A new augmented-reality game has cast a spell over Winston-Salem, imbuing the city with magic.
At Winston Square Park, an elephant-sized spider prowls about, and at Old Salem, a coven of dark pixies flit through the air — at least through the lens of your cell phone.
Each new encounter is magically nostalgic of the Harry Potter world for which the game is based.
“You cast spells to get rid of dragons guarding a treasure, there’s wizards, Death Eater posters, magical creatures,” said player Mackenzie Cates-Allen. “It’s super fun. I’m learning the game more and more as I go.”
In the newly-released game, “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite,” the magical wizarding world is in danger of being exposed, and players are tasked with collecting stray traces of magic to keep it safe.
In the real-world, players must traverse cityscapes on foot to find mysterious artifacts, cast spells and battle creatures that pop up on their phone screen.
Reynolda Gardens, Old Salem, Bailey Park and Bethabara Park have become some of the popular destinations for players, each place boasting different in-game incentives.
“I’m part of the generation who grew up on Harry Potter,” said Cates-Allen, a mother of three young children. “A lot of my friends and former classmates have Harry Potter tattoos. This game really plays into that fandom.”
Part of the draw is that the game forces people to be active by walking certain distances to unlock new magical items and find new challenges.
Cates-Allen, president of WS Ambassadors, said the game has drawn her attention to the city’s many historical markers that she had never really noticed.
“I’ve lived here all my life, but this game has helped me appreciate all the city has to offer and go to new places, like Shallowford Square (in Lewisville),” said Ian Koppola, who frequents Reynolda Gardens to play. “I like the game. It motivates me to walk more.”
The Facebook page, “Harry Potter Wizards Unite (Winston-Salem/Greensboro),” is designated for Triad players and has garnered about 250 members.
Winston-Salem resident Vikki Vassar said she started the page about two years ago when Niantic — the same company that produced the wildly popular mobile game Pokemon-Go — announced a Harry Potter-inspired game was in the works.
Pokemon-Go, which follows a similar augmented-reality formula, bested Wizards Unite in opening weekend downloads — 24 million to 3 million — but Vassar said she thinks the new game outperforms.
“It’s better functionality-wise than Pokemon-Go ever was,” said Vassar, the Facebook page’s administrator. “It’s more single-player, you don’t have to group up necessarily. I think it’s really well done.”
Vassar describes herself as a casual participant, playing twice a week compared to some people she knows who play five hours a day, she said.
For all those who were disappointed when their Hogwarts acceptance letter didn’t come in the mail, Vassar said the interactive game offers a chance to take part in the magic.
“That was a book series that I fell in love with, and the game is very well done,” Vassar said. “For everyone who grew up a fan, it’s fantastic.”