I think it’s safe to say that I’m a fan of the Harry Potter franchise. The books are great and most of the movies are fantastic, but of course, as a fan, I yearn for more. Never satisfied with what I’m given or already possess, I require yet another avenue for escape into the magical world of wizards and witches. Previously, I’ve written about other efforts to immerse people in the Harry Potter world via Harry Potter: The Exhibition, which showcased the work that went into costuming and building the world of J.K. Rowling’s creation. It was definitely a tour de force of design and set construction and there were definitely some moments where I felt swept away into the wizarding world, but the exhibition ultimately lacked the whimsy and spectacle that normally induces the child-like wonder in a grown ass woman like me. I’m hesitant to say anything about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Orlando since I’ve never been but I can imagine it’s difficult to enjoy yourself amongst tourists and their screaming children. Plus, I hear the butterbeer is only so-so. Most recently, Ahren wrote a piece asking why there isn’t an effective Harry Potter RPG…

In response, I give you Pottermore!

Okay, so it’s not exactly an RPG, but Pottermore is an interactive website that you could maybe equate to a large-scale facebook game (in a good way)! The site is designed to guide you through the journey of Harry Potter book by book, chapter by chapter. And within each chapter are quasi-interactive, fully immersive pieces of art highlighting a specific instance in the story. Ambient noises and sound effects instigated by the cursor’s placement on specific objects are just the cherry on top! Who’d have thought hearing a cat purr when you run the cursor over its picture would be that squee!-inducing? The art is so detail-oriented that you can zoom in on a section of the screen to get a closer look. Try zooming in on Hagrid in the first chapter when he delivers Harry, it’s amazing!

Not to be outdone with the sheer novelty of literally bringing moments of the book to life (yes, I know there are movies, but bear with me), each segment of the chapters is a scavenger hunt. Zooming in and out of the art results in finding collectibles to store in your trunk, herbs for brewing potions, and chocolate frog cards of all the great wizards and witches.

What I like best about the chapter by chapter journey is it gives the player/student the ability to really walk through and explore at their own pace. And because Rowling really wants you to stick around, there are characters, creatures, objects, and places you can unlock to read more in-depth pieces straight from Rowling about the process of writing the books and how she developed the Harry Potter world we’ve all come to know and love. I do, however, want to emphasize that this is only pertaining to the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher/Sorcerer’s Stone. While Pottermore will be adding the other six books, it’s anybody’s guess as to when. The site itself was in beta testing for quite some time and it definitely shows in the quality of the product, but we’ll have to be patient in waiting for the rest of the books to become available.

Okay, so on to the stuff we really care about: Ollivander’s and The Sorting Hat. Come on, you know that’s what everyone really wants to find out! Who hasn’t taken an internet quiz to figure out what their wand would be or which house they belong to? Be honest. Well now you have the opportunity to officially find out. Normally, I’d put “officially” in “quotations”, but I figure if these quizzes come from Rowling and her team of developers, then it’s the most legitimate answer you’re ever gonna get. And I was surprised by the quizzes for both finding my wand (10 3/4in, Unicorn, Fir, Hard) and getting sorted (Ravenclaw). Normally with quizzes such as these there’s a pattern to the questions asked that make it pretty easy to figure out the proper answers for the house you actually want. That was not the case with these quizzes. Other then choosing which personality trait you value most, it was anybody’s guess as to how the answers would effect the outcome. It really makes me excited for finding out my patronus (you know it’s gonna happen).

Now once you’ve been sorted and you have your wand and your bits and bobbles you can join the Pottermore community in your house common room. Being part of a house means that you’re responsible for earning house points, which will be tabulated and determine who wins the house cup – though it’s anyone’s guess as to when that happens. You can also make friends with students in all four houses, which gives you people with which to practice dueling and exchange ingredients and objects should you wish to do so. If, however, you know someone and want to be friends on Pottermore, you’re going to have to exchange usernames. To protect user identity and create a safe community, Pottermore generates a small list of usernames once you’ve been approved, so it won’t be as easy to find your friends unless you know their ID.

So, I said previously that part of the interactive experience is scavenging the chapters for collectibles, right? Well by collecting certain ingredients and spell books you’re also set to practice spells, duel other wizards in your house or other houses, and brew potions. And here’s where your patience might be a bit tested. Brewing potions is a timed endeavor and if you don’t have a good flash player, you’re going to have a rough time. Hell, even if you have a good flash player, it gets frustrating. You have to be precise when brewing potions and follow the directions in the order they’re presented. Believe me, I tried to go out of order by crushing ingredients in the mortar before heating the cauldron for one potion and the site called me on it. And if you really screw up the potion the cauldron explodes and you lose house points. Helpful Hint: if you think you might’ve screwed up the potion, refresh the browser and it’ll reset, which will give you another opportunity to try again without blowing things up and earning the ire of your housemates.

Spell casting is also a practice-makes-perfect type situation. Each spell has a particular motion that you have to get down to improve your spell-casting potency number, which determines whether or not you or your opponent wins the duel and gains house points. Helpful Hint: try practicing the motions a few times, figure out the speed of the spell before you start dueling. Extra Helpful Hint: using a mouse is far more effective in spell casting.

Now that I’ve gone on about how great this site is, you might be wondering if there are problems. The site is still in beta, but now it’s opened up to everyone with updates promised every couple of weeks, so problems are bound to come up.

My biggest nitpick is the wait time between books. Like I said before, you can only go through The Philosopher/Sorcerer’s Stone right now. Supposedly Chamber of Secrets will launch sometime this year, but then it may be another year before the next book with the trend continuing with each subsequent book. That’s a long time to wait and get through the whole series. I say this because while I’m waiting for the next book all that’s really available to do in the down time is brew more potions and duel. Not that it isn’t fun, but the novelty will wear off after a while and then you’re just waiting for an announcement that the next book is live, which will bring you back to the site.

I’m also a bit concerned with the monetary situation they’ve set up on the site. When you reach Diagon Alley, like Harry, you get an account at Gringott’s Bank with 500 galleons automatically available. Throughout the book you can collect galleons, but you need them to purchase ingredients and, should you screw up a potion, new cauldrons. If you happen to be one of those gung-ho type over achievers, maybe you spend your down time between books brewing potions to your heart’s content. Should you be so inclined, what happens when you run out of money? Are you then supposed to rely on your friends and housemates to charitably gift you ingredients and money or will the account refill once you’ve reached zero? Or, like facebook games, are we supposed to purchase more galleons with real world money in order to keep playing?

I’m sure these issues will be discussed and resolved as the site continues to grow, but for the time being, these are my biggest concerns.

Overall, Pottermore is a fantastic site with the ultimate goal of connecting people through a mutual love of Harry Potter by effectively immersing them in the wizarding universe. Not only will you fall back in love with the world of magic, but you’ll be itching to re-read and re-watch the books and movies just to linger a bit longer. I’ll see you all at Hogwarts! And, in the immortal words Ravenclaw: “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure!”

Tell us your opinion of Pottermore! What’s your house? Your wand? Wanna be Hogwarts friends? Come on, people, you know you wanna!

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