Quidditch, is not so much a sport as a plot device in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Understanding the effort to make it into a real game is an interesting exercise in the how games are put together.
Ms. Rowling, for all her other gifts, does not understand games. It takes only a moment’s reflection for someone who does have a feel for games to conclude that Quidditch, as she describes it, is incoherent. The game is contested by teams of seven. One of the seven, the “seeker”, is doing something almost entirely unrelated to what the other six are doing.
This allows Quidditch to be, at one time, a team sport and an individual sport, which is a great convenience to the author. In the standard team sports story, where a plucky band of misfits somehow manages to prevail against nearly impossible odds to beat a powerful opponent, most authors have to spend a good many words creating the situation in which the game will turn on one critical effort by the protagonist. But Rowling doesn’t need to set up the critical play – the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded, fourth and goal with time running out, nine wickets down still needing six to win with the sun going down, one last free kick as the end of added time approaches – or whatever. Quidditch is always in such a critical moment, and Harry, as the seeker, is always in the right position to become the hero (or the goat).
But what’s convenient as a literary device is hard to swallow for those of us who care about games. What’s the point for the other six players if their actions almost never affect the outcome of the game?
Imagine a basketball game, with the following additional rule. There’s one player on each team wearing a special uniform, and playing with a special ball. Only the other special player is allowed to guard him, or to touch the special ball. If either of the special players makes a shot from at least 80 feet away, they score 100 points, and the game ends immediately. The game does not end for any other reason except it one team quits the court. Quidditch would be a lot like that.
Now, Harry Potter fans have done their best to transform Quidditch, the literary device, into Quidditch, a playable game. Consider the problems they have encountered.
Put aside, for a moment, the problem of supplying everyone with magic flying brooms and such. That’s the easy part – not because it can be accomplished, but because no one will expect it to be.
Real life Quidditch needs to be two games, not just one – a game for the seekers, and a game for everyone else. But the two games need to be related, to some extent, so that it makes sense to be playing both of them at the same time.
Perhaps the simplest adjustment will be to restore some balance to the scoring system so that both of the sub-games will be meaningful.
I’ve never seen real-life Quidditch played, so I have no opinion as to whether anyone has succeeded in bringing the game to life. Judging from this Wikipedia article, the right problems have at least been addressed. But I’m skeptical. The fictional version of Quidditch is such poor material for crafting a real game that the resulting competition is better as an expression of affection for the books than it is a viable competition.
The play of the other six is almost always entirely irrelevant to the outcome of the contest – with rare exceptions, it is the seeker who wins of loses the game for the team.