Harry Potter and the Augmented Enchantment of the World

One of the key themes in my forthcoming book is that people enchant the world using technology. There’s this persistent (and wrong) idea in the social sciences that modern science has disenchanted the world, rendering it meaningless and devoid of demons, gods, and spirits. The forthcoming augmented reality game, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, will make obvious how wrong social scientists have been.

In a recent book, Jason Josephson-Storm takes aim at the disenchantment thesis, which he labels the myth of modernity. He shows that belief in the occult–spirits, seances, and other forms of magic–remained authoritative throughout the rise of the disenchantment thesis and after its supposed definition of modernity. His analysis is well-worth reading.

But it’s also the case that science and technology themselves are implicated in the (re-)enchantment of the world. In my talk delivered at the Chautauqua Institute in 2016, I noted how videogames, virtual realities, and smartphone apps sometimes provide a touch of meaning and magic to the lives of their users. I referenced Pokemon-Go as a tremendous example of this. The monsters that now lay camouflaged in the landscape–awaiting our delighted discovery–now led human beings on a merry chase through the supposedly mundane landscape.

Harry_Potter_Platform_Kings_Cross

Now, the creators of Pokemon-Go have announced that they will follow it up a new augmented reality game by the name of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. As reported by The Verge, “players that have been dreaming of becoming real life Wizards will finally get the chance to experience J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.” Sure, the game will operate according to scientific principles and its creators don’t seem under the impression that it actually produces magical forces, but everyone playing the game will behave as if it does.

I’m not sure there’s a tremendous difference between everyone acting “as if” there are magical forces in the world and everyone acting under the assumption that there are magical forces in the world. For the players, magic will be real–if only as mediated through their smartphones. That magic will prompt real behavior on the part of the players and produce real emotional outcomes. Disenchantment be damned; we’ll find magic in the world even if we have to use science to make it and technological divining rods to see it.

(special thanks to Oxyman for CC licensing the image of Platform 9 3/4 in London’s King’s Cross railway station:  Oxyman – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3225840)

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