May 29, 2018
Harry Potter and the magic of augmented reality
A year and a half ago, I pretty much dropped everything I was doing to download Pokémon GO. Word had gone out quickly that the game had been released outside of the US, and that an APK was floating around the web. So I found it and put it on my Note 4, ready to tackle the world and become “the very best, like no one ever was.”
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I played for days, walking around my home, my job, and the theater I frequented. I would see droves of people in their late twenties and early thirties out in the street, visiting the nearest pokestop on their own journeys. Everyone seemed to be into it. The night after the US release, I was surprised to find women dressed like they were ready for a night out dancing at a club wandering in a park, hoping to catch a Vulpix.
I imagined their inner children were thrilled to be out late at night hunting Pokémon. It was fun, deceptively healthy, and surprisingly wholesome. It was said to be one of the biggest ever mobile game releases. Almost immediately, rumors of another augmented reality game made by Pokémon GO developer Niantic set in the Harry Potter universe started flying around. Harry Potter and Pokémon aren’t as different as they may at first seem. They were both released in the US in the same month and year: September 1998. Both were widely popular with young fans at the time of release and have managed to keep these fans into adulthood while gaining new fans along the way. Both also offer fully developed worlds that fans longed to step into. The rumors turned out to be true, as Niantic recently announced the game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
I had all but forgotten about Pokémon GO a month after its release. If Pokémon were Tamagotchi, my phone would have been a mass grave of animated animals of varying size and shape. Luckily for Pokémon, they’re always alive and kicking inside the app, waiting for me to jump back in if the feeling were to ever move me to do so. But it hasn’t. There are two main points to the game: collecting Pokémon and using those Pokémon to defend Gyms. The first, after a while, got boring and repetitive and entered the territory of microtransactions to continue (something I’m not a fan of). The second apparently requires a large group of like-minded friends to play the game with, which unfortunately never happened either.
Based on what little information is out about the new Harry Potter AR game, it will hearken back to Niantic’s first hit Ingress, but with a Harry Potter twist: teams of wizards will fight to protect landmarks from other teams of wizards, while also fighting enemies from the wizarding world such as dementors and Death Eaters.
Niantic’s press release doesn’t make a direct comparison to Pokémon GO, focusing more on Ingress. However, Pokémon GO was originally marketed as “Ingress with Pokémon”. Pre-launch, this feels like deja vu. At a glance, the game play sounds like it will be very similar, only making small adjustments to match the fantasy world they’re trying to build. Both games even have optional peripherals: Pokémon GO has a step counter/alert device that allows you to find out when Pokémon are near and count steps (crucial for incubating Pokémon eggs) without draining your cell phone’s battery. Harry Potter will have a wand, the exact function of which is still to be revealed.
I’ve read all of the Harry Potter books. I’ve seen all of the films. I’ve been sorted multiple times, into different houses each time, but I don’t hold high hopes for this game. Pokémon GO allowed me to catch Pokémon in the real world, and that was it. Once the novelty wore off, there was nothing fun to keep me hooked. There was no reason for me to go back, so I didn’t. Despite the cost, a trip to the Wizarding World, or even the Harry Potter studio tour in the UK seems like it would be more fun and immersive than the newly announced game.