Wizards of all skin colours unite in Niantic's new Harry Potter game
- May 14, 2019
Dr Alayna Cole
Dr Alayna Cole is the managing director of Represent Me, a not-for-profit championing queer representation in games. Alayna works as a sessional lecturer in the Serious Games department at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and is an award-winning games journalist and game developer. She is a proudly bisexual advocate and activist.
On the 1st May 2019, the beta version of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite launched in Australia and New Zealand. As the biggest Harry Potter nerd I know, I—of course—downloaded the app as soon as the beta invitation hit my inbox.
The Harry Potter series is well-known for not being particularly culturally diverse. Despite attempts to make the series more diverse through ‘word of God’ edits (mostly made via JK Rowling’s Twitter account) in the years since the seventh and final book was published, the books themselves are mostly white and straight. The number of people of colour can practically be counted on one hand, and their descriptions within the text always stand out; when only people of colour have their skin colour described, it becomes clear that the series treats ‘whiteness’ as a default.
It’s been twelve years now since the release of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows novel, and the world has made great strides in that time in recognising the importance of representation. This shows in Wizards Unite: although the named characters from the series maintain their striking whiteness, many of the new and unnamed characters are people of colour. It feels like most of the characters who ‘could be anyone’ in the game—like the generic ‘Hufflepuff Student’ or the ‘Ministry Administrator’—are not white.
I think this is commendable. Niantic and Warner Bros would have struggled to make convincing changes to a collection of character models who are based on white actors and actresses within the game, so seeing them include diversity in some of the places they can is excellent. However, it also makes an obvious statement when only nameless characters in the game are people of colour; it makes it all the more apparent that the original cast is incredibly white, and is also making a comment—even inadvertently—about who is deserving of a name.
It’s a complicated situation. I think it was a good call on the part of the developers to make these new characters people of colour. At the very least, it was much better than making all of these nameless characters also white, because we have more than enough white representation in the Harry Potter series. But why aren’t some of the brand new named characters—the ones who have dialogue and who drive the narrative—also people of colour? There was an opportunity there that I think was missed.
And I’m yet to see any of the handful of people of colour from the original novels pop up as Foundables in Wizards Unite. Where are Dean Thomas, Lee Jordan, Angelina Johnson, Cho Chang, Parvati and Padma Patil, Kingsley Shacklebolt, or even Blaize Zabini? These are side characters in the novels, but no more than Fenrir Greyback or Peeves (who are currently in the game). I’m hoping that as the beta is updated and released in full, we get to see these old favourites, but for now I am going to celebrate this little win of increased representation and cross my fingers for more.