If you hover your mouse pointer over “Hogwarts” in the menu bar on top, a drop down menu appears. The fifth link from the top says “The Great Hall”. Click on it and it takes you to an entirely different world. This is where my Hogwarts is Here experience began all those months ago.
If I look back now, there might be several reasons behind it. I was introduced to the internet 6 years ago. It took me a while to get used to “being online”. I signed up for a few social networking sites, like we all do. But we mostly try and connect with the people we already know in real life. Then HiH came along. It was my first fandom experience, and the thrill of meeting new people of different ages and from different parts of the world was too much at once. I had the opportunity to interact with children as young as 8 years to much elder HP fans as old as 57 years of age. I also remember when students from the Latin Americas joined us, they struggled to string words in English, so we would use Google Translate and speak to them in Spanish. It always made their day.
The Great Hall chat attracted me more than any of the courses. Besides, being a NES (I’m a native Indian), those essays looked really ominous. Most of those students who have been around since those early days will remember that I was on 0 points for nearly a month and a half after signing up. I was least interested in earning points for my House, although I made sure I motivated many students who wandered in there, to do their homework. I loved being in the Great Hall. It was addicting. It still is. Soon, I was spending 20 hours a day on average in the GH, only leaving to catch up on just enough sleep. Sometimes, I would be the only one left. Few remember the famous weekend of 25-26-27 April (yeah, the one I keep bragging about), when I stayed awake for 66 hours and recruited people for my dorm. There is a fine difference between and advertising and spamming. And I was advertising.
The Prefects used to be the unofficial chat mods back then. There weren’t many since we only had 7 subjects, and Professors never came to the Great Hall, with the exception of Lillian Mae (former Professor for DADA) who would make a rare appearance two or three times a day. Those Prefects (Nick, Cristina, Shannon, Erin, Joey, Kiran, et al) that took time out from grading to come and speak to us had to patiently answer every question we had because the old site was a bit tricky- “How to earn points?“, “Where do I register for courses?“, “How does one become Prefect?“, “How do I leave my dorm?“. (This may or may not have included my ill-hidden attempts to troll Cristina and try to break her infinite patience levels, pretending to be a “newbie”). More importantly, they commanded a respect worthy of a “Prefect”. We listened to them. When things got rough, they took control and herded the chat to a safer topic, and we followed. Because that’s what Prefects are for, we thought. And we loved and respected them for that.
There were several “regulars” I can recall. Most of them have since gone inactive, probably caught up in their Muggle lives. Not to forget the hundreds of new students who joined every day. The website was gaining popularity, so it wasn’t very surprising. They were fun times. We had ‘deep meaningful conversations’ during the day and we role-played through the night. I can fondly remember two specific role-plays – the first one was a more impromptu yet hilarious exchange between Batman (Ravenclaw), Sherlock Holmes, John Watson and Mrs. Hudson (all Gryffindors), Joker and Loki (both Slytherin). The other was a massive role-play of real-time Hogwarts spread over an entire day, beginning with a Hogsmeade visit and ending with the Yule Ball. From the top of my head, I can recall Anne, Aria, Cristina, Elessandra, Marcius, Rae, Sophia and Taylor, among the few who were there on that epic day.
The Great Hall, magical though it was, had its fair share of shortcomings. We had to refresh the page every once in a while when it crashed. And who can forget the glitches! The repeating lines, though quite annoying back then, are now stuff of legend.
This was back then. I got busy with my Muggle life since and stopped going to the GH so often. A few months passed. Cut to the present. The Great Hall now has ‘chat moderators’, and a rulebook that can be read by clicking on a link right above the chat window. If you don’t follow the rules, you are warned by the ‘knights’ or even worse, banned, for varying periods of time, depending on your ‘offense’. There is also an age limit. If you are under the age of 13, you are banned by default. Chat mods take turns to monitor the chat at all times and ensure that only casual conversations happen. Yet it seems to be missing the old world charm that used to lure us all. So what happened in the meanwhile? Trolls. That’s what happened. Dennis was the first to ‘discover’ that HTML could be used to annoy students in the GH. It drove everybody away for a few days, and those who were now used to talk to each other every day, looked outside for other popular chat sites. That’s how various HiH-related (though not affiliated, as was promptly clarified) chat groups happened on Chatzy, TinyChat and Plug.DJ. A lot many of the students who ‘migrated’ never returned.
Keith was probably working round the clock around that time to remove the glitches and find ways to restrict the trolls, because just in a few days, a much-improved GH was up and running again. Only this time, all Professors and a select few students, headed by the lovely Holly, were given powers to moderate the Great Hall, and later all chats on HiH. The chat mod system and the rules have evolved over the months, first under the leadership of Holly, then ‘Queen’ Moira and lately, Albus and Rhiannon. All of them are, without any doubt, doing a fine job. The moment things threaten to go out of control or trolling happens, the offender is insta-banned by one of the CMs and order is restored immediately.
All of this sounds great. Yet, I cannot help feeling that chat mods sometimes get too carried away and in their enthusiasm to stick to the chat rulebook, end up killing the mood. Frankly, nobody wants to constantly be told what to or what not to type. It can get a little annoying sometimes. I liked it better when all it said was:
“The Great Hall is a place for all students, no matter what age, so please keep your topic of discussion at an appropriate level. Prefects have the ability to temporarily ban you from live chatting, and will do so if necessary. Hogwarts was built as a safe place, and we intend to keep it that way!”
Even Prefects back then occasionally played along with the ongoing RP. Cristina and Alessa loved climbing the ceilings and throwing pineapple pies on new students, and Marcius died a record 7 times in the GH. Now we have a strict “no violent RP-ing”. Back then, Anna-Noel the Ravenclaw would exclaim “PUFFLING!” every time she spotted a rare Hufflepuff in the GH. We all found that really cute. If Anna-Noel were to log in now, “Please do not type use all Caps”, she would be promptly told.
Speaking of Anna-Noel, she wouldn’t even be allowed, neither would 10-year old Amelia or the many other young excited students, because they are not old enough to chat. Age is not a guarantee of maturity. And the M.O. to determine their true age isn’t very refined either. An underage student who lies about their age will be spared and only those who are truthful are going to be banned. By denying these lovely students the chance to interact and learn, like we do, we are not doing them any good. We cannot ensure their safety just by keeping them away from the GH. Can’t we just ban the creeps instead? Like Professor Silvers says, “They are more likely to be targeted when they are alone than in public.” At least they are under our watchful eyes when they are in the chats. What about the owls they may be receiving? Who is monitoring those? Until such time when we find a way to have absolute age restrictions at the time of signing up, I wish these young students are not denied this very enjoyable, entertaining and educating side of HiH. They have equal rights to use the Great Hall as any of us. Also, it is time we stopped worrying about their safety (they have parents for that) and trust them to fight or avoid creepy people in their 40s on the internet. After all, didn’t Harry Potter fight Voldemort and Quirell when he was only 11 years old?
I have complete faith in the ability of the chat mod team to use their own judgment in order to keep the genuine trolls and spammers away, the sort that don’t even deserve a warning. What I suggest is the CMs be a tad flexible with their rules and a little more subtle. Either join in or sit back and let the chat flow. The thought of you watching over us should make us feel safe, not wary.
Something to ponder over.
With that, this old man’s rant comes to an end. If you wish to raise your opinion, either for or against, I can be reached by owl at (URL: /error404pagenotfound).
Disclaimer: This article is strictly my personal opinion adding to facts, with no deliberate intention of harming anybody’s reputation. All last names have been deliberately omitted.