One of the silliest things to happen in the United States in recent years has been the emergence of intramural quidditch. It started as a recreational activity enjoyed on a few college campuses here and there, and blossomed into a full-fledged organized league with uniforms, rules, and standings. They even have a website, and call themselves U.S. Quidditch. It’s all in good fun, but it’s also totally insane.
Let me backtrack just a bit. In case you somehow checked out of two decades’ worth of Harry Potter material, quidditch is a fictional sport invented by J.K. Rowling. It’s played by her characters on broomsticks, and features four balls, three of which are magically enchanted. In the Harry Potter books, quidditch was always a lot of fun, even if the rules were kind of absurd by conventional sporting standards. But in the real world quidditch is, naturally, impossible.
USQ gets the job done by tweaking the game to the closest possible thing that can be played on two feet, and without enchantments. There’s actually some athleticism and coordination involved, but what they’ve really done is invent a bizarre combination of team handball, dodgeball, and tag—or something like that. You can’t fault the effort or enthusiasm, I suppose, but ultimately it’s still a fairly ridiculous movement.
What might not be so ridiculous is the apparent emergence of a new take on quidditch in the real world—or rather, in a virtual one. This summer, stories surfaced about Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida working on a virtual reality version of the popular, fictional sport. Could this possibly turn out well?
The history of Harry Potter gaming actually suggests that it probably won’t. As wildly popular as the series has always been, its games have always been somewhat lackluster. Various PC and console efforts were fun for fans, but didn’t seem to pack the full creative effort of development teams.
Some of the better efforts have been fringe Harry Potter games, if you will. For instance, LEGO video games set in the Harry Potter world have been entertaining. Most recently, the “Wintastic Beasts” mobile slot uses a spinoff of the Harry Potter films to craft the closest thing out there to a Harry Potter slot reel. It’s a small game, but a cheerful one that embraces the wizarding world’s spirit.
The larger games have struggled to make much of an impact beyond basic sales. Of course people are going to buy Harry Potter video games because people will buy Harry Potter anything. But ask yourself if there’s a computer or console game based on this series or world that you fondly remember playing from five, 10, or 15 years ago. I’m betting the answer is no.
That’s what the crew at Full Sail University will be looking to change. And I have to say that while the history of Harry Potter gaming paints a kind of negative picture it’s hard not to imagine them or someone like them succeeding. VR is the perfect vehicle for Harry Potter gaming. It can allow people to fully experience wizarding wonders that a regular console or app just can’t properly simulate. Even holding a wand and waving it to magical effect sounds magical in VR. Mounting a broom and flying around a quidditch field sounds absolutely sensational.
It’ll take some time for them to nail down the tech and development. By the look of their progress this may first emerge as a sort of amusement park experience rather than an in-home gaming option. Now that it’s out there, we should expect quidditch in VR to become a reality. Given how virtual activities and sports are already beginning to blend, as well as the existing enthusiasm for real world quidditch leagues, we can probably map out just where this is headed. Quidditch is going to become a widespread virtual sport, whether we like it or not.