There is something so magical about Harry Potter. Okay, perhaps it’s because the boy was a wizard, but he also captured that sense of adventure, courage, and wonder that exists in kids, both young and old. The Harry Potter franchise originated with author J.K. Rowling’s book about a boy wizard attending a magical boarding school and serving as the Keanu Reeves figure for this fantasy universe. The franchise expanded to movies, amusement park rides, video games, action figures, fast food promotions, and plenty of parody in pop culture. So when Sony showcased its new Wonderbook, an accessory for the PlayStation 3 that serves as an augmented reality storytelling device, it came as little surprise its flagship premiere content would be Book of Spells based on the Harry Potter universe.
It is hard to think of a better way of both reengaging Potter fans now that the series has ended, and exciting new readers to the magical world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft. The Wonderbook presentation during Sony’s E3 2012 was a bit rough around the edges, and I’m sure most core PS3 fans felt there was far too much time spent on it. But it also showed the potential for parents to give their children a game-like experience in the safe Harry Potter lore. Wonderbook is a heavily interactive device that works with the PS Eye, so you know there is some serious horsepower working in its favor. Imagine the joy in your child’s eyes as they learn how to cast spells with their PS Move wand, explore Hogwarts, and fly around on broomsticks with Potter.
There’s another element to Wonderbook and Book of Spells that wasn’t discussed during the conference, but something I find quite promising. Here’s a fun fact about the executive editor of PSU (that’s me, in case you didn’t know): I’m an education journalist when I’m not writing about PlayStation. I spend most of my days speaking to teachers, principals, state and federal policy makers, and all sorts of education experts. I fell into this beat—although, like most people, I have family in the education business—but I was shocked at how interesting it is to cover the U.S. education system. While I understand most people that frequent PSU are rolling their eyes in boredom, try to think of it from the perspective of a parent.
Schools across the country—and the world, for that matter—are embracing technology in new and exciting ways. Not to scare curmudgeon dinosaurs, but iPads will replace textbooks in the not-so-distant future. Imagine kids having the ability to read about the planets, click one of those planets on their iPad to launch a video demonstration, and have online access to encyclopedias (a part of me tears up a bit knowing those volumes of encyclopedias are recent history). The Wonderbook could offer a similar experience, and kids may be even more drawn to it than text books because it’s a video game—or at least on a console that plays video games.
Wonderbook could offer an exciting teaching tool, and if Harry Potter is involved you can expect this to sell like, well, a Harry Potter book. But based on the demonstration during Sony’s press event, it’s clear there are some physical obstacles to overcome. It is slated to ship this holiday season, so I hope those kinks are ironed out in the next several months. Yes, it may seem weird that I’m enthusiastic about Wonderbook and Book of Spells, but I’m looking at this from the eyes of a dad (someday) and not a dude who just wants my PS3 to play games that allow me to shoot space marines in the face or beat up hookers with a baseball bat. After all, every kid dreams of being a wizard, and if Wonderbook and Book of Spells can capture that in any way, it could cast a spell on both kids and adults.