Reckoning with Hogwarts’ Legacy

The release of Hogwarts Legacy has proven to be one of, if not the most contentious video game releases of all time. That’s all thanks to Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling’s public displays of transphobia. Most discussions about the game have centered around whether or not it’s morally wrong to buy the game. I am not here to tell you whether you should or should not buy this game as it isn’t my place to do so. But, it’s important to put into context why this game has been such an argumentative topic in the gaming world. You can choose to buy it or not but you must understand the implications and consequences that choice will bring.

Rowling may not have had anything to do with Hogwarts Legacy but her campaign of hate is the legacy that Hogwarts will now always have. It’s impossible to escape the fact that she will continue to make money on this franchise and continue to be a relevant public figure because of that. She will use both her status and fortune to spread hate against trans people. Nothing Harry Potter related will ever escape from that shadow.

Rowling’s hatred is not just isolated incidents. She actively uses her platform as the richest author in the world to spread transphobic rhetoric. She isn’t someone who misspoke or educated herself after the fact, she’s someone who doesn’t think trans people should exist and will tell everyone she can to try and convince them of the same. Even though much of the cast of the movies, including the main trio, have spoken out against her, Rowling’s status as creator means that Potter will now always be linked to bigotry. When something Hogwarts related is successful so too is an extremely active bigot.

It’s irresponsible then to discuss Hogwarts Legacy without discussing Rowling. The devs may have made a good game and may not agree with her, they may have even done their best to make an inclusive game but she is intrinsically linked to the project. She gets royalties for it, the game’s success is her success and that success is used to continue her crusade against trans people’s very existence. You can’t act like buying the game or streaming it or making content out of it has no bearing on Rowling because it does, however indirectly. To engage with Hogwarts Legacy without understanding the context of the harm Rowling causes and the feelings of trans people is to engage with ignorance.

Art Does Not Exist in a Bubble

Video games are art and no art exists in a bubble no matter how much some people may want it to. You cannot engage with Hogwarts Legacy without reckoning with the context of its existence. Regardless of what that reckoning is or what it means to you, it’s irresponsible and unfair to ignore it. In IGN’s review of the game, they made a point to state that it is their job as critics to only look at whether or not the game is fun and ignore any other discussion surrounding it. Not only is that a gross misunderstanding of the job of an art critic, but it’s also cowardly and reductive. 

The job of anyone reviewing art, whether that be a film, a song, a picture, or a video game, is much more than just stating whether they think it is good or not. It is the job of a critic to discuss the way a piece of art functions, how it makes us feel, what it has to say, whether it says that successfully and whether it offers anything of value to audiences. You cannot do that by ignoring the wider context of a piece of art. How can you properly analyze those aspects of Hogwarts Legacy while ignoring how the royalties Rowling will receive from it will continue her platform of hate? How can you analyze the value it brings to gamers while ignoring how a sub-section of gamers feel threatened by what it represents? You can’t.  

For Gamespot, Jessie Earl published an excellent breakdown of Rowling’s transphobia. I won’t be going into the specifics of Rowling’s hate so I encourage you to read that piece. That piece with an important point that I agree with. It states that supporting the game is not wrong in and of itself, to ignore the legacy of hatred behind it would be. That’s what makes IGN’s coverage extra egregious. They are the biggest gaming media outlet on the planet, so for them to completely ignore that is nothing short of a failure of their duties. 

I do not believe that playing Hogwarts Legacy means that you support Rowling’s views. The world is not that black and white. That’s what much of the arguing online has boiled down to. But you have to be aware of why buying this game will make trans people feel like you are not an ally. You can play the game but you can’t play the game in complete ignorance. Just as you can’t play Call of Duty without acknowledging that it’s schlocky military propaganda, you can’t play Hogwarts Legacy without acknowledging that its benefactor thinks trans people don’t have the right to exist.

No Choice is Meaningless

Rowling’s bigotry may make it seem like there is an easy answer, which is to just not buy it. For many, that is the case but the world is more complicated than that. The Harry Potter series means a lot to millions of people, trans people included. Trans writer Laura Gray wrote a great piece for Dextero about this. Please read it. I’m sure there are many trans people with similar experiences to Laura. That’s something to think about when you may want to argue online like this is black and white. 

It’s okay if you may be struggling with your decision to get the game or not. But regardless of what you choose, you have to be able to accept the consequences of what that choice means. You can’t simply buy it and act like that is a meaningless choice. Percy Ranson wrote for GamesHub their thoughts on the game as a trans person and Potter fan. Once again, trans people’s thoughts on this matter are more important than mine so please read it.  You need to understand how your choice surrounding this game affects trans people and how it may make them view you.   

If you choose to buy the game, that’s your choice and I’m not here to tell you it’s wrong and I’m not going to vilify you, it isn’t my place. But you have to be able to accept the fact that with that choice some people will view you as being complicit in Rowling’s continued platform of hate. You can’t make that choice and be angry when people don’t agree with it. As much as some people may want to ignore the wider social context this game exists in, and as much as some outlets want to simply focus on whether it is fun, you can’t do that.   

If you can reckon with that and still want to get the game, that doesn’t mean you aren’t or can’t be an ally. Juniper Finch wrote for Twinfinite a breakdown of Rowling’s hate and why they won’t play the game despite being a Potter fan. They end their piece with a few ways you can still support trans people while also choosing to buy and play the game. Once again, read that piece and any other articles about the game you can find that were written by trans people. Take their feelings to heart when you make that decision and look for ways that you can help. 

Rowling’s hatred will forever be linked to the Potterverse and any new work made that that universe will no doubt benefit her. Hogwarts’ legacy is now as much about how it funds transphobia as it is about how it helped young outcasts find themselves. You can separate the art from the artist but you can’t ignore the artist completely. Whether you buy Hogwarts Legacy or you never touch it, it’s important you’re aware of the implications behind that choice. Art does not exist in a bubble and if you choose to engage with Hogwarts Legacy then you must be able to reckon with the hurt that may cause.   

If you’d like to directly help trans causes, here are a few charities to consider:

National Center for Transgender Equality – US

Transgender Law Center – US

Stonewall – UK

Mermaids – UK

Unity For Change – CA

Egale – CA

Published by Matt Fresh

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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