I suspect that Hogwarts Legacy, the first open-world video game set in the wizarding world of Harry Potter, will provide wish fulfillment for longtime fans at every level.
Set in the 1890s, roughly a century prior to the first Harry Potter book, Hogwarts Legacy puts players in the shoes of a precocious fifth year Hogwarts student who learns spells quickly and to whom much of the novelty of the wizarding world has worn off. You can mold the protagonist in your image, from choosing which house they end up in (I chose Ravenclaw) to deciding whether or not you want your character to have Harry Potter’s famed lightning scar or not. It’s easy to spend hours fiddling with these aesthetic settings before even hitting play on the game’s main story.
Eventually, as a student, you can participate in classes and extracurricular activities—such as exclusive dueling clubs—thereby gaining new spells. After learning “Incendio,” a short-range spell that sets objects on fire, I practiced it against a sculpture. After it broke apart, I then used “Reparo” to fix it again. (I may or may not have used said sculpture as target practice more than once.)
One of the most exciting parts of Hogwarts Legacy is exploring the sprawling institution of Hogwarts itself. Part cathedral and part campus, composed of multiple Gothic towers that can be accessed either by broomstick or quick travel methods such as Foo Flames, the school of witchcraft and wizardry no longer exists only within players’ imaginations or its depiction in the films. With no source narrative to rush through, Hogwarts Legacy revels in fleshing out the school. From ghosts disrupting non-playable student characters en route to class to sentient stationary flying around the common rooms, the campus is filled with tangential personality.
Part cathedral and part campus, the school of witchcraft and wizardry no longer exists only within players’ imaginations or its depiction in the films.
Hogwarts’ Gothic architecture recalls a religious setting, of course, yet the game evokes the church for more than aesthetic reasons. As fun as Hogwarts is to explore, it primarily serves as a place to equip and practice your spells and skills within a controlled and safe environment (see above: the poor sculpture). One can only progress forward in the game, however, by taking these skills and then applying them outside the institution's walls. After learning a few defense and attack spells (a personal favorite: “Wingardium Leviosa,” where you cause your enemies to hang in mid-air before you can deal punishing attacks), you go on a mission with another student to the nearby village of Hogsmeade. There you encounter the goblin Ranrok (voiced by Matthew Waterson) and have one of your first boss battles against one of his armored trolls. You have to use all of the skills you’ve learned thus far. After Hogsmeade is unlocked, the rest of the game balances between learning more spells within Hogwarts and going out on various quests. This rhythm of equipping, practicing, and then sending out mirrors what the church ought to be in and to the world.
The church exists as a gathering place for God’s people to be nourished and encouraged. This occurs through hearing and meditating on sermons, praying for each other, and sharing one another’s burdens. From its earliest days, the church has been a time and place for teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. Ultimately though, we don’t stay in church every day of the week. We come together to be equipped, then we step back out into the beauty, monotony, and reality of daily life.
I am reminded that just as Jesus gathered his disciples to celebrate his resurrection and ascension, what immediately followed that moment of gathering was one of purposeful scattering. He gave the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations. As exciting, grand, and nurturing as Hogwarts itself is in Hogwarts Legacy, the luster would quickly wear off if you were solely confined there. The game has a whole world to explore outside of its walls; should you encounter enemies that your spells don’t work against, that’s when you can go back to Hogwarts for the instruction you need.
The church serves as a way to equip Christians to carry out the work of the gospel in the world (even if that work may not involve stopping goblin uprisings). Though you learn skills within Hogwarts’ walls, you’re not meant to spend all 43 hours beating the game stuck inside them. The game is a powerful reminder that the church does its best work not when it exists as a place for Christians to gather and hide, but as a place to be galvanized and energized for the work of spreading the Good News.