‘Wizards Unite’ Virtual Wizarding World Reality to Transform Our Experience of the Hogwarts Saga? Almost Certainly

Yesterday I read on MuggleNet that Niantic is following up its Pokemon Go global success with a Harry Potter game, an effort they are making in tandem with Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment’s Portkey Games. That night, Travis Prinzi, author of Harry Potter and Imagination and serious Ingress player, sent me this gaming industry release post which includes a link to this Niantic announcement with a note saying, “Look for a phenomenon even bigger than the Pokémon release when it hits.”

From the MuggleNet piece:

Founder and CEO of Niantic, Inc. John Hanke shared his opinion of the announcement:

At Niantic, our goal is to leverage technology to create real[-]world experiences that help people to discover the wonderful and often magical parts of the world around them. The beloved Harry Potter stories have captured imaginations worldwide for more than 20 years, and soon we’ll turn the fantasy into augmented reality, allowing fans and their friends to become wizards and witches.

David Haddad, President, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, added his thoughts to Hanke’s comments:

With this game, we are allowing the passionate, worldwide fan base to experience J.K. Rowling’s deeply powerful and imaginative universe in a new, truly immersive way. It is wonderful to have Niantic’s remarkable augmented reality expertise as we develop this incredibly rich wizarding world for players to explore in their everyday lives.

I’m going to risk some hyperbole here. [Excuse me for a moment while I change into my Chicken Little costume.]

There. Okay, a little snug but here goes.

I have been back-and-forth this week in correspondence with a BBC radio documentary producer in Edinburgh about a show she is recording about Rowling’s adopted home as a Potter Pilgrimage destination.

I wrote her yesterday about ‘Wizards Unite,’ saying that, in light of this Niantic/Portkey SmartPhone technology, the world as in “the globe, planet earth,” is about to become a Harry Potter experience. Forget Orlando and Edinburgh.


The Ingress virtual Potter reality game, Wizards Unite, has the fascinating aspect of mirroring Rowling’s subcreation. Hers is a magical reality just out of Muggle sight; the wizards at this game company are transforming the profane reality of Potter-philes into this kind of world-with-extra-dimension for initiates.

Instead of traveling to Orlando or Edinburgh, the legion of true believers will be able to enter into the Wizarding World (or never leave it) via their external-intelligence-app-tool, the SmartPhone. I doubt very much that there will be many hold-outs who reject this opportunity to enter “augmented reality” in an “immersive way.” Your admissions letter from Hogwarts has arrived!

I don’t think it is possible to exaggerate the potential ramifications for Harry Potter fandom in general and for individual readers.

I think, though unlike Travis I have no experience with games which “augment reality,” that this SmartPhone recreation of a Wizarding World invisible to the uninitiated (Muggles like me with flip-phones!) promises to outstrip Pokemon Go in popularity and to redefine fandom.

This will do to our understanding of the stories, I fear, what the movies did to what had been a purely imaginative experience, i.e., expand and transform and diminish it (alas) in ways no one can truly appreciate before-hand. Again, in Savonarola mode, I think this app will do as much or more as the film adaptations to our experience of the stories, affecting us I suspect even if we do not participate ourselves.

I think we are obliged to begin re-imagining how readers will now understand the Potter Saga. Just as the films have altered and diminished our appreciation of the books, our entry into their transformative alembic of imagination through our sense experience of the stories on screen as images, fandom is going to take another step away from the story as the reader co-creates it with the storyteller in accepting the pre-packaged and ‘interactive’ sense experience of the game each phone-bot player acts out.

We are about to make another quantum leap away from the human and sacred aspect of story into android land and commodification of the imaginary, call it ‘story exploitation.’

Your comments and correction are coveted, as always.





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