This game will unite kids, adults against the De­men­tor next door

Harry Pot­ter: Wizards Unite will be­come a cul­tural ob­ses­sion in way Poke­mon Go never could

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - EMMA TEITEL

When Poke­mon Go launched last year to enor­mous fan­fare from kids and mil­len­ni­als like my­self who should have known bet­ter, I spent a good three weeks travers­ing the city in search of an obese and per­ma­nently lethar­gic crea­ture named Snor­lax. I was hooked.

But de­spite my new ad­dic­tion to de­tain­ing make-be­lieve an­i­mals in an imag­i­nary red ball, I had a hunch that Poke-ma­nia wasn’t long for this world.

I pre­dicted that it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore us Poke-folk would tire of the aug­mented re­al­ity game, and turn to the next big vir­tual nos­tal­gia craze: most likely an aug­mented re­al­ity (AR) game that fo­cused on an­other mil­len­nial ob­ses­sion, like Digi­mon or The Ad­ven­tures of Mary-Kate & Ash­ley.

Fast for­ward more than a year since the launch of Poke­mon Go and my pre­dic­tion was at least par­tially cor­rect. Use of the once in­sanely pop­u­lar game has dwin­dled since its peak in the sum­mer of 2016.

It’s no longer com­mon­place to see teenagers clus­tered around a side­walk me­dian with their phones hov­er­ing in the air (in hopes of snag­ging a Jynx or Cle­fairy).

How­ever (here’s where I was wrong) the next big thing in AR isn’t a game cen­tred on a uniquely mil­len­nial ob­ses­sion, but an ob­ses­sion that spans gen­er­a­tions: J.K. Rowl­ing’s Harry Pot­ter.

This week, Niantic Labs, the de­vel­oper be­hind Poke­mon Go, an­nounced that its new project (to be re­leased in 2018) is an aug­mented re­al­ity app called Harry Pot­ter: Wizards Unite. In the com­pany’s own words: “With Harry Pot­ter: Wizards Unite, play­ers that have been dream­ing of be­com­ing real life Wizards will fi­nally get the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence J.K. Rowl­ing’s Wizard­ing World. Play­ers will learn spells, ex­plore their real world neigh­bour­hoods and ci­ties to dis­cover & fight leg­endary beasts and team up with oth­ers to take down pow­er­ful ene­mies.”

In other words, Lord Volde­mort and his Death Eaters are com­ing to a side­walk me­dian near you. That dump­ster be­hind your apart­ment where you used to hunt for Pikachus? Next year, it could be a hot­bed of De­men­tor ac­tiv­ity. That hot­dog stand near your of­fice? It’s re­ally a Portkey to Di­agon Al­ley. That sewer grate over there? It’s He Who Must Not Be Named him­self. As Pro­fes­sor Dum­ble­dore once said, “dark and dif­fi­cult times lie ahead.”

But I have an­other hunch, this time that Niantic’s next foray into AR won’t just prove pop­u­lar with kids and mil­len­ni­als who came of age with Rowl­ing’s se­ries, but with their par­ents, too.

Un­like Poke­mon, a fran­chise that many North Amer­i­can par­ents are mys­ti­fied by, Harry Pot­ter is fa­mil­iar and beloved pop­cul­ture ter­ri­tory.

There is an en­tire col­lec­tion of in­ter­net memes writ­ten by par­ents of school-aged chil­dren who love Harry Pot­ter more than their kids do. (e.g. “I made a Harry Pot­ter joke in front of my daugh­ter and her friend. The friend didn’t get it. I told her to get out of my house.”)

Anec­do­tally, I know as many fans of the Harry Pot­ter se­ries who are 50-plus as I do fans my own age or younger. A few years ago, I nearly flew to Europe to write a fea­ture story about a group of mid­dleaged adults who or­ga­nized a Harry Pot­ter re-en­act­ment camp inside a cas­tle, un­til the event was can­celled when the or­ga­niz­ers feared they’d be sued for copy­right in­fringe­ment.

In a 2003 opin­ion piece in the New York Times about the wild pop­u­lar­ity of Rowl­ing’s books among kids and adults both, English nov­el­ist A.S. By­att writes that when it comes to lit­er­a­ture, adults “like to regress.” “I know that part of the rea­son I read Tolkien when I’m ill is that there is an al­most to­tal ab­sence of sex­u­al­ity in his world, which is rest­ful.”

I pre­dict that adults will regress to the “rest­ful” world of Harry Pot­ter, the aug­mented re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ence. We’ll see a much more age-di­verse crowd play­ing vir­tual witch and wizard, than we saw in 2016, when Poke­mon Go launched. Not just the pre­dictable gath­er­ings of mil­len­ni­als and teens car­ry­ing iPhones, but swarms of Gen Xers and even baby boomers, iPads in the air, ready to nab that first Hor­crux.

WARNER BROS.

With the launch of the new Harry Pot­ter AR game, we’ll see a more age-di­verse crowd on the streets, play­ing vir­tual witch and wizard, than we saw when Poke­mon Go launched.

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