Hogwarts Mystery: Death by a Thousand Cuts

Mobile gaming isn’t really my thing. As stated in my introduction, I was late to a lot of technology. I acquired my first smartphone in 2014 and finally moved on to my second one just a few months ago. On my older smartphone, I had downloaded one mobile game: Heroes of Dragon Age. I have mentioned my love of Dragon Age before.

I found the game more than a little annoying. Besides draining my battery and being the single largest use of available space on my phone, it didn’t provide much in the way of entertainment. When I had to clear out some space to make room for photos for work (since I do not have a company phone), Heroes of Dragon Age was the first thing to go. Since getting my new phone with much more space, I have not downloaded it again.

What I have downloaded is Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. The same game that has tanked in reviews by The Guardian, IGN, and Game Rant to name a few.

That happened because my boyfriend was in the midst of reading all the Harry Potter books for the first time, and also watching the movies with me. He downloaded the game first and needed my help answering some of the trivia questions. After a day or two, I downloaded it myself and started playing.

Me too, Penny. Me too. Except I mostly get invited to the grocery store or Home Depot.

At first, I loved the story. Missing and potentially crazy sibling, reputation for being cursed, and the experience of attending classes at Hogwarts did a lot to thrill this Muggle. I could overlook some of the anachronisms (How should anyone know what a Firebolt broom is in the 80s when it wasn’t invented until after Harry Potter started attending Hogwarts?), and some of the strange, out-of-character dialogue written for certain familiar characters. But as the game has slowly come to a miserable trudge toward the release of more content, I’m playing it less and less.

It’s not just the way the writers have turned Hagrid into a simple-minded background element who only comes into focus when you need something from him, and always finds a reason to echo his “Should not have said that” line from The Sorcerer’s Stone. I also can’t blame it entirely on Filch’s demotion to a balding, bumbling punchline who is repeatedly fooled by the same ruses. Though I do appreciate the player character being self-aware enough to comment on the fact that you’d think Filch would learn to protect his office from basic charms like Alohamora. It’s also not because all of the students in the cast went from new characters to stand-ins for those in the books. Ben is our Neville. Rowan and Penny take on Hermione’s role. Merula is the cardboard Draco. Tonks and Tulip are Fred and George. Andre… I have no idea. He’s just there.

It’s not even the way the game is set up as a bald-faced cash grab for the developers; I have a pretty busy schedule, so I don’t mind playing for a couple minutes and then waiting a few hours to play for another few minutes. The problem, for me, is that your choices no longer have consequences. Early in the game, saying the wrong thing could lose you house points. Selecting the dialogue options that required a skill level check didn’t always work in your favor (I don’t care how high my Courage stat is; there is no way a 12 year-old me is ballsy enough to sass Snape to his face.) Playing the game really felt like you were shaping the story as it developed. And without any sort of save function to go back and explore other choices, I took my choices seriously.

Now, however, between scenes of dialogue with unnecessarily bolded text, missing spaces, and the occasional misspelling, every choice in the game feels like just another shout into the void. And as we have to wait longer and longer for the next phase of the story to become available, my interest wanes further. Bogus limited-time special events that cheat most players unwilling to throw real money at the game, like the Dueling Club, do nothing to keep me playing while Jam City works on releasing the next part. The reward really has to be worth the cost, and Mystery at Hogwarts has yet to balance the two.

Unfortunately, not even Snape’s saltiness is enough to keep me entertained at this point.

My boyfriend has already deleted the app. He is undecided on whether he’ll download it again whenever the entire story is available. As for me, the game is still on my device. I’m not hard up for space on my phone at the moment, so there’s no urgent need to get rid of it. I’m dragging out my progress through Chapter 12 of Year 4. Despite my disappointment, my curiosity is strong enough to stick it out a little while longer. But if it takes much longer for Jam City to release a significant amount of content—not a measly side quest that takes an afternoon to get through, but actual meat and story—I have no qualms about deleting the app.

The game isn’t much fun anymore, and I can always check forums to find out how the story ends. If they ever get that far.

Failing to Appeal to my Geek Self

While at work the other day, I read an article about a place offering golf lessons. I don’t play golf; I prefer putt putt. But I read the article because it’s on a website belonging to the company I work for and I always read before I share something to the social media channels I manage. It was a listicle of 10 things that you can see on any given day at this place—positive vignettes designed to make you feel good and think about what a wonderful time you’ll have on the green. Of those 10 things, I found seven of them a little uncomfortable. The kind of uncomfortable where you do that little snort-laugh, wonder what decade the writer is living in, and show it to a friend or two while saying, “Hey, isn’t this a little messed up?”

Sort of like when you laugh at outdated advertisements. Image from Thought Catalog.

To be clear, my level of offended-ness on this is fairly low. There’s an added roll of the eyes with my snort-laugh, and now there’s a blog post. I didn’t ask my boss to remove the article. Nor did I ask about reaching out to the writer with suggested changes so the article can be a little less ridiculous. Because I get what the writer was trying to get at: “You don’t have to be a pro golfer, or even an amateur one, to have fun playing golf. Whatever your age, gender, and experience with the game, we’re here to help you have fun.” I like that message. But the way it was conveyed kind of sucked.

I’ll skip right over the bits directed at my delicate, slow-moving lady body and the ignorant assumption that introverts are friendless people who want to be alone in everything they do. We’ll dive right into item no. 10 on the list:

‘A “geek” will discover the similarities between golf and video games. Both require engagement and dexterity, have different skill levels and offer satisfying rewards.’

Wowzers. If the goal was to make a video game player feel welcome on a golf course, they really missed the mark here. I can imagine this person shaking their head at a game like Mario Golf and saying, “If you wanted to play golf, why don’t you go to a golf course?” I can also imagine that their idea of a “geek” is not a positive one. That doesn’t bother me. Ever since reading this article on Wired.com, I have agreed with Jim MacQuarrie’s definition of geek:

A person whose interests ALWAYS take precedence over popularity or conformity. A person who displays the willingness to bear the public shame of liking some weird thing and not caring who knows it.

What does bother me is when people think an activity has to resemble a video game in some way in order for that activity to appeal to someone who likes video games.

Video games—like golf and just about everything else—appeal to people on their own merits. We choose which ones to play based on whether or not we think we’d enjoy doing so. For me, I want a game I can have fun playing. That’s it. Sure, I have my preference for role-playing games. I love getting emotionally invested in a story populated with complex characters that develop as the story progresses. But I also like plenty of games without a strong narrative. Diddy Kong Racing has a story, but it takes a back seat to the fun of racing other polygonal animal characters by car, plane, or hovercraft. Ribbit King also has a story, but who cares when you’re playing golf with a cartoon frog launched from a catapult through a colorful and ridiculous course? Even a game like Pokémon has a story that’s just a bonus feature compared to the awesome battles you can have with NPCs and other players.

Golf, by itself, can be fun. You can play alone or by yourself, professionally or recreationally. Depending on your skill level, you can challenge yourself just to get the ball to the hole, or you can challenge yourself to stay on or under par. The ball waits on you. It’s a game you have total control over.

Sell something for what it is. Don’t try to dress it up as something else in a misguided attempt at appealing to a demographic you don’t understand well enough. And in the end, just have fun.

Welcome to the World, New Player

I’m pretty late to the whole online gaming thing. But I was also late to the transition from dial-up internet to DSL, and eventually to Wi-Fi. But I have been playing games for a very long time.

For the last several years, Bioware’s Dragon Age series has been my absolute favorite. It still is. For the most part, that’s all I’ve been playing lately. I’ve got plenty of other games started—some of them I’ve even beaten at least once or twice. But I’ve been going back and playing through the Dragon Age series over and over because I love the story, the characters, and that I can make it a little bit different each time I play through.

It should be obvious now that fantasy RPGs are my favorites. Bonus points if the game has character customization. Which makes it less than surprising to know that after I set up my Playstation 4 and turned it on for the first time, the first game I installed was Monster Hunter World. I’ve only clocked in a couple hours at this point (there’s plenty of tutorials left to go through), but it’s been an interesting experience. And not in the way you’d think.

I work a regular 9-5 desk job during the week, and lately I’ve been feeling stuck in my career. It’s a bit terrifying to feel stuck only a couple years out of college, but here I am. Working in my field, doing the sort of thing I like, and not able to go anywhere in it. Kind of like my obsession with playing Dragon Age over and over. At least with Dragon Age, I have the last trophies to collect and some new story angles in Inquisition to explore. But there’s still not a lot of growth happening.

Cue the PS4 startup tone!

New system, new games, new experiences. With online features, I am now entering a new (for me, anyway; I know the rest of the world has been doing this for ages) era of gaming. And that’s how Switzy Gaming was born.

Whatever I play, I’ll talk about it here. You’re welcome to join me on my adventures.

Player Switzy has joined the game.