Now that my work project is completed, I’ve had a little time to get onto Pottermore and play. My overall reaction is one of mild disappointment oddly coupled with mild enthusiasm. The additional material is interesting (for instance, the backstories of Vernon and Petunia Dursley and Prof. McGonagall, respectively), and the artwork is very nice. On the other hand, I was expecting something a bit more… magical.
Given today’s technological capabilities especially the immense complexity and amazing graphics of many MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), I thought Pottermore would offer something more interactive, more immersive. Instead we are given, for the most part, very nice but relatively static artwork, with occasional items to “collect” scattered here and there. Frankly, it reminds me of some of the tamer children’s computer games from a decade ago.
|The first “moment” — Number 4, Privet Drive
Once you’ve signed up and signed in for the first time, you move through the website chronologically, following the chapters of each book. (So far, the only book open for exploration is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone, which adds to my disappointment.) Each chapter has two or three illustrated “moments” to explore. The illustrations are a few layers deep, and you can change focus “forward” into the next layer or “back” to the previous one, rather like turning your visual focus to different depths of field. However, there’s only a little bit of movement within each illustration — a cat’s tail waves, a spider crawls up a tree. Items to collect and other items of interest will light up when your cursor goes over them, and may wiggle or shiver; some may only be visible in one “layer”, so it pays to zoom in and out and wave your cursor around thoroughly. The much-touted additional material from J. K. Rowling — background information, thoughts, etc. — must be unlocked by finding the appropriate item/person in a scene and clicking on it. Items you collect will be put either in your trunk, your Potions locker, or your Gringotts Account.
As you go through, you participate in some of the events in the same chapter that Harry does. When Harry goes to Diagon Alley, you go to Diagon Alley. This is easily the most interesting and active portion of the site. You open an account at Gringotts (with a pre-set number of galleons), you find your shopping list and do your shopping for your first year books and supplies, you go into the pet shop to choose your animal (which becomes your avatar), and finally, you go to Ollivander’s, where you answer several questions and are given your wand.* (Mine is sycamore with unicorn hair, 10 inches, unyielding — which rather surprised me, as I don’t think of myself as particularly unbending.)
When Harry and his classmates arrive at Hogwarts and are Sorted, you are Sorted, again by making a set of choices. There are enough questions for both the Sorting and the wand-choosing that there wasn’t much overlap between my daughter’s questions and my own; I suspect that is intentional in order to reduce the ability of your friends or family to manipulate their own results based on your experience. You should be aware that there is no way to change either your wand or your House once it’s assigned, short of deactivating your account and starting from scratch. (The speculation in the Harry Potter Lovers group on Ravelry is that this is the reason Hufflepuff is so behind in the House Points; perhaps people who are assigned to Hufflepuff let their account sit inactive while they start a new account to try to get a different, more prestigious house. Personally, I don’t have any problem with Hufflepuff, which is just as well, since the Sorting Hat put me in that House.)
You do have to deal with a few of the spells guarding the Sorcerer’s Stone in order to finish the first book, but the only other things you can actively do on the site are brew potions — the practice one is rather difficult to get right — and cast spells, which involves typing or mouseclicking specific letters at the right time. (A hint: touch typing works better than mousing.) You can also duel other students using spells and jinxes, though I haven’t tried this. Successfully brewing a potion or winning a duel earns you House Points, but failing the potion or losing the duel loses points for your House.
|Practice brewing potions — it’s trickier than it looks!
It’s possible to build a network of friends in Pottermore, but if you want to friend someone you know from outside Pottermore, you’ll have to get them to give you your username, which (like your wand and House) is assigned to you. The site has been very carefully designed to eliminated or at least minimize any possibility of stalkers getting any sort of personal information about or from minors — or anyone else, for that matter. Everyone is, to all intents and purposes, completely anonymous; hence the need to exchange usernames with anyone you wish to friend.
I’m glad I spent the hour or two it took me to explore the site. It was sort of fun to buy my supplies, choose my animal, get a wand and get Sorted. (And now I know where the Hufflepuff common room is and how to get into it. No, I’m not going to tell you.) But there really isn’t enough on the site to entice me back very often, until the next book opens up. I’m sure there will be die-hard fans who spend hours brewing potions and engaging other students in Wizard duels. I just wish there were more at Pottermore to interest the rest of us. There was so much more they could have done, even without the loss of creative control that a MMORPG implies: playable Wizard chess, whether against another player or just the computer; puzzles to solve using clues in the artwork and information found in the textbooks (which so far, you can’t actually open and read; it would be really neat if you could); a Hogwarts castle you could actually explore; a scavenger hunt; even a playable Quidditch game.
In the end, I’d have to say that I’m a little disappointed that the folks creating Pottermore set their sights so low. I hope that they’ll add more interactivity as they develop more of the books for the site.