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Analyzing Fictional Games: Quidditch
We all love playing and designing games, but there are some games that we will never get to play. These games only exist in the world of fantasy, but that doesn't mean they can't teach us anything about game design.First up is Quidditch from Harry Potter
January 29, 2019
12 Min Read
The following is a reproduction, and has been modified for this site. The original article, and many more, can be found at RemptonGames.com
When I was younger there was nothing I wanted to be more than a wizard. I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was in elementary school, and from that moment on I dreamed about what it would be like if I got a letter to Hogwarts. I imagined the spells I would cast, the creatures I would meet, and all of the adventures I would go on.
One aspect of the Harry Potter world that has always intrigued me is the games. Whether it be Wizard’s Chess or the trials of the Triwizard tournament, the world of Harry Potter is full of games. The world of magic has so much potential for magical, inventive games that would never be possible in the real world. And of all of these possibilities, there is no game as popular in the wizarding world as Quidditch.
Unfortunately, Quidditch is a terribly designed game. In this article I had originally intended to talk about a variety of fictional games from various sources such as books, films and video games, but I realized that I had so much to say about Quidditch that it would fill an entire article in itself. Therefore, for the rest of this article I am going to be examining this fictional sport from a game design perspective, and show why it is one of the worst fictional games ever invented.
Before I look into the various design problems with this game lets first examine how Quidditch is actually played. Keep in mind that this is based off of the fictional sport as described in the Harry Potter novels, and not how the real world adaptation of the game is played.
Quidditch is a game played by two teams teams, each of which has seven players. Each team has 4 different positions – 1 Seeker, 1 Keeper, 2 Beaters, and 3 Chasers. There are also 3 different kinds of balls used – 2 Bludgers, 1 Quaffle, and 1 Golden Snitch. Oh, and also the entire thing takes place while flying around on broomsticks.
Quaffle in the middle, Bludgers on the sides. The Snitch isn't pictured because it's shy
The Chaser’s goal is to carry the Quaffle – a reddish, soccer ball sized ball – across the field and throw it through the opponent team’s goalposts. These goalposts are three hoops on the end of long poles (sort of like a spoon standing on it’s end, but with a hole in the middle of the scoop), and are guarded by the Keeper who basically acts like a goalie. Finally, the two beaters on each team try to stop the chasers by hitting two iron balls called Bludgers at them with magically reinforced bats.
The remaining player, the Seeker, has nothing to do with attempting to throw Quaffles through hoops. Instead, this player has only one goal – to catch the Golden Snitch. The snitch is a golden colored ball with wings that is only a couple of inches across and moves very fast. The seeker must locate and catch the Snitch before the other team does, which ends the game and awards that team with a large number of points.
The Elephant With the Broom
Now that we have looked at the basics of how this game is played, it is time to start critiquing the design. However, whenever anybody tries to talk about the flaws of Quidditch there is usually one point that everybody looks at right away – the Golden Snitch.
He’s doing such a good job!
There are a number of points that can be made about the Snitch, but the core of the problem is this – catching the snitch is a relatively small part of the actual gameplay of quidditch, and yet it not only ends the game but is responsible for a massive amount of points.
It is a common misconception that the team who catches the Snitch automatically win the match, but this is not the case. However, the team that catches the Snitch is awarded with 150 additional points, which in almost every case seen in the series did in fact result in that team also winning the game.
In fact, if I recall correctly there is only one instance in the entire book series where one team caught the snitch but didn’t win the game. This makes sense because in order to catch the Snitch and still lose your team would have to be losing by 160 points or more, which is quite uncommon.
In addition, if a team were down by 160 or 170 points they would be encouraged to stall the game in hopes that there team could at least close the gap enough that the Snitch would allow them to win, which means that if you catch the Snitch while behind you likely have no hope of coming back.
Why is this such a problem? The main issue with the Golden Snitch is that it tends to be very non-interactive. 6 out of 7 players on the team are spending their time moving a Quaffle back and forth, but in the end all of that effort rarely matters. Instead, the entire game usually comes down to two players racing to catch this small golden ball, which is seemingly ignored by everybody else.
Pictured: 6 out of 7 players on the team
In some ways it almost feels like the other 6 players are only there to keep the crowd entertained while the Seekers end up doing the real work all by themselves. The Quaffle points hardly ever matter, but just watching two people chase a tiny ball around is not entertaining enough to hold a crowd so they need something else to pay attention to.
This truly is a terrible design, and was clearly added in for the sake of the story, not for the sake of the game design. In the books Harry Potter joins the Quidditch team in his first year, and is hailed as “the youngest player in over a century”. Not only this, but he plays the position of Seeker. Clearly, this position was created by J.K. Rowling so that Harry, our protagonist, will get the glory of being the one and only player on the team whose job actually matters.
“Very Clearly, the Bones are not Broken”
One aspect of Quidditch that, while not entirely overlooked, does not get as much attention it deserves is just how insanely dangerous this game is. While any sport comes with a risk of injury, most sports don’t take place 50 feet in the air. Injuries from falling off your broomstick are extremely common in the Harry Potter universe, and we are even told of people dying while playing the game.
Sure CTE is bad, but let me know when Football players start losing all bones in their arms
However, risk of falling is only one of the many dangers inherent in this game. Although this is a magical game there seems to be little to no amount of magical protection around the field. This means that something as simple as bad weather can turn into an extremely dangerous situation for the players.
During the series we have seen Quidditch matches played in all sorts of weather conditions from high winds, rain and fog and even thunderstorms. These weather conditions put the players in extreme danger – being as high up as they are puts them at significant risk of being hit by lightning, while the wind and rain will make it much more difficult to hold onto their brooms. Even the fog presents a significant risk, as the players will be flying around at high speeds with limited visibility.
Even the risks presented by severe weather pale in comparison to the risks presented by outside interference, which are shown all too commonly throughout the series. During the series we have seen players brooms get jinxed, Bludgers get cursed, and even seen dementors attack players during the game, all without any interference from the referees.
It’s like being hit by this cannonball, except 3 times heavier
The most dangerous aspect of the game, however, is actually built into the rules of the game itself – the Bludgers. Everything I have mentioned in this section should come as no surprise considering that a core part of this game is to have two players on each team trying to pelt other players with two 150 pound solid iron balls with magical bats. All things considered, its surprising that more people don’t get injured.
Whose Broom is it Anyway?
Aside from the fundamentally flawed design and extreme danger of this sport, there are a few smaller issues that must also be addressed. The first of these is the “pay to win” aspect of Quidditch.
In order to play Quidditch each player needs a broom, and it is made very clear in the series that all brooms are not made equal. However, as far as I can tell from the books and movies there are really no regulations regarding what brooms players are allowed to use. In the real world I believe that there would be strict regulations regarding the exact specifications of broom the players are allowed to use, but in the fictional world of the books it is all left up to what you can afford, if you can afford anything at all.
The best analogy for the way brooms are described in the series would have to be cars. Brooms are considered a luxury item that each person tends to have only one of, and they come in a wide range of models from old beaten up junkers to new shiny sportscars. While player skill is clearly important in this game, the wide variation in the tools that they are able to use also has a noticeable effect.
It’s like a street race, but you have a 1989 Buick Station Wagon
Another issue with the game is the length. Unlike every real-life sport that I can think of, there is no set length to a game of Quidditch. It only ends when one player catches the Snitch, and there are no guarantees about how long that will take. A Seeker could catch the Snitch nearly right away, but there have been cases where the games have lasted for weeks or even months.
This uncertainty is not only bad for the players, but also makes it a terrible spectator sport. If you follow the commentary of the matches while Harry is playing it is unlikely that many of his matches lasted longer than a half-hour, but when attending a Quidditch game you have to be prepared for anything. In addition, the games stop for nothing, which means that players have to play continuously or switch in alternates just to get some sleep if it lasts too long, and if the audience decides to sleep they will miss huge chunks of the game at a time.
How to Fix it
While Quidditch has many flaws, I think that the core of the game is actually pretty solid. The premise of “move the ball from one end to the other and try to score” has proven to be a very popular foundation for numerous games over the centuries, and I see no reason why adding broomsticks would change that. However, there are a few minor changes I would make.
Firstly, I would remove the Golden Snitch entirely, and focus on scoring points with the Quaffle. Because this also removes the only means of ending the game I would also institute a system in which the game is divided into a series of equal length sections, similar to Quarters in Football or Innings in Baseball. This would focus the action on the most exciting portion and also make it a more predictable length.
Or you could replace the Snitch with just some dude running around. On second thought, definitely don’t do that.
Next I would add a few more safety precautions. The players don’t necessarily need to fly quite as high as they seem to be in the books and movies, and I think a few well placed protection charms over the field could be used to slow players falls if they fall off of their brooms and prevent interference from the crowd, among other things.
Finally, I would fix some of their equipment. I think that, in the interest of fairness, there should be a more standard set of rules regarding what types of brooms players are allowed to use so that the focus is more on player skill rather than what equipment the team can afford. In addition, if Bludgers are not removed entirely (which depends on the safety charms that are placed around the field) I would certainly replace the iron with something much less dense to prevent possible horrific injuries.
Until Next Time!
That is all I have for this week. If you enjoyed this article, check out the rest of the blog and subscribe on Facebook, Twitter, or here on WordPress so you will always know when I post a new article. If you didn’t, let me know what I can do better in the comments down below. And join me next week, where I will look at ethical choices in games!
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