'Fortnite' videogame removes police cars

CARY, N.C. -- Police cars have been removed from the hit videogame "Fortnite," a change that comes amid a national debate over law enforcement practices in response to the killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

"Fortnite" is one of the most popular games in the world, with more than 350 million players as of May, according to its creator, closely held Epic Games Inc. The shooter-survival game, which normally features police cars and other vehicles, launched a new season last week that introduced a new map for game play. Many vehicles remained after the update, but not police cars, according to a person familiar with the game's development.

"I wouldn't say it's a political statement. I think it's just us being sensitive about the issues many people in our audience are dealing with," this person said.

Epic didn't respond to a request for comment. The Cary, N.C., company was last valued at $15 billion in 2018, and also owns the app Houseparty and licenses software to other game developers and companies.

In "Fortnite," police cars were decorative and couldn't be used by players. Yet their sudden omission has drawn attention on social media, where people have debated whether it was a politically motivated decision and, if so, whether it is an appropriate move for a game beloved by children. The videogame news website Kotaku first reported on the matter.

"Yikes. The anti-cop sentiment is reaching everything. Sad times," wrote a Reddit user on the social-networking site.

"Fortnite" player Morgan McNabb of McKinney, Texas, said she didn't have an issue with Epic's decision to remove police cars.

"I'm for it," said the 24-year-old, who is white and just graduated from law school. "There really is major police brutality. Minorities are treated differently than myself."

The killing of Mr. Floyd, along with other recent killings of black civilians, has inspired mass demonstrations against racism and police brutality world-wide. Several U.S. cities and states have since moved to ban police chokeholds and similar restraints used on Mr. Floyd in recent weeks.

Some of the videogame industry's largest companies have expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which has pushed for police reform for years and even more so in recent weeks in response to Mr. Floyd's killing. Electronic Arts Inc. said it would give $1 million to organizations "dedicated to the fight for racial justice in the U.S. and against discrimination around the world."

Videogame companies have weighed in on sensitive political issues before in other ways. Last year Activision Blizzard Inc. suspended an esports competitor from one of its tournaments for backing antigovernment protesters in Hong Kong. The publisher of the Call of Duty series of videogames later reversed the decision after facing backlash from people on social media and elected officials such as Republican Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida.

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