by Peter Hammerton
Harry Potter, my favourite fantasy series, has its own sport: Quidditch! Everyone loves Quidditch, but not everyone loves how it works. Here’s a brief summary: wizards and witches fly on broomsticks around a stadium. Each team has three Chasers (who score 10 points for every time they throw a ball through a hoop), a Keeper (who acts like a goalkeeper at the hoops), two beaters (who whack cannonballs at their unsuspecting opponents) and a Seeker (who tries to catch the Golden Snitch, a tiny winged ball). Catching the Snitch earns the team 150 points and ends the game.
Seems good, right? Well, Quidditch is much like having a pet leopard – the more you think about it, the less it makes sense. It’s all to do with that pesky Snitch. You see, its 150-point value is fixed. That means that if my team is 140-0 down and I catch the Snitch, my team still wins! But if my team is 200-0 down, there’s no point in catching it because my team will immediately lose. As such, given catching the Snitch ends the game, I might as well try to prolong it forever in the hope that our Chasers will score a few hoops. The fixed value of the Snitch disincentivises good play and could drag out the game for days, by which time the spectators will surely have a Potions class or escaped troll with which to contend.
So there’s the problem. The two properties of the Snitch – its fixed point value and ability to end the game – make it overpowered when the point difference is fewer than 150, and irrelevant when the point difference is greater than 150. But no self-respecting Poor Print imaginary sports pundit would end their analysis there. The question is, how could Quidditch be improved?
Idea #1: Get rid of the Snitch altogether. Scoring in the hoops becomes the only way to accrue points, and the game ends after a set amount of time has elapsed. This solves the problem, but it’s so boring! Quidditch would be scored like a regular muggle sport, and what’s the point in fantasy sports if they’re not whimsical?
Idea #2: Keep the Snitch but impose a time limit on the game, rather than it being dependent on the Snitch’s capture. The efficacy of this rule change depends upon how long this time limit is. If the game is too short, the Snitch’s points boon is too important. If the game is too long, the difference in points between the teams could be enormous, and catching the Snitch would be fairly meaningless. Maybe the length of the game could fluctuate depending on how many points have been scored, but working out the ramifications of that policy is beyond the scope of this article!
Idea #3: Keep everything as it is, but use a spell to make the seekers ignorant of the score. That way, they have no idea whether their team is winning or losing or by how much, and so their optimal strategy is always to catch the Snitch. This is in spite of the fact that doing their job well might inadvertently spell their team’s doom, so I don’t imagine seekers would be overjoyed at this change!
I have no clue what the implications on the plot of Harry Potter would be if any of these policies were implemented, but my exploration of life’s most inconsequential problems extends only to the mechanics of sport, not literary criticism!
(Drawing by Emiliet, shared under the GNU Free Documentation License)