While watching my daughter play at the park one summer morning, I got some Every Flavour Beans at an inn, battled a few werewolves, and rescued young Ron Weasley from a boggart. That may sound pretty odd, I admit. But it is true, in a manner of speaking, because I was playing Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
Wizards Unite is a new “augmented reality” mobile game from Niantic, the company that also made Pokemon Go and Ingress. All three games are built on maps of real-life points of interest (parks, monuments, churches, landmarks, public art). These become game-relevant locations where players can virtually gather items needed to play or battle to claim the location (temporarily) for their team. Like Pokemon Go, in Wizards Unite some aspects of the game can only happen at these points of interest, while others can pop up anywhere that a player opens the game.
Wizards Unite allows players to view the world as full of surprises, opportunities, and magic. In Wizards Unite, the “traces” that pop up in the game are objects, creatures, people, and even “memories” related to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding universe. So when I liberate a trace, I’m reminded of the role a Remembrall or the Mirror of Erised played in the Harry Potter series. It’s fun to engage with bits and pieces of a larger story while I go about my regular, normal life. It can bring excitement to otherwise tedious errands and make me feel connected to the Harry Potter story and the world.
Similarly, many of the real-life points of interest that the game involves exist to remind us of a story in the middle of our everyday lives. Monuments are meant to memorialize a person or group. Churches remind us of our connection to God. Landmarks celebrate what is special about a particular place. These places help us connect with the past, or with particular values, or with each other. That’s why conversations around things like monuments become heated—it’s really about what stories should continue to shape us and how.
Wizards Unite allows players to view the world as full of surprises, opportunities, and magic.
God’s people are often marking places and times so that we can keep running into God’s grand story—his creation and redemption of the universe— as we go about our lives. In the Old Testament, people built altars to remember the places where they had encounters with God. Annual festivals like Passover retell the story of God’s rescue in multisensory ways. Communion and the church calendar help us connect regularly with those key moments in God’s sovereign narrative.
One thing Wizards Unite reminds me, though, is that the story bits themselves don’t tell the whole story. They are an invitation to find out more, to talk to others, to think about how the bits relate to each other and what they might mean as a whole. You could play the game and talk about Severus Snape and the Golden Snitch but not have much sense of the whole story. Similarly, there are plenty of people who might have heard of Noah’s Ark and David and Goliath or encountered a Nativity scene or a crucifix, but not really know the whole story. These markers and reminders are invitations to the larger story. On their own, they hint at a story. In the context of Christian community, they weave God’s larger story into the fabric of our lives.
Stories shape us; they can make our lives richer and more joyful. They help us connect with others and place our own lives and time in a larger, more meaningful context. When God’s people bring stories about what God has done in our everyday spaces, it does more than engage with a fantasy. Playing Wizards Unite makes everyday life feel special and interesting. It might help us see our surroundings in a new way. Engaging with stories about God can do that too, but it also does more. Stories about God help us to conform better to the image of God, so that ultimately we can become the people God created us to be.