Guest Post: Ludonarrative Dissonance and the New Hogwarts Mystery Game

Special Guest Post from Elspeth Gordon-Smith in the UK on Ludonarrative Dissonance and the new Harry Potter ‘Hogwarts Mystery Game’! Enjoy —

We’ve all played Monopoly right? The gameplay – buy properties from rent collected from the other players, build on the properties, collect more and more rent until the other players are impoverished and cast out to where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth – is fully immersive. How many times have you stared into the faces of the most cherished, most beloved people in your life, and gloried in their demise and failure as you snatch the last penny from their feckless grasp?

Monopoly’s gameplay works with an unspoken narrative of rampant, unchecked capitalism and, by winning, you become the cruellest, most vicious capitalist of them all. Monopoly cannot be won by playing it safe with the train stations and waterworks; only by covetously collecting the big prizes can you beat the other players. Your win probably came with you gloatingly counting your millions and toting up your hundreds of houses whilst the other players quietly grimace in barely contained jealousy. At their expense, you are richer and, according to the game, better than those miserable peasants surrounding you.

Fun for all the family!

Monopoly works because it pits you against your friends and family within the gameplay. Monopoly is one of many examples of a game giving you a full ludonarrative experience. But what is ludonarrative? [Read more…]

The Ultimate Potter Fan Theory Medley

John Granger: Three Minute PhD Thesis

Swansea University, at which I am pursuing a PhD in English through a collaboration with the University of Central Oklahoma (read about that here), has a contest each year called ‘Three Minute Thesis.’ I’d never heard of it but was told it is a big deal not only in Wales but globally; more than 200 universities participate. I decided to give it a go, both to clarify the thesis for my own work, crystallize it really, and as an exercise in public speaking.

As a rule, I do not read a paper when I give a talk. This has the great advantage of bringing the exchange to life. Not being scripted, however, dynamism aside, has the downsides of making it very hard to know exactly how long the presentation will actually be. My best talks are solo performances, consequently, of about an hour in length before a large crowd. My embarrassing memories ‘on stage’ are all from academic events before fifteen or twenty people, at which events everyone else reads their exactly fifteen minute long papers — and GilderJohn goes over and gets cut off. Ouch.

Why not practice a timed talk, then, that wasn’t just read, a practice I find borderline unforgivable in a speaker? (“I didn’t travel all this way to hear you read; I can read the paper later and get more out of it that way. I want to hear you speak with me as an expert, not demonstrate your literacy…”) Why not try to speak from memory and within a set time? I decided to give it a try.

So I wrote out a ‘three minute thesis’ talk, timed it, cut it, timed it, cut it, timed it, and added a sentence and phrase here and there. Then I memorized it, practiced it with stop watch, made changes, and memorized that version. Rinse, repeat. The Swansea event is live in front of an audience of 200 (large by uni standards, I know, not fandom conferences); I had to record my talk in Oklahoma with a web-connection to Swansea before an audience of two. [Read more…]

Guest Post: Harry Potter Hogwarts Mystery Game is “Haltingly Magical”

Our first review of the ‘Hogwarts Mystery Game’ is in! Christina Semmens, a Potter Pundit I have known and whose work I have admired since our first meeting at the innaugral LeakyCon in Boston years ago, shares her thoughts on the hits and misses on the mobile app Harry Potter game. Enjoy!

Newly Released Harry Potter Hogwarts Mystery Game is “Haltingly Magical”

I would definitely identify myself as a Harry Potter fan, but of the “original generation” as I lived through the actual delays in the publishing and release of both the books and the films. Although I have enjoyed the periodic additions to the Harry Potter “world” through the Universal Studios Wizarding World park experiences, the Cursed Child screenplay and theater production(s), and now the Fantastic Beasts stories, I freely admit that I am not as “avid” a fan for all things Potter as I once was. Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the release of the new “Hogwarts Mystery” game available as a mobile app for iOS and Android when I decided to click on an ad via the Duolingo language app (I struggle daily in trying to become more proficient at Spanish!). Since the HP game was a “free” download, I was thought to myself, “Why not reward my diligence in language acquisition by enjoying a little Harry Potter distraction?” so I downloaded the game on to my phone.

Upon opening the app, I quickly experienced the joy of receiving my acceptance letter, going and getting my school supplies in Diagon Alley and then being “sorted” in the Great Hall. After this, I began going to my “first year” classes in which I acquired skills (as well as gems, coins, and energy—back to this in a moment) while experiencing a somewhat familiar storyline as my character made a friend or two along the way, while also being bullied by a student from another House for something completely out of my control (in the game it’s because of who “my older brother” is and what he had supposedly done when he was at Hogwarts before my coming there). In all of these activities, I was surrounded by an aesthetically pleasing and authentic virtual world that any Harry Potter fan will easily recognize from both the books and movies, while I also was given occasional hints as to what the actual “mystery” going on in this “mystery game” might be about.

I particularly enjoyed that the personal choices your character makes during conversations and interactions with professors and other students in the game are rewarded in accordance with how well those decisions and choices align with the characteristics of your House. This offers players the opportunity to recognize how some comments and behaviors are inappropriate, and perhaps might even prompt some adjustment in real world behavior, so definitely a great attribute.

Additionally, a more active role is taken by the House Prefect in assisting the characters with the rival House student situation, and in offering advice about how to possibly deal with professors, and this lends the game a more friendly and welcoming feel to the environs of Hogwarts than the Harry Potter books and movies expressed.   

I do think the game designers missed a fabulous opportunity by not having a more “extensive” sorting experience in which several “sorting” questions could have been asked, as that might prompt players to actually reflect upon which House they should be in vs just telling the Sorting Hat which House they want. I particularly think such a process would prove helpful later on for players as they are making choices for their character, but this is more of a missed learning opportunity rather than any negative attribute of the game. Because the game definitely has its flaws.

In fact, it was in the midst of trying to get out of my first really “dangerous” situation (in which my character is being strangled by the Devil’s Snare plant, and later my character discovers that this is a “prank” by a rival student), that I was viscerally confronted with the most frustrating aspect of the game—the halting nature with which one can accomplish any task due to the lack of energy that your character can store/have on hand at any one time. In a nutshell, in order to complete any task (like mastering a spell in class), the experience becomes that unless I am willing to wait for more energy to accrue (it takes 4 minutes to earn each energy credit), I have to pay for that energy.

Now, microtransactions (the term for purchasing more life, skills, or accessories in a game) is commonplace in the gaming world, and is not a bad thing. But what is so frustrating about this game is that there is no other way to acquire energy (which is needed to do ANYTHING as I discovered you have to use energy even in order to take a rest!). If it was possible to use your coins (which accrue fairly rapidly as you do anything), to purchase energy that would be fine, but that’s not permissible. Rather, gems are the only currency that can “purchase” energy, but unfortunately there is no regular method by which to acquire gems without paying either! Bottom line, either you get to wait, or you get to pay. So, the game literally and figuratively becomes a “waiting game,” and for me, this reality takes away any magic inherent in what would otherwise be a fairly enjoyable game.    

For me, this is more of an atrocity because the game is supposedly aimed at the younger set (upper elementary to middle grades) who tend to not have access to the amount of funds being requested by the game, or if they do, have yet to establish proper self-control and discipline in regards to their spending habits, so all sorts of very negative real world situations could potentially arise from kids playing a game.  

Additionally, there are all sorts of other ways to handle microtransactions that do not require actual money or result in as much time as is needed currently. Personally, I think the concept of following other learning games of using ads to generate the income behind the scenes (like Duolingo where I first saw the Harry Potter Hogwarts Mystery Game advertised), could open up portions of the Harry Potter Wizarding world to game players that might not be aware of those events, activities, or experiences. Ads like visiting the HP Wizarding World at Universal Studios’, attending an upcoming HP fan conference or watching the latest trailer for the Fantastic Beasts franchise all would promote and generate additional interest and participate in the Harry Potter world, and would be FAR more enjoyable uses of my “waiting time” than watching a clock count down, or worse, I turn off the game as my character regains energy, and I walk away and forget about ever coming back.

Other issues that I found (but which can be overlooked and tolerated) are that the hints for whatever “the mystery” is in the game are extremely rare, so the “big” mystery is slow in coming; there is an inconsistency in when you can control the speed of how long comments stay on your screen that have been shared by other characters in the midst of conversations or lectures, so you to periodically miss some instruction or clue about what to do next; and then when in the midst of doing activities, the screen can be somewhat imprecise when you try to do “Focus” and tracing wand movements. Overall, the best description I have for the game is that it’s “haltingly magical.” It’s unfortunate, because in the end, this reality leaves a player more frustrated than enchanted.

So unless you are willing to sink a significant amount of money from your real world bank account into this experience, the Harry Potter Hogwarts Mystery Game left this Harry Potter fan disappointed (and ultimately disenchanted), because although I was able to get into Hogwarts just like Harry, this Muggle’s acceptance letter didn’t come accompanied with a vault filled with gold at Gringotts, and that reality unfortunately, takes away most of the magic.

Christina Semmens is a Roman Catholic missionary who can attest to the powerful nature of the Harry Potter stories for inspiring each of us to live lives of virtue while courageously reflecting love and mercy in a world that so desperately needs it. She currently lives in Fort Payne, Alabama.  


The Passion of Harry Potter, according to Saint John the Evangelist

Much has been said about the Christian themes, symbolism and allusions in Harry Potter, and indeed much remains to be said. In a previous essay, I explained what Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has to do with Holy Week: the time when Christians commemorate the passion (suffering), death and resurrection of Christ. Here I’d like to add a small but (I think) significant observation to my articulation of the striking parallels between Harry’s self-offering and Christ’s.

In John’s Gospel and in none of the others, Jesus takes a moment, almost immediately before surrendering his spirit to God the Father, to “give” his mother Mary to the disciple whom he loved:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19: 26-27)

The text implies that with this act, Jesus completes his mission on earth: “After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished…” (19:28a) Indeed, after acknowledging his thirst to fulfill what had been written in Psalm 69, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (19:30b)  [Read more…]