What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. Games and sports are a very important part of the human experience. These activities are so ubiquitous that they actually find their ways into other forms of entertainment such as films and books. They have even found their way into other games, such as the fictional sport Blitzball which can be found inside the Final Fantasy X games.
To put it frankly, however, most authors and film-makers are NOT also game designers, and this becomes immediately obvious by looking at the design of these games. Many of these games have rules that are vague, strange, or downright impossible. However, there may also be the occasional hidden gem, where a truly interesting game can transcend its original medium.
This video is the first in a new series where I take a look at these fictional games from a critical game design perspective. And what better place to start than with a game that is not only one of the most well known fictional sports of all time, but has actually made the transition from fiction to reality despite being one of the most ridiculously designed games of all time. I am, of course, talking about the high-flying wizarding sport of Quidditch from the Harry Potter series.
Before I start talking about the game design, however, I feel like there is a bit of an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed. Specifically, I am referring to J.K. Rowling’s comments around transgender individuals on Twitter and elsewhere. Without getting too far into it, because that is not the point of this video, I just want to say that I strongly disagree with the ideas that J.K. Rowling is spreading around this topic, and I am extremely disappointed that she is trying to normalize and justify these outdated ideas around sex and gender. Trans men are men, and trans women are women. With that out of the way, let’s talk game design!
Before I get into why Quidditch is such a terribly designed game, let’s first briefly go over how this game is played. The game takes place on an oval shaped field 500 feet long and 180 feet wide, with three goal hoops on either side around 50 ft high. Each team has 7 players, and there are 3 different kinds of balls. The Quaffle is a red leather ball roughly the same size as a Soccer ball, and is used for scoring. Each team has 3 chasers whose goal is to carry the Quaffle and throw it through their opponent’s goal hoops. Each time the Quaffle goes through the hoop, that team scores 10 points. Each team also has a single Keeper, whose job is to guard the goals and prevent the opponent’s team from scoring.
In addition, each team has 2 Beaters, whose job is to use their bats to hit heavy iron balls known as Bludgers. Bludgers are 10 inch, 150 pound iron balls that fly around the Quidditch pitch trying to knock players off of their brooms. The entire goal of the beaters is to keep the Bludgers away from their team, and hit them towards their opponents team.
Finally, there are the protagonists – sorry, I mean Seekers. Each team has a single Seeker, whose only goal is to catch the final ball, called the Golden Snitch. The snitch is a small, fast ball that streaks around the field. Once the Snitch is caught, the game ends and the team that caught it is awarded 150 points.
Let’s get the first and most obvious complaint out of the way – the Snitch is clearly nonsense, for a number of reasons. The first is that it has almost nothing to do with the rest of the game. It’s almost like two entirely separate games are going on at the same time – one in which six players are concerned with scoring points with the Quaffle, and the entirely different game being played by the Seekers.
The second is that the Snitch is worth entirely too many points. Being worth 150 points means that a team can be behind by 14 goals to 0, catch the Snitch and still win. From the matches that appear in the series, this large of a gap is very rare, which means that the difference in points is almost never enough to make the Quaffle points meaningful.
Of all the matches we see in the series, there is only a single instance where the team who caught the Snitch didn’t win the match – that instance being the 1994 Quidditch world cup. However, you could even argue that this instance was a bad call. Krum caught the Snitch when his team was down 170 points to 10 – by catching the Snitch he ended up bringing the final score to 170-160, losing the game. While it’s clear that the rest of the team was being outplayed, it probably would have been worth trying to simply stall and prevent the other team from catching the Snitch in the hopes that you could score 1 more goal and tie it up, instead of guaranteeing a loss by catching it right away.
Honestly, it almost seems like the chasers, keepers, and beaters are simply there to keep the crowd entertained while the seekers are doing what actually matters when it comes to victory. Watching two people sit around trying to see a tiny gold ball just wouldn’t be entertaining enough on its own, so the rest of the game simply keeps the audience distracted. Of course, in reality it’s probably the opposite – that stuff makes up the majority of the actual game, and the entire position of Seeker and the Snitch was added so that Harry could be the all-important hero of the team who single-handedly wins the games.
However, while the Snitch may be one of the biggest problems with this game, it is far from the only one. This game is also EXTREMELY dangerous. Not only are the players flying around at rapid speed on broomsticks dozens of feet in the air (which carries the inherent risk of falling to your doom), but there are two players on each team whose entire job is to try and knock the opposing team off of their brooms! And how do they do that? By whacking 150 solid iron balls at them – balls that are 3 times heavier than literal cannonballs. This results in many, many horrific injuries occurring throughout the series. Harry himself gets hospitalized on three different occasions – once with skull fractures, and another time after losing ALL OF THE BONES IN HIS ARM.
You know how I mentioned that catching the Snitch ends the game? I forgot to clarify that, unless somebody catches the Snitch or the two team captains agree, the game NEVER ENDS. To be fair, we don’t see any matches in the series that go on for an inordinate amount of time, but that isn’t to say that it can’t happen. According to Quidditch Through the Ages, some games can go on for days and the record was a ridiculous six months.
Of course, it’s possible that improvements in broom technology have helped shorten the overall length of the game over time by making it easier to catch the Snitch. However, this brings me to my next point – the brooms are bullshit. In most real-world sports the equipment used is strictly regulated. You may remember the controversy a few years back around the New England Patriots Football team using deflated footballs, or the Olympics banning low-drag swimsuits for giving swimmers an “unfair advantage”.
In Quidditch, however, its all fair game. At least at Hogwarts it seems like every player has to provide their own brooms, and the specific broom that you use can have a huge effect on your performance. Students who have top end brooms like the Nimbus 2001 and the Firebolt are directly competing against students who can barely afford a new Cleansweep, which is basically equivalent to a Ferarri racing a Toyota Camry. When the Firebolt can accelerate 150 miles an hour in 10 seconds, it is clearly not a fair competition.
The disparity in brooms is not the only odd thing going on with Quidditch at Hogwarts, however, and there are a number of things that make me suspect that J.K. Rowling doesn’t really know anything about sports. The first odd thing is the lack of coaches – we definitely know that the Griffindor team doesn’t have an actual coach, and as far as I can tell none of the other houses do either. Given the popularity of Quidditch among the wizard community, I can’t imagine it would be that difficult to find former Hogwarts students that would be willing to coach the house teams, even on a volunteer basis.
Why is the lack of coaches a problem? Well, aside from the obvious fact that these kids are figuring everything out on their own and could probably benefit from a Coach’s experience, there is also the fact that the Captain has to pull double duty as both a Coach and a player. This has been shown to lead to trouble when, for instance, Harry becomes captain and has to keep an eye on the rest of his team at the same time he is trying to catch the Snitch.
Having players splitting their attention is particularly detrimental when you have exactly seven players on your team – no more, no less. Unlike real sports, where the total roster of players is much larger than the number on the field at any given time, and where players can be swapped out if they are tired or injured, the Hogwarts Quidditch team has no alternates. This means that if a player can’t play for some reason the team is forced to scramble at the last minute to find an alternate who may not even have practiced with the team before. It also means that there is nobody to replace you if you get hit by a stray bludger during the match, and you can’t switch out with somebody if the match does end up going really long.
But that isn’t all – there is also only a single referee present at each match, which is far from enough to keep track of 14 players on such a massive field. This has led to many, many fouls against players that are never caught or properly addressed.
Although there is a lack of coaches, referees and players, one thing the Quidditch matches at Hogwarts always have is live commentary which…I’m not a sports expert, but I don’t think that’s normal. Like, I know that there are commentators that you can watch on TV or listen to on the radio, but do schools usually have live commentary during the matches?
I point this out because not only do I find it to be unusual, but it has also shown on several occasions to be incredibly distracting to the players. The commentary has to be loud enough that everybody in the stadium can hear it, which means that players are trying to play while their every move is being narrated by a magically amplified sportscaster. I specifically remember in one case Ginny actually flew into the commentary box because of some rude comments that they made, and I seem to remember an instance where Harry spots the Snitch because the commentator pointed out that another players seems to have noticed it. This all seems very disruptive to the game, and the entire idea of a live commentator was probably just added by J.K. to make the Quidditch chapters more exciting.
As you can see, Quidditch is…just a big hot mess, really. So, how can it be fixed? To find out, let’s look at the real-life sport of Muggle Quidditch. This game was created in the mid 2000’s and is based on the fictional sport. However, as it is a game that people actually have to play, it features a number of changes from the original. It has also had a number of rules revisions over the years which fix many of the problems with the fictional game.
So, how do these rule changes fix Quidditch? The most obvious change is the setting – as muggles, the players run on the ground rather than flying through the air. They do, however, all still have to carry broomsticks with them. The field is also much smaller than fictional pitches – only 60 yards long rather than 160. This is presumably because a person on foot would have a much more difficult time crossing the longer distance than somebody flying on a broom would.
Gameplay-wise, Muggle quidditch plays very similarly to its wizarding counterpart, with only a few differences. First, instead of hitting iron balls with bats at opposing players, the beaters throw dodgeballs at them. When a player is hit with a dodgeball they must drop any balls they are carrying and run back to their own goal-post before resuming play. This dramatically reduces the risk of injury, but still keeps the primary role of the beater intact.
Similarly, a number of changes were made to the Golden Snitch. First, the Snitch is attached to the belt of a neutral player instead of flying around on its own – however, that is simply due to the limitations of our currently available tiny flying ball technology. Second, the Snitch isn’t released until 17 minutes after the match begins, and the Seekers can’t start chasing it for another minute after that. This gives the rest of the team enough time to actually score some points before a Seeker swoops in and ends the game. Third, if the Snitch isn’t caught in a certain amount of time it gets handicaps, such as reducing the size of the area it can run in, that make it easier to catch. Finally, catching the Snitch is only worth 30 points – still worth catching, but not enough to completely overshadow the rest of the game.
While many of these changes were clearly made for practical reasons, I think a lot of these rules adjustments could easily be transferred to Wizard Quidditch, and the game would be better off for it. Replacing Bludgers with dodgeballs would maintain the spirit of the game while making it much less dangerous, reducing the value of the Snitch would make the rest of the game more important, and making the Snitch easier to catch over time would ensure that the game doesn’t go on indefinitely.
But what do you think? Are there any major issues that I missed? How would you go about fixing Quidditch? And are there any other fictional games you would like me to look at? Let me know in the comments down below!
That’s all I have for this week. If you liked this video please give it a like, and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more, check out my other videos such as my previous one on the Religious Symbolism of the Halo series. I also have over 100 articles on the Rempton Games blog, which you can check out at the link in the description down below. And join me next time for my breakdown of the combat of the Paper Mario series. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time.