This past weekend, J.K. Rowling announced the creation of Pottermore, a new online Harry Potter community for fans of Harry Potter novels or online communities (but not both). Features of the site will include the ability for users to choose their own "magical" username, and a quiz that promises to sort each user into the appropriate Hogwarts' House.
Oh great. The wiener house.
Beyond that, how extensive this community experience will be is still unclear. A feature list has been provided (see below), but it's pretty light on details, especially on the community features. So a single chatroom with "magicy" fonts isn't outside the realm of possibility. Then imagine 10,000 kids and 70,000 sexual predators simultaneously typing in exclamation points shaped like lightning bolts and you should have a pretty clear idea of what to expect. Horribly punctuated shrieking is just one reflection of the problem inherent with all online communities -- the online community itself. A fanbase is a wonderful thing to have when it's out "there" somewhere. Really anywhere but "here." But Rowling might be in for a shock once the real world starts to get involved with her perfect little clockwork universe when she realizes a universal truth: The real world is full of jerks. Because those jerks love reading about themselves, and because I'm desperate to please, I've summarized a list of ways these fellows will jerk up, down, and all around in this Pottermore thing when it eventually comes online later this summer.
As mentioned above, the feature list for Pottermore looks a little weak thus far. The main user experience is centered around "Moments" which appear to be images of famous Harry Potter locations, featuring links to material written by Rowling that sheds more light on parts of the HP universe. If that all sounds a little disappointing, that's because it's basically the same feature set as Microsoft Encarta 93. Beyond the remedial multimedia experience, there will supposedly be a few interactive portions of the site, though it's still thin gruel. There will be a place for little wizards and witches to submit their own comments, drawings and content, and otherwise interact with the community. Users are also promised the ability to make potions, get in duels and participate in anything else which can be reasonably coded in Flash in a couple hours. Basically, don't look for any gameplay deeper or more complex than what you could find on the side of a Happy Meal that's already been filled in. This is the first big project Rowling has announced since she finished the series, and for it to be a Web 0.4 dumping ground for her to shovel all the notes and trimmings not good enough for her novels is a little insulting.* Expect a heavy portion of the "community experience" to be varying rephrasings of "this sux0rz." *Although as a word-shoveler myself, I will admit to a certain professional envy. I doubt I could attract much interest in a website built around the text file I keep full of unusable Scrooge McDuck incest jokes.
If you've got the same neuro-chemical imbalances I do, you'll have flagged the potential for dueling as the most interesting thing in the announced feature list. At least unless it's implemented as a kind of clumsy version of Pong where you bounce "hexes" back and forth with your "wands," which now that I'm nearly done this sentence, feels like it probably will be. But if there is real, player vs. player dueling enabled, a whole realm of emergent-gameplay opportunities open up that can be used to wreck everything for everyone. We already know how this will play out -- wrecking a community isn't a new hobby, not since the Vikings invented player-killing in the eighth century. Here's a summary of existing griefing techniques, loosely adapted to ruin muggle fun. Friendly Fire Jerks will hex users in the back, while they're in the feast hall, shopping in Diagon Alley or begging to please stop hexing them, because they're only eight-years old. Spawn Camping Jerks lurking in the woods outside Hogwart's Castle, hexing new witches and wizards as they get off the Hogwarts Express. "Why are you doing that?" they yell. "I am Emily's mother, and you are ruining my daughter's fun!"Owl Fucking Again, this will depend on the flexibility of the Pottermore engine, but in a manner similar to teabagging in Halo, if it is possible for an avatar to look like it's fucking someone's owl, there will be about a thousand people doing that at all times.
We know it will be free for users to join the site and peruse most of the content, but whether additional content will be available for money is still unclear. We also don't know whether there will be an in-game economy with Galleons and Knuts and Wizard-Shekels, though at this point, Pottermore doesn't look like a full-fledged MMORPG, so it seems unlikely. Not that the nonexistence of an economy will stop people from exploiting it. Indeed, it could be easier; they won't have to have a legion of Chinese laborers in a warehouse butchering Mandrakes for gold around the clock. And a currency's nonexistence won't prevent it from being sold to at least some of the users whom, lest we forget, will often be eight-years old.
"I just don't understand how an eight-year-old could even qualify for taking out a second lien on a house. I ... You'd better cry! You're in a lot of trouble mister."