‘Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’ is as polarizing as it is fun for UT students

Brooke Sjoberg

Fans of the cult favorite Harry Potter series were gifted their own augmented reality mobile game on June 21. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite provokes strong reactions from both fans and former fans of the franchise due to the controversy surrounding author J.K. Rowling.

Niantic, the developer of Pokémon Go, created Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, which combines augmented reality and GPS to create an experience for the user similar to that of its predecessor. However, Wizards Unite has some marked differences to fans.

Political communications sophomore Catherine Mouer said playing Wizards Unite is more enjoyable than playing Pokémon Go because she is actively invested in the world of Harry Potter and enjoys the graphics. She said Wizards Unite is also more developed than Pokémon Go was upon release.

“They’ve done a really good job developing the different confoundables, which is what they’re calling the things you’re supposed to go find,” Mouer said. “It’s so new, so there’s still some glitching. So far it’s worked well, and I’ve enjoyed it.”

Avery LeBlanc, English and history senior, said he loves playing Wizards Unite but would love it even more in an urban setting. LeBlanc said he lives in an area where he is nearly required to drive to play the game, contradicting a warning in its opening that asks the user not to do so. He is a superfan who has previously played on the UT intramural Quidditch team.

“You only have so much ‘spell energy’ you can use,” LeBlanc said. “Once you use it up, you can’t continue completing tasks in the game. The only way to get spell energy on a continual basis is to visit certain locations. I live in small-town Texas, and there’s not one of those locations in my neighborhood.”

UT alumnus Austin Smith (2019) said he would have liked to play Wizards Unite because he grew up with the series and went to midnight premieres and book releases. However, he said he was uncomfortable with certain behaviors of the author, J.K. Rowling, who has come under fire in recent years for retroactively diversifying her characters and making perfunctory attempts at including diverse characters.

The last straw for Smith however, was in reading “Harry Potter and The Cursed Child,” where he said Rowling queerbaited her readers.

“If I ever wanted a quintessential example of queerbaiting, that would be it,” Smith said. “I’ve read those books so many times, but I can’t see myself supporting somebody who keeps using me and my identity like that.”

Smith said he did not feel tempted by the ads for Wizards Unite because he has committed to avoid interacting with Rowling’s media. Conversely, LeBlanc said as an English student, he has been taught to separate artist from art, which allows him to enjoy the game despite the controversy surrounding the Harry Potter creator.

“I don’t condone her being problematic or her pandering on social issues for the sake of pandering,” LeBlanc said. “When she was writing the books, times were very different. People thought she was really progressive in the ‘90s. Now, she’s not considered very progressive because times have changed that quickly.”

Despite the controversies surrounding Wizards Unite, Mouer feels Rowling’s involvement in the game is too small a factor.

“I understand in some ways what she’s trying to do,” Mouer said. “It’s a little excessive, and she’s causing more problems than there were to begin with, but it doesn’t deter me from reading her books, watching the new movies or playing the game."