Monday, March 3, 2014

A Dream of Magic

I’ve had a long standing dream for many, many years now. An impossible dream, but one I still hold on to and may never let go, and I thought I’d share it with you. Before I get to the details, I should offer a little background first. My love of Harry Potter.

Me, at the Warner Bros Studio Tour
outside Gringotts, on Diagon Alley.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Harry Potter

Harry Potter has been an integral part of my life for a long time now. Debs and I first heard of the books when we lived on the south coast, Debs working in graphic design and I was working in the Odeon cinema. We’d heard of the success of the first couple of books, but the hype was building in anticipation of the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Debs loved the idea of the stories, and we bought the first couple of books which Debs devoured in a matter of days. She was instantly hooked.

I was a little more skeptical, but when we moved back across the country and I started working in a bookstore, I started to see first-hand the effect the books had on the public. Kids were reading, they were enthusiastic about reading, and it was a fantastic phenomenon. The midnight book launches were some of the most exciting, tiring, and rewarding experiences I’ve had in my day jobs, with hundreds of kids all dressed in Hogwarts uniforms swarming around the shop, desperate to read. Not to play a video game, or sit on their iPhones - to READ. Amazing.

We went to the cinema to see the movies, usually on their opening nights, and my years of dismissing the story as Star Wars retold, or just The Worst Witch again, were quelled in my growing love for Harry Potter’s universe. I gave in and read the books, and loved every moment, revelling in the scenes and details that didn’t make it into the movies. As the Star Wars prequels crushed my childhood love of the original Star Wars, I realised that the Wizarding World was starting to feel more and more like home to me.

While I love Star Wars, and I have fond memories of seeing it for the first time with my parents, and dressing up for the town carnival as Star Wars characters with my dad, Harry’s world has a depth, and a level of detail, that won me over. We bought the first couple of books for my mum and she got to the point where she would read very little else. Other similar books I’d bought her for Christmas and birthdays would always be compared to Harry with a dismissive, “It was okay, but it wasn’t Harry Potter was it?”

The Potter movies have become comfort films for us, the standard go-to when we need cheering up. The novels are reread frequently, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour has almost become a second home, and it was recently pointed out to us that our living room is gradually becoming more and more like the Gryffindor common room with every passing year.

Strength of Character, Strength of Fandom

It’s not just us who have been welcomed into Harry’s world. The fandom is just as strong now as it ever has been. While I no longer work in book retail, my current dayjob gives me a great insight into fandoms, and the enthusiasm and love for Harry Potter has not faded. We’ve been to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour three times now in the two years the attraction has been open, most recently just last week, and it’s amazing to see how absolutely packed it is with enthusiastic fans - kids and adults dressed in Hogwarts robes, carrying wands, gasping at the sets and props. 

Looking online, you can see fans expressing their love for Harry’s world in art, stories and amazing fan-films like An Auror’s Tale and The Greater Good

You can dress in the uniforms, wear the robes, buy the wands, play the video games, build the Lego, play the old trading card game, and play some of the old boardgames while you reread the books or rewatch the movies. 

But the one thing I’d love to be able to do, is to play a roleplaying game in Harry’s world.

Not so much Holy Grail, more a Goblet of Fire

Sure, there are homebrew Harry Potter RPGs online, and games that can be used to play in an unofficial version of Harry’s world, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here. While it’s great for us existing gamers to create our own games, it’s not spreading the benefits of the hobby to a new generation of kids.

So what’s stopping an official Harry Potter roleplaying game? I wish I knew. There have been tales of companies getting so far, but as the years have gone by it’s become less and less likely that an official Potterverse game would ever happen. Which is a pity because the Wizarding world has a lot to offer gamers and kids alike.

Last year at GenCon, a little game that I worked hard on called Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space won an ENnie Award for Best Family Game. It surprised everybody I think, as “family games” have traditionally been board or card games. I was absolutely stunned to think that our Doctor Who game had become a family game - it meant that kids were being introduced to roleplaying games, probably through their parents who were already gamers, or introduced to the hobby thanks to their interest in Doctor Who.

My favourite illustration at the Studio Tour
- Harry and a Dementor. Simply beautiful
black and white line work.
It meant that families were getting together to play a game that was social (and everyone was at the same place, looking each other in the eyes rather than talking over the internet or shouting down a microphone). A game that got them problem solving, thinking of non-violent solutions to dangerous situations (because that’s what the Doctor would do) and inspired their imaginations.

The world of Harry Potter has sparked the imaginations of millions of children across the world, and you can bet every single one of them has dreamed of discovering they were a witch or wizard, of going to Diagon Alley to buy their wand, and to go to Hogwarts.

Just as the books got kids reading again, a roleplaying game set in Harry’s universe could inspire a new generation of gamers - kids using their imaginations, creating new stories, new characters, and learning how to interact with each other in a positive way.

But it may be that creating “new stories” is one of the things that’s holding back such a game from existing in the first place.

Sacred Texts and an Unalterable History

The first thing that would need to be stated, for such a game to even exist, is to define when your game would be set. It has been thought that one of the reasons that a Harry Potter RPG is impossible is that J K Rowling doesn’t want anyone else doing anything with her characters. 

And you know what? I completely agree. Harry, Ron and Hermione, and the events of the seven books are the stuff of legend. Having a game that changes those events would be ridiculous. It’d be like having a Star Wars game where you played Luke, Han and Leia during the rebellion. If I was J K Rowling, not only would I be a far better writer than I am now (and wouldn’t be writing this blogpost) but I’d also be incredibly protective of my creation. 

Harry’s world is huge and detailed, and the events of the seven years that lead up to the Battle of Hogwarts is the sort of thing that would be recorded in Hogwarts: A History (a revised edition of Bathilda Bagshot’s essential tome). 

Instead, Rowling has given the gaming world the perfect window of opportunity. At least fifteen years between the Battle of Hogwarts, and Harry’s eldest son, James’ first year at Hogwarts. A setting where the school is rebuilding after the battle, Death Eaters have fled and are in hiding, and the wizarding world is trying to get back to normality. This avoids playing during the events of the book, and also avoids conflicting with any events that may happen should sequels ever happen (we can hope).

But if that’s too close to the events of the books, and Rowling’s characters, how about creating a new school? We know of the Durmstrang Institute and the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, but what of magical schools in other countries? Rowling is adding new information to Pottermore to expand the wizarding world, wouldn’t it be great if she’d supply new details exclusively for a game? (After all, Joss Whedon did for the Buffy RPG!)

Wouldn't rulebooks for a game look amazing
if they looked even remotely like this?
Dreaming the Dream, Not Living the Dream

I have it all planned. The game system, the rulebooks designed like actual textbooks from Hogwarts, a companion game for Wizard Duelling, a companion game for Quidditch. It’d be a dream writing job. Hell, I’d do it for free. I’d donate profits to J K Rowling’s charity, Lumos. Just the opportunity to be part of that world. To create a positive, fun and exciting game that the whole family could enjoy.

With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hitting cinema screens in the coming years, we can only hope that Harry’s world grows even larger, and that someday, somehow, my impossible dream could come closer to a reality. Like others before me I've tried to make this dream come true, only to fail at the last hurdle. 

I just hope that somewhere out there, J K Rowling and the people at Warner Bros. read this and see that such an enterprise would be not only positive and profitable for them, but it could be done with the utmost respect and regard for its source material. Until then, I think I'll pop one of the movies on again, maybe reread one of the books, and plan my next trip to the Studio Tour. 


Me and Debs in the Great Hall at Hogwarts during the Christmas holidays.