America's Army was at one time the world's most (in)famous videogame military recruitment tool, but now that it's out of the picture the British are taking their shot. The British Army has revealed a new "Fortnite experience" called Operation: Belong, and it plans to livestream an influencer-led competition on it next week.
It's possible that Epic could turn the British Army away. Its rules for commercial and sponsored content say that it "must not promote enrolment in the military," and Operation: Belong is pretty overtly a recruitment effort
"You belong here," the video says as rousing music plays in the background. "Work as one. Test your agility. Unlock the enigma. Conquer obstacles. Apply your training."
Epic isn't commenting on the status of the map, except to say that it's going through the moderation process now.
"This island has not yet been published to Fortnite (IE it is not accessible to players) and is undergoing moderation, as does all content in the Fortnite Ecosystem," an Epic representative said in a statement provided to PC Gamer. "All content and creators must adhere to our Content Guidelines and Creator Rules. Since the Island is in moderation right now, the situation may evolve and we're in touch with the creators."
The reactions to the trailer on Twitter are mixed, as you'd expect: Some people say the map looks like fun, but others see it more in the context of, as one reply put it, "some wild Black Mirror shit."
"Can't believe my tax money goes to recruiting children into the army," one respondent said.
"This is vile. Shame on everybody involved in this," another wrote. And of course, someone rolled out the classic, "What is your favorite war crime?"
The British Army has hidden some of the more heated replies, but you can see them by clicking the icon on the bottom-right of the tweet, just below the trailer:
It's possible the map will evade the letter of the law, if not the spirit, and get the green light, but that big, bold "you belong here" message seen in the trailer is literally the slogan of the British Army's Jobs and Recruitment division:
Maybe it won't matter if it's not actually in the map, but it does seem pretty central to the theme of the whole thing.
Neither Yung Filly nor Elz the Witch has commented on social media about their participation in the upcoming match. Using videogames to target young gamers (Fortnite is rated Teen, remember) for military recruitment is unpopular at best, and particularly so among the younger, more online crowd, who I would assume makes up the bulk of their audience. The potential risks of tying themselves to the British Army brand have been amplified over the past couple weeks thanks to the UK's participation in strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which have drawn the British military, and the West's tendency toward gunboat diplomacy in general, into the spotlight.
It's not the first time a military branch turned to videogames to market itself. The direct use of videogames as recruitment tools goes all the way back to at least 2002 with the release of America's Army—it actually predates the first Call of Duty game. I have to assume it proved at least reasonably effective in attracting aimless youngsters to the military machine, as they kept it around for 20 years before finally pulling the plug. China took a crack at it too, with a game featuring the People's Liberation Army called Glorious Mission that came out in 2011. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't released in the West.
The US military later moved into esports and streaming, and that did not go quite so smoothly. In 2020, the Army's then-new Twitch channel was almost immediately flooded with questions about war crimes, and efforts to moderate the chat ran into trouble with the First Amendment: Shroud isn't an agency of the US government so he can do what he wants, but the US Army is and that puts limits on its ability to tell people what they can and cannot say in a public forum.
The British Army's big fight in Fortnite is scheduled to take place on January 24, presumably on the British Army's still-active Twitch channel. I've reached out to the British Army, as well as Yung Filly and Elz the Witch, for comment and will update this article if I receive a reply.