Although it might not be immediately obvious to people who only know it from memes, the obsessive doodlings of 12-year-olds, and its indelible cultural associations with Weezer, Epic Games’ Fortnite has always had ambitions to be far more than just one of the most successful video games ever created. Epic has never been shy about making it clear that it wants its ludicrously popular moneymaker to also be a cultural platform—kind of like those old online “virtual spaces” like Second Life, except with an actual video game attached to it. (Ya burnt, Second Life.) In the past, that’s meant playing host to virtual concerts, Hollywood trailer premieres, and that whole irritating The Rise Of Skywalker thing. Now, it means showing its millions of young players a 45-minute panel discussion on race in America, something that’s definitely a strange step forward in Fortnite’s ongoing efforts to not just be really, really successful, but also “meaningful,” to boot.
Titled “We The People,” the video—which will stream on a loop today in the game’s Party Royale social mode—is a 45-minute conversation, hosted by CNN’s Van Jones, and featuring contributions from Killer Mike, Jemele Hill, and author Elaine Welteroth. In it, they discuss racism in America, police killings of Black Americans, and tools and strategies to foster a conversation about these topics with others. Also, it’s playing on a screen in Fortnite, where people are running around, throwing tomatoes at each other, and using their cartoon fishing poles to launch themselves in front of the video.
None of which is to say that Fortnite shouldn’t be doing any of this—making these resources and conversations available to the millions of (mostly very young) people in the game’s massive player base is almost certainly better than not doing so. (It’s certainly a step up from the pro-forma “Black Lives Matters” messages that have been appended to the launch screens of numerous online shooters over the last month or so.) And many of the points being raised in the conversation, which doesn’t blink from the enormity of the problem of race in America, are trenchant and well-taken. It’s just that it’s a tad incongruous to watch videos of an extremely sober and thoughtful conversation about race in America play out while a bunch of tweens drive futuristic dirtbikes in front of the screen.