schools continue to fail, but this is a case of not being able to have it both ways.

Epic is chasing the idea of the metaverse — an all-digital world — but Fortnite‘s capitalist ambitions get in the way of itself. When you open Fortnite, the first thing you’re greeted with is the newest trendy skin you can pay $8 for with your credit card. You can pay to use Doctor Doom while dancing to a hit Doja Cat song. While waiting for games to start, you’re greeted by ridiculous loading screens featuring Rick and Morty fighting aliens in a chaotic landscape. These set a tone that just doesn’t match what was explored in the March Through Time project, which raises the question of whether a serious metaverse has a feasible future in Fortnite.

I find educating through an enjoyable space to be a great concept and, to be fair, according to social media, it was a success for many players.

It's so cool that fortnite did this.
A couple days ago my kid ran up to me "Mom, there's this cool thing in fortnite! They made Washington DC, and there's this speech by Martin Luther King, and a museum, PLEASE you gotta see! I think maybe they like Black Lives Matter too!"

— Ruth (@RuthTweetX) August 28, 2021

Seeing the other side

I just can’t imagine this being a continuous thing in the future that can be taken seriously. It just gives me the mental image of taking a clown puzzle and forcing a Van Gogh piece right in the middle to call it a lesson.

Then again, maybe we should instead pull focus away from the branding critique and instead applaud Epic for giving children the chance to learn an important lesson in a comfortable space. It’s not like sitting in a dull classroom or going to a fancy museum stopped us from seeing who could yell “penis” the loudest without getting in trouble. Maybe this isn’t so different.

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DeAngelo Epps
De'Angelo Epps is a gaming writer passionate about the culture, communities, and industry surrounding gaming. His work ranges…
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