Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
I don’t know if you knew this, but this Muggle is magical. And although I am a little bit older than the target audience, I bring you a brief account of my first experiences with multimedia reading: Pottermore.
When the site was finally opened to the public recently, I was over the moon with joy.
And slightly freaked out because I have several giant projects due in the next few weeks, but come on. We all know where my true priorities lie. So of course I grabbed my battle-scarred copy of Sorcerer’s Stone and logged on.
The first step in Pottermore is a “test” that determines whether or not you are “magical.” (Or whether or not you know how to sign up for things on the Internet.) Does it ever randomly reject prospective users? “Sorry, you are a Squib. You will be redirected in 10 seconds. I say good day to you, sir.”
What they don’t tell you is that anyone can sign up, but you have to wait for an email allowing you to enter. Luckily, mine arrived after a few minutes and I greedily entered. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
First, Pottermore prompts you to choose a username. But unlike virtually every other website, Pottermore doesn’t allow a user to pick her own online moniker, citing child safety as the reason for this forced anonymity. I didn’t think much of it, except that it was mildly annoying to have to pick between five fanciful handles. Am I more of a WolfNiffler or a RainSpirit? But my friend, fellow Pottermore user, and Appazoogle copyeditor Jenna Gilligan was far more insightful about it:
I thought it was interesting that, in order to protect your privacy, you weren’t allowed to pick your own username. I’m guessing that it was to prevent kids from using endless variations on the same three usernames and to keep them from using their real names at all. But this is the first site I can think of that has actually instituted a rule like that, showing that it’s aware that a bunch of nine-year-olds might be using it. There’s another layer to that, too… Harry Potter has one of the most sprawling Internet presences of pretty much any fandom. Between the various fan news sites, the endless LiveJournal communities, and the fanfiction databases, a lot of Harry Potter fans already have a named online presence. I’ll bet a lot of them would have carried over their usernames from other sites to Pottermore. By just assigning everyone usernames, users are given both real-life and Internet anonymity.
Most intriguing, indeed… Everybody’s a nobody when they come to Hogwarts, I guess.
Continuing through the website, I was actually pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Users track their progress through a book by “locations,” which are beautifully illustrated scenes from the book enhanced with sound and animation. Each illustration has layers that allow you to move forward in a scene, getting closer to some details; for instance, in the scene at the reptile house at the zoo, the user arrives in the reptile house. Clicking forward once, we can see a lizard skitter up a tree in one of the tanks, and the boa constrictor comes into view. Click again and you can read the plaque next to its tank, and the snake raises its head to wink at you.
In each moment, there are objects that the reader can click on. Sometimes you can collect the object and keep it in your trunk. Sometimes it unlocks a bit of background information on J.K. Rowling’s creative process, or the writing of the books, or a short background story. (My favorite so far has been the story of Vernon and Petunia’s engagement.) It’s not quite as thrilling or interactive as playing a video game, but that’s not precisely what this is.
The site says that it works best if you are reading in tandem with your experience, but honestly, I don’t know that that’s the case. Perhaps to kids who have grown up with electronic devices and tabbed browsing, going back and forth between page and screen (or screen and screen, if they’re reading the ebooks) wouldn’t seem jarring. But despite the beauty of some of Pottermore’s artwork, I just didn’t feel that sitting in front of my computer with a book was the best way for me to get into a story. (Although that may have something to do with the fact that a bunch of the pages in my copy are falling out.)
As a way to encourage further interaction with a book, Pottermore has done it right. It gives me just the right blend of background trivia with game-like play, and it’s been an amusing experience so far. Also, for fans like me who have taken every Sorting Hat quiz known to man, now we finally have a definitive answer on what house we “officially” belong in. But as for an extended experience for those of us who have already read (and reread) the books, I’m not sure that there’s enough of a payoff to keep it up for all seven books.
Also, this is obviously only going to work for Harry Potter or books that have hit it big like this. It’s not as though just any book would be able to borrow from Pottermore’s example and replicate its success. (Although, Game of Thrones, anyone?)
Are any other overage fans like me using Pottermore? Do you find it to be worth the time investment, and are you reading along?