When a fictional game changes your life

Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, via Flickr Creative Commons


It is difficult to imagine a time when the University of Oxford was simply associated with ancient buildings, the white bow ties and mortar boards of “sub fusc”, and the archaic Latin speeches. While those images may still hold salience, my friends back home in Australia seem to think that living in this town is akin to attending Hogwarts.

Indeed, key scenes throughout the film adaptations have been set on Oxford grounds. You may recognise parts of Christ Church College, New College, and the Bodleian, as sites for Harry’s magical development. You may recognise the image below as the Great Hall at Hogwarts (minus the fabulous ceiling to the sky), but in actual fact this is the dining hall in which a few non-magic (aka muggle) students and academics eat meals every day.


great hall
Photo by Ken Douglas via Flickr Creative Commons

Oxford has consequently become a grand setting for Potter-related activities. Walking up Broad Street or High Street, one is inundated with ads for Harry Potter tours and shop displays of film merchandise in the bright colours of the four houses. One less expensive activity is in playing Quiddich.

For those unacquainted with Quiddich as designed by JK Rowling, the game unfolds on flying broomsticks, high in the air. Three lollipop hoops are placed on either side of the field. Points are scored by designated chasers with a ball called a quaffle. Ten points are scored per goal. Beaters can upset gameplay by unleashing the wrath of injurious balls called bludgers which are presumably enchanted for maximal sadism. At key moments of the game, a hummingbird-like tiny gold ball called the snitch is unleashed. The designated seeker for each team aims to catch this ball. When they do so, the game ends. They are also awarded 150 points which often renders the earlier component of the game irrelevant to the final outcome.

JK Rowling’s rich source material on the rules and history of Quiddich poses some challenges for muggle folk. To begin with, our broomsticks do not have flying, or even hovering capacities. Secondly, the provision of seemingly sentient equipment, as found in the tiny, game-winning snitch or in the violent bludgers, is beyond the scope of our existing sports ball technology.

quiddich 2
Photo by Nolan Wells, via Flickr Creative Commons

These matters are of little concern in muggle Quiddich. Players simply run on the field with a PVC broom between their legs, no flying necessary. The snitch is replaced by an actual person who wears yellow and places a sock with a tennis ball inside on the back of their shorts. They attempt to avoid the outstretched arms of both teams’ seekers looking to capture the tennis ball. When the snitch is caught in this version, it is only worth 30 points. The bludgers are replaced by dodgeballs which have the power to compel hit players to dismount their broom and drop whatever ball they are holding. They drop it because it’s in the rules, not because they are dreadfully injured.

While Oxford appealed to the president of the Oxford Quiddich Club, David Dlaka initially as a place to study physics, playing Quiddich at Oxford specifically is appealing. ‘It does carry a certain aura of “wow”.’ That said, not all Quiddich players are Harry Potter fans. Some have never even read the books.

Oxford fields two Quiddich teams, the Radcliffe Chimeras, one of the best teams in the UK, and the Oxford Quidlings, open for all students to join at any time of year. Players can compete against other UK teams as well as with teams from across the world.

Quiddich has existed as an established sport for ten years and is governed by the International Quiddich Association. Its recognition as a legitimate sport is growing as Quiddich UK has recently become affiliated with the UK Sports Alliance. Abby Whiteley, captain of the Oxford Chimeras, describes its evolution over the last three years, ‘When I joined it was in the park, with mud, not really with that many rules… And it’s just expanded hugely, in terms of number, skill, and codification. People have to actually get qualified as refs, they can’t just show up.’

While players enjoy the game, they also emphasise that the inclusive camaraderie of Quiddich is the real key to their involvement. Abbey said, ‘I stayed [in Quiddich] because I liked the people, which when you join something completely new is usually the reason for staying.’ While David emphasised that its important to train well, and win, it is never at the expense of inclusiveness. ‘We’re a tight knit group of friends, always welcoming, always warm.’

One aspect of the inclusiveness of Quiddich that sets it apart from many other sports, is its regulations around gender. A rule called Title Nine and Three-Quarters states that a team can only have a maximum of four players of the same gender-identity (excluding the seeker) on the field. The rule makes it important for teams to achieve gender diversity.

The rules also stipulate that the important aspect of gender is how the player themselves identifies, rather than what their biological sex may be, or how they appear. There is also an acceptance of people who don’t identify themselves within the gender binary as either male or female.

Given the fact that many Quiddich players haven’t even read the Harry Potter series, that the rules of the sport have had to go through considerable adaptation to be playable, and that a unique and inclusive community has been built around this activity, it appears that muggle Quiddich has taken on a life of its own.

David reflects, ’Fifteen years ago, none of this existed. And now there’s people for whom this is a large chunk of their life, their friendships, their mental health.’

Last year, David was involved in organising the Valentine’s Cup, an international tournament with hundreds of players from all over the US and Europe. ‘I was sitting next to the one of the assistant tournament directors who said to me, “we’ve organised a large tournament, based on a book about magic, simply by communicating over Facebook and Google Drive. And now, all these people are here and enjoying themselves.”’ David reflected, ‘It’s fascinating to be part of the process, and it’s a bit surreal.’

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