For all the hours kids spend playing Fortnite, they might as well be learning something.
Fortnite creator Epic Games announced on Thursday that players may now attend a simulation of 1963’s historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which they can watch an avatar of Martin Luther King Jr. give his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
Launched in 2017, the game itself — which generally has little to do with historical facts — is an online multiplayer platform whose participants can choose from a number of different game-play modes, from a zombie shoot-’em-up to a live virtual concert venue.
In a partnership with Time Studios, the new in-game experience re-creates the demonstrations at the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall where King gave his most inspirational speech — taking place in a virtual Washington, DC, called “D.C. 63.” Players may then complete challenges related to the Civil Rights movement to gain new accessories in the game.
“The experience extends with museum-inspired points of interest, and collaborative mini-game quests you complete with others,” Epic Games said in a post on their website. “These activities progress players through the experience and bring to life important themes of Dr. King’s speech: We move forward when we work together.”
The unexpected educational mash-up was met with a fair amount of skepticism on social media, with black users especially lamenting the thought that young students might be learning more about US history in video games than in schools.
“Imagine kids hearing about Martin Luther King at school and be like ‘yo that’s the guy in fortnite,’ ” wrote one critic, whose tweet topped 19,900 “likes” supporting the take.
But the move is King-family approved, according to a statement provided by his estate.
“We continuously strive to move Dr. King from the history books and place his legacy directly into the lives of younger generations,” said Eric D. Tidwell, the King estate’s managing director and general counsel, in a statement for Time. “Presenting his most famous speech in such an interactive format helps us achieve that goal.”
The news comes as academic leaders across the country continue debating over how civil rights and racial discrimination are discussed in schools.
With presumably noble intentions, this isn’t the first time Fortnite has seemingly dipped into the political fray. In 2019, Fortnite fans got “fired up” over the removal of three automatic weapons available to players in the game. (The overly efficient firearms were making it too easy to get kills.) Yet amid their decision was news that national brands including Kroger and Walmart would ban customers from openly carrying guns in their stores.
With diminishing subtlety, the game in 2020 decided to remove cop cars from their platform, amid protests over police brutality across the country last year. Police cars were there only as scenic elements, not used in gameplay, and were among other non-law enforcement vehicles to be removed from the background, too.
Epic was also quick to postpone major in-game events during the height of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 — saying they were “acutely aware of the pain our friends, families, team members, players and communities are experiencing” during the upheaval.
“We believe in equality and justice, diversity and inclusion, and that these fundamentals are above politics,” the company added.