59

I realise it's self evidently impossible, since real people don't have flying broomsticks. But even allowing for its fantastic nature, am I not right in thinking that it's alse self evidently unworkable as a sport?

Why? Because catching the snitch is all that matters.

It's worth 150 points, and ends the game. Most matches we read about in the books don't have score lines that differ by more than 150 points, in which catching it wins the game for the seeker's team.

But even if a team is down by 150 points or more, it's logical that their seeker should then stop looking for the snitch. If they catch it, the game ends as a loss for their team.

Either way, only the seeker and the snitch matter. So why bother with the goals at all? Why not just beaters, bludgers, snitch and seekers?

I realised this at the very first description of a Quidditch match in the very first book. And while I appreciate it has some narrative value, allowing Harry to take center stage as a Quidditch player, it spoiled all the Quidditch sequences in the whole series for me.

Am I right, or did I miss something?

  • 36
    It is a perfectly valid tool for making the protagonist the most important person on the team. – Zibbobz Jul 18 '14 at 15:40
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    Also, sadly, I think this question is entirely opinion-based, even if the general opinion is going to be "yes it is ridiculous to make up a game that could end five seconds after it begins". – Zibbobz Jul 18 '14 at 15:43
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    Non-answer, but the real world as I understand it: JKR wrote quidditch to show that the wizard world has a sport that they care about just as much as football/soccer. Then she made the sport a central element of book 4 -- and she hates sports, so she had written the sport poorly. – Codes with Hammer Jul 18 '14 at 15:51
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    Maybe in real life the snitch would be much harder to catch. Harry is unrealistically good at it, that's all. Also, if the team is down over 150 points, the job of their seeker is probably to prevent the other seeker from catching the snitch. Since the snitch is so hard to catch even without that, that would pretty much ensure nobody catches it. – Misha R Jun 7 '15 at 16:06
  • 2
    JUST BUY A CLOCK --Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres – Jakub Konieczny Oct 23 '17 at 23:03
69

Yes. Quidditch is inherently flawed. It violates several important points of game theory.

  • All players are not similar in importance. You have six players plus one additional add-on who does not interact, yet has a vital role.
  • The actions of one player can dramatically overshadow everyone else. Again, the Seeker is the special, special snowflake. They fly a simple pattern over the game, swoop in, and decisively change things.
  • The length of a game is difficult or impossible to predict. Games can stretch for days, or be over in seconds. This makes it difficult to gauge the value of a seat. Is someone going to feel cheated if they pay 15 Galleons for a box seat, only to have the match over within twenty minutes? Will you make a profit if you sell seats at 8 Sickles each and they're occupied for a day and a half? How many spectators will be willing to travel to your game (albeit quickly, via teleportation) and potentially have to choose between seeing the full game and missing the next day's work (or the next several days' work?)
  • There are no scheduled breaks in the game. Even when they're not exerting much physical effort to move (flying on broomsticks) playing any sport will tire you out. Spectators need time to hit the bathrooms and food vendors, players need time to regroup, take a breather, and plan strategy changes.

Harry Potter in a rationalist fanfic called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality discusses Quidditch's failings and comes up with a relatively simple solution: eliminate the Snitch and put the game on a timer. If something like that were done, Quidditch would end up looking something like basketball crossed with rugby, and would be an essentially normal sport.

  • 12
    Cricket shares your third flaw -- a Test Match is scheduled for five days, but can easily be over in two or three days. Or not finish after five and be declared a draw. And yet it's a popular and successful sport. – Mike Scott Jul 18 '14 at 16:11
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    @MikeScott That's just one type of Cricket. And besides which, you DO get breaks between overs. Yes, I did just have to look that up. – Zibbobz Jul 18 '14 at 16:26
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    We should add MoR to HP canon :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jul 18 '14 at 17:32
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    @DVK: I dunno, I kinda like the simplistic MoR fanfic JK Rowling wrote. She stretched it over 7 books though... – Jeff Jul 18 '14 at 19:29
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    There's an additional major flaw in the game based on technology. Since the teams rely on broomsticks to get around, the team with faster broomsticks has a massive advantage. This is the case to some degree with existing sports, but there were examples in the books of Harry pulling off wins when he had been the inferior Seeker simply because his broom was faster and could make up the difference. For a real world example of how this temporarily broke a sport (until everyone got the latest tech) look at the introduction of clap skates to speed skating in the late 90's. – Jason Patterson Oct 24 '14 at 13:40
31

Though it's true that Quidditch seems flawed, that may be the wrong question to ask. The real question is: does the unreasonable structure of the game make it a flaw in the world of the books? I don't think so: after all, the wizard world has many aspects that are satirical or frankly farcical; it's a place of commonplace fantasy, general whimsy, and frequent illogic. It's actually more difficult to name some everyday aspect of it that seems reasonable than the opposite. So, as a world-building decision, Quidditch fits right in: it's a satire of popular real sports that's accepted unquestioningly by the wizards because of its magical nature.

(This is not to say that there are no serious themes in that world; obviously, there are, as comes out as the series progresses. But the superficial aspects are silly, and this sport is very superficial.)

  • 2
    "It's actually more difficult to name some everyday aspect of it that seems reasonable than the opposite." I was going to contest this point, but after thinking about it for a bit, the only thing I could come up with was the general idea of school and homework - you have to work hard to learn and demonstrate your achievement. That's strikingly normal from a real world perspective, even if you consider how inconsistent it is with the many other conveniences and labor saving cantrips of the magic world. So +1, you point stands well. – Dacio Oct 24 '14 at 20:43
  • These problems are easy to fix. Maybe catching the snitch should be worth fewer points, like 50, or it doesn't automatically end the game (giving the opponent an opportunity to catch up). These wizards are smart, and this is the only team sport they have. It's definitely a literary flaw in my opinion. – James Watkins Mar 21 '16 at 16:00
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    @JamesWatkins Coming up with a balanced game is surprisingly hard; I honestly think Rowling would have done better to have left the details ambiguous than open herself up to justified trivial criticism. The literary flaw, though is for the specific absurdities of the game not to have any symbolism at all. If Quidditch were replaced by (either) football, what would the books be missing? Nothing, really. – Ryan Reich Mar 21 '16 at 20:47
18

Yes. The sport is inherently flawed, and intentionally so.

In handwritten notes that she has added to an auction copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Rowling admits that her goal was to create a sport that would fit in with the character of wizarding society, even at the cost of it making logical sense.

“Quidditch - was invented in a small hotel in Manchester after a row with my then boyfriend.

“I had been pondering the things that hold a society together, cause it to congregate and signify its particular character and knew I needed a sport.

“It infuriates men, in my experience (why is the Snitch so valuable etc), which is quite satisfying given my state of mind when I invented it.”

enter image description here

  • 2
    There is no actual document. Some unnamed private collector owns the book, and only a handful of pictures of it have been released. (Though it's about to go on display in Edinburgh for a month.) – ibid Dec 7 '16 at 16:05
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    @ibid - It's on display and loads of people have taken photos. – Valorum Dec 7 '16 at 16:07
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    “It infuriates men, in my experience (why is the Snitch so valuable etc), which is quite satisfying given my state of mind when I invented it.” Wow, this was a really snotty thing for J. K. Rowling to write. – RobertF Dec 7 '16 at 22:48
  • @RobertF - I think the point she's trying to make is that Quidditch is designed as a means to making Harry the big hero, with his role being magnified out of all proportion to the rest of the game and everything else, including logic, taking a back seat. – Valorum Dec 7 '16 at 23:05
  • 1
    IMO this quote does not support that Quidditch was intentionally designed to be logically flawed. It could be claimed that illogical rules "signify the particular character" of the wizarding world. But Broomsticks and the design of the balls and Snitch would equally signify magical elements in an otherwise logical sport. The "satisfying that the illogical rules would infuriate her old boyfriend" sentiment is in retrospect. – pkamb Apr 14 '17 at 18:57
9

As they show in Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire, during the "Quidditch world cup" Victor Krum caught the snitch yet his team still lost. In the book, they talk a lot about how some Quidditch games can last for hours in which that case the score keeps going up. Should your team be loosing, your seeker still has to watch for the snitch to at least deter the opposing seeker from catching the snitch. And as in Goblet of Fire Krum knew his team was never going to catch back up so he ended the game on his terms. Another thing to think about is that yes at Hogwarts getting the snitch typically wins the game for that team, that is a team of high school aged players and not how it works on the professional level. Again, the snitch can show up after 2 minutes or after days as I believe Oliver Wood tells Harry in the first book.

  • 9
    If I may add -- I see Hogwarts Quidditch like school football: unprofessional. I would suggest, based on the example @himarm used, that in professional Quidditch the scores have a bigger difference: racking up points quicker, and in a longer game due to professional playing, means a gap can reach hundreds of points, unlike in Hogwarts where 40 point gap is large. – Mac Cooper Jul 18 '14 at 15:09
  • @MacCooper But even if bigger point differentials are the norm, there's still the issue of the losing team not wanting to catch the snitch. The focus is still entirely on the seeker. – Bob Tway Jul 18 '14 at 15:46
  • @MattThrower, actually yeah you got me there. I'd suggest it was perhaps a phsycological effect ("Three days in, no sleep and the players are scrabbling for the snitch. Who can know how long it will last until one seeker succumbs to the other!") but then, we know from HP4 that they bring in substitutes... so yeah, you got me :) – Mac Cooper Jul 18 '14 at 15:51
6

According to J.K. Rowling, Quidditch is "not illogical" and "makes total sense".

Q: Can I ask about Quidditch?

J.K. Rowling: I don’t think I’ve given all the stuff on Quidditch yet. Men always ask me about Quidditch because the number of, and I love geeky people so I do not say this in a pejorative way, but the number of geeky men who have come up to me to argue with me about Quidditch – I’d be a lot richer if I had a quid for every one.

They just think it’s illogical. But it’s not illogical and I had a speech by Dumbledore in the first book that never made it in explaining why Quidditch is not illogical, so at some point1 I will put that on the site. Thank you for reminding me.
J.K. Rowling - Pottermore Press Conference - June 2011


1. J.K. Rowling never ended up putting this on Pottermore.

Q. The scoring system of Quidditch makes no sense.

J.K. Rowling: It makes total sense. There's glamour in chasing an elusive lucky break, but teamwork and persistence can still win the day. Everyone's vulnerable to blows of fate and obstructive people, and success means rising above them. Quidditch is the human condition. You're welcome.
J.K. Rowling - Twitter - October 2018

  • 2
    Aw, I would have liked to see that. – Adamant Oct 31 '16 at 3:45
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    "Of course the thing I made isn't illogical. It's not, because I say so." Strong argument! This could be improved by posting some of that 'speech by Dumbledore' to back it up. Otherwise this is like someone saying, "2+2=7, because I say so." – Jeff Oct 31 '16 at 20:20
  • @Jeff - WoG is highest canon. – ibid Oct 31 '16 at 20:31
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    For character motivations, plot explanations, etc, yes. For basic logic? Nope. – Jeff Nov 1 '16 at 19:39
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    @ibid only if she is not taking the piss! ("Never made it in" !!! in other words "I have an idea (I promise!) but I'm not going to tell you it...") – colmde Dec 7 '16 at 15:33
3

There is a lot more to quidditch than you see in one game. There is a lot of strategy involved and all players have vital roles in that strategy. A team can catch the snitch and lose the game yet still when the cup if their points for the season are higher than the opponents. Even in the first game of the season the seeker would want to catch the snitch as soon as possible so the other team can't build up points that will matter later in the season.

  • 1
    There's a lot of merit in this answer as it's the only one that mentions points. There is at least one passage I can remember from the books (Prisoner of Azkaban, if I recall correctly) where Harry and the team discuss their chances for the cup - and it all depends on how many points the other teams score during their games - not just on who wins. In a single game the Seeker may be the most vital component, but they are incapable of scoring more than a handful of points in an entire match. There is no limit on how many a single Chaser can score, making them more valuable in some situations. – Cooper Oct 31 '16 at 9:36
1

My impression is that it is not a bad as it seems at first sight.

Firstly the idea that one key player can potentially dominate the game isn't a fatal flaw, for example in cycling and motor-sports the lead rider or driver respectively have a special role even though they are still very much collaborative team sports. Even in team field sports there is often a 'star player'...as noted in the comments this could be a quarterback in American Football, a fast bowler in cricket or a specialist place kicker in Rugby.

Secondly it does seem that in leagues the number of points scored in a match matters so it can still be an advantage to have a strong team who can rack up the points. Equally there is a strong random element to how quickly the snitch is caught so if a game drags on there is more chance that the overall stronger team will win.

There are even a few mainstream real-world sports which aren't so different for example in association football (soccer) matches tend to be low scoring and can easily be won by a stroke of luck against the run of play. Again cricket a game played where scores rack up to the hundreds and overs, balls, wickets and runs are counted it is still perfectly normal for a match to end in a draw and one really good player can dominate.

Indeed there is one match in the books where Harry has to keep an eye on the wining margin for the sake of the overall league result, this means not only not catching the snitch himself but preventing the opposing seeker from doing so too. You can also imagine a situation where you have more defensively minded seekers who are more focused on preventing the other seeker from catching the snitch untill his team have built up a winning margin.

Similarly you can see the beaters as the link which make the game make a bit more sense as they can act either defensively or offensively and target/protect either seekers, chasers or both so strong chasers may attract more bludger attention from the opposing beaters and take the heat off the seeker.

We also have to bear in mind that most of the Quidditch we see in the books is under 17 intra school level and so can't be really expected to demonstrate the full nuances of the professional game and most of the games we do see are there to demonstrate the unusual skill of the main protagonist. In fact the only professional game described in any detail is the World Cup Final in Goblet of Fire where the result goes against the snitch capture.

  • "Firstly the idea that one key player can potentially dominate the game isn't a fatal flaw" - Or the quarterback in American football. (Disclaimer: This is coming from someone who doesn't pay much attention to sports. It's my understanding from the outside, same as everyone here is doing with Quidditch) – Izkata Dec 7 '16 at 20:34
  • The quarterback in gridiron football is almost the worst possible example you could give here. Put a great quarterback behind a crappy offensive line, and you will have a crappy offense, full stop (q.v. the Seattle Seahawks for the past two seasons). Quarterbacks get a lot of attention because their role is highly visible, but they don't have anywhere near the influence on a game that a Quidditch seeker does. – Nobody Oct 25 '17 at 11:04
  • Quarterback could run the entire field- quarterbacks have dummy thrown. Unless the ball game forbids the first player to get the ball from scoring then you don't need the rest of the game to be any good, that player just needs to be superman. – user2617804 Oct 22 '18 at 8:59
1

It's worth noting that from the readers eyes, with the exception of the Quidditch world cup, we're watching school children play it. Go watch a high school chess club and then watch the world chess tournament. In the high school chess club. The winner will effectively use the queen, but in the world chess tournament the queens power is mitigated by the knowledge and experience of the players*.

If I recall correctly, we do see some anti-seeker strategy utilized in the game, but it's portrayed in a negative light, because see it from the eyes of the seeker for a given team. For example, Draco Malfoy distracted Harry by feigning a dive for the snitch. Additionally, Opposition beaters would throw bludgers at Harry. We could probably expect more of this in pro-level quidditch matches.

*Chess people, it's an analogy, even if I'm wrong you get the point.

  • But it's in the one professional match we see that a player commits by far the worst logical Quidditch misstep in the books. – pkamb Apr 14 '17 at 19:09
  • And there are grand master chess tournaments where illogical blunders have been made that are so bad that a novice would notice. Just because one is playing a professional sport does not mean there is no chance of screwing up very, very badly. – forest Mar 26 '18 at 5:29
0

I agree that, based on the games that appear in the books, 150 points for catching the Snitch appears to be too many for the game-play to be balanced. However, I don't agree that makes Quidditch "inherently flawed", or that goals scored are necessarily irrelevant.

Let's say that the number of points for catching the Snitch is "Q". Throughout the match, both teams try to score goals and prevent their opponents from scoring. If neither team has a lead of more than Q points, both Seekers will try to catch the Snitch and will win the game if they do so.

If either team establishes a lead of more than Q points, that takes the opposing Seeker out of the game (he or she can't catch the Snitch as that would result in loosing the game). While this is the case, the trailing team must try to get back within Q points while the leading team's Seeker tries to catch the Snitch to end the game.

As long as it is feasible for a team to establish a lead of Q points before the Snitch is caught, the game-play seems reasonable. As I said at the beginning, it seems that, in the games described in the books, Q should be less than 150 points.

Proponents of limited over cricket and those concerned with productivity in the wizarding world might also want to impose a time limit of (perhaps) one day.

protected by Rogue Jedi Oct 31 '16 at 0:47

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