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In honor of Harry Potter’s 38th birthday, we remember Dudley’s PlayStation

By all accounts, it doesn’t make sense

composite of Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter next to a PlayStation Warner Bros. Pictures/Sony Computer Entertainment via Petrana Radulovic/Polygon

July 31 means we’ve hit the tail end of the summer, but for passionate Harry Potter fans, it also means we must celebrate Harry’s birthday (and author J.K. Rowling’s, but that’s not as important). On July 31, 2018, Harry turns 38, which is a big step from the teenage boy we knew in our youths. Some casual fans aren’t aware that the Harry Potter books actually take place in the ’90s. That’s right: The Boy Who Lived rocked his teen days in the time of the Backstreet Boys and inflatable furniture.

This, however, brings up one very glaring factual error in Harry’s Muggle life: Dudley’s PlayStation.

In the beginning of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which takes place in the school year of 1994-95, Dudley is super frustrated with his family’s attempts to put him on a diet. So he angrily tosses his PlayStation out of the window, a humorous event that Harry recounts in a letter to his godfather, Sirius Black.

They told him they’d have to cut his pocket money if he keeps doing it, so he got really angry and chucked his PlayStation out of the window.

Here’s the rub: The PlayStation wasn’t released in Japan until December 1994, and it wasn’t available in Europe until September 1995. By any and all conventional means, Dudley Dursley shouldn’t have had a PlayStation in the summer of 1994, nearly a year and a half before its debut in his home country.

The Harry Potter Wiki suggests that the Dursleys may have pre-ordered a prototype of the console directly from the manufacturers. Considering how spoiled Dudley is (“36?! But last year, last year I got 37!”), that is definitely not out of the realm of possibility. Vernon Dursley worked in a drill manufacturing firm, so he likely had connections to people who manufacture other items and could’ve smooth-talked his way into getting precious Duddy-kins a PlayStation prototype.

Another popular theory is that Harry may have just ... messed up. Given that he had spent the better part of each year since 1991 at a magic school that doesn’t allow technology, it’s feasible that he may have simply misidentified whatever console Dudley ended up throwing out the window. But how did Harry even know what a PlayStation was in the first place? Given that the system wasn’t on the market in the U.K. until late 1995, advertisements like the one below (which aired in Europe in 1995) likely wouldn’t have been present during Harry’s three months of summer television access.

Two lines of questioning remain: What console could Harry have mistaken for a PlayStation, and how did he know the “PlayStation” name?

Console-wise, we can only assume that spoiled, bratty Dudley would have had the most popular, recent console on the market. In mid-1994, that would have likely been either the Super Nintendo Entertainment System or the Sega CD (known as the Mega-CD in Europe). The SNES was released in Europe in 1992 (and it’s much cuter than the North American version), and the Sega CD in 1993. While neither bears a particularly striking resemblance to the PlayStation, it’s not like we can really blame Harry for mistaking whatever brick-shaped object Dudley was throwing this time.

The fact still remains that Harry probably wouldn’t have had reason to call anything a “PlayStation” in the first place. However, the term PlayStation had actually been used once before, when it was attached to Nintendo and Sony’s failed console collaboration — the Super NES CD-ROM, or more colloquially, the Nintendo PlayStation. The console, which was capable of running both Nintendo cartridge games and Sony-made CD-ROM games, was announced in 1991, but it was never released due to a falling out between Nintendo and Sony over a business contract. Even so, the odds that Harry would have heard of a console that never even made it to market are slim to none — in 1991, he was probably too busy finding the Philosopher’s Stone and trying not to die to keep up with the latest games news.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone - Professor Quirrell choking Harry as he’s reaching for the stone
He’s probably not thinking about consoles.
Warner Bros. Pictures

There’s also a theory that simply states that the Harry Potter books take place in a universe where the PlayStation debuted earlier. While that seems pretty no-nonsense at first, one must consider the wider implications of this theory. Does the rise of Voldemort contribute directly to the release of home consoles? What effects did Grindelwald (who was basically the wizard bad guy during World War II) have on Japan and overseas production to influence this? Do pure-blood wizards even play video games?

But in the end, this is a world where broken bones are healed with Skele-Gro, a mirror can show your deepest desires and 11-year-olds are sent into a forest full of deadly, man-eating creatures for detention, so maybe we can accept the fact that Dudley owned a PlayStation a full year before the rest of Europe. It’s still not as weird as the fact that seemingly perpetual teenager Harry is now a 38-year-old adult who probably ... I don’t know, pays his bills and listens to old Weird Sisters hits with Ginny while his kids make fun of his music taste.

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