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
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.
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.