Hogwarts Legacy is an open-world RPG by Avalanche Software set in the Harry Potter universe. This game takes place in the 1800s, approximately a hundred years before the original books. It is set against the backdrop of a goblin rebellion as well as the emergence of a new, forgotten form of magic.
The game has come under fire for various reasons (one of them being alleged antisemitism), but the most prominent is that the IP comes from the mind of author J.K. Rowling — a well-known anti-trans activist who has become a figurehead in the movement for campaigning for the erroneous belief that gender is tied to sex (side note: gender has changed culturally throughout history), has perpetuated pseudoscience and pushed for transphobic legislation. Many critics fear that the game's success will further cement her cultural influence and have consequently called for a boycott.
Today, we will examine whether bigoted people are rallying around the game — and if this and other problematic media are worth consuming.
The transphobia bubbling beneath the surface
From the onset, something we should clarify is that some transphobic people like this game, and by extension, Rowling herself, because she perpetuates transphobia (i.e. a hatred of trans people). Some see spending money on this game as another way to "own the libs." As the Steam user, PoorUglypeasant asserted on Jan 16:
“I bought this game just to put it on the top seller and piss off the woke mob trying to boycott a good game for very stupid reasons. The game is not out and already got my moneys worth by pissing off the ones who try to cancel the game just because the original author doesn’t think like them and refuses to bend the knee to those idiots.”
To pretend like ideology is not a factor around some (not all) people's support and disapproval of this game is naive. You don't have to search that hard to find users on Steam gleefully sharing transphobic talking points. "Evil = people who reject biological reality and want to chemically castrate and sexually mutilate children," erroneously commented one banned account. "There is nothing awesome nor beautiful about trans people, just like there is nothing as such in any other mentally ill person," vents another.
There are many comments like this throughout the Steam Community Hub for the game (something that speaks poorly of the platform's moderation). You can find similar sentiments across the most prominent social media platforms. Fringe far-right content creators are treating the success of this game as a refutation of "woke" ideology. "Hogwarts Legacy sales DOMINATE every gaming platform!," reads the title for the Youtuber YellowFlash 2, who then proceeds to argue that the game’s success is disproving woke “bs.”
Yet to place Rowling in the same bucket as these conservative actors is complicated. While some conservatives have come out in favor of Rowling's transphobia, she is still a liberal woman (by which I mean someone who supports capitalism but wants to expand the social safety net) writing a liberal book, and other conservatives hate her for that. As recently as last year, a far-right conservative pastor led a book burning of titles like Harry Potter and Twilight to stop "demonic influences." Not too long ago, Rowling butted heads with conservative commentator Matt Walsh, who she initially commended for his transphobic documentary What Is A Woman?, only to walk her support back because she was offended by his sexism.
Multiple things can be true. Rowling can be transphobic while also holding liberal views in other areas that clash with more traditional conservatives. She may be a figurehead for transphobia right now, but because her trans-exclusive feminism ultimately reinforces rigid gender norms, it was always destined to be coopted by more conservative men. She is ultimately pushing for a worldview that will make her materially worse off in the long run, even if she doesn't have the perspective to acknowledge that (think Serena Joy from the Handmaid's Tale).
Yet this anti-trans rhetoric is not the sole motivator for every supporter of the game. As we shall soon see, some people are passively on the sidelines or disagree with the spirit or aims of the boycott altogether.
The other people buying the game
Not everyone who wants to purchase this game is a conservative or motivated by outwardly transphobic reasoning. Some have claimed that they don’t care about the issue whatsoever. As LegacyKillaHD commented recently: "…then you have the more average casual gamer, I guess you could say. Those who actually like Harry Potter and aren’t really following along or care about the politics of JK Rowling. Those [people] are extremely excited about this game." (side note: it’s strange for LegacyKillaHD, a very online person, to claim to know how these people think).
Listen, there is a worthwhile debate to be had about whether passively ignoring transphobia still counts as transphobia, but LegacyKillaHD has a point that most consumers are not plugged into this debate at all. While transphobia was apparent in the comments surrounding Hogwarts Legacy, when one observes discussions on platforms such as Steam, most comments are about game mechanics such as romance options. We have to be careful not to fall into the "spotlight effect," where issues and arguments that matter a lot to us personally are even a consideration to other people.
Many people have a "hands-off approach" regarding media consumption. A lot of people believe that we should separate art from the artist. One Steam user writes: "She may be an English Terf, but the story itself of Harry Potter is pretty good. Why hate the work when it has done nothing wrong?" This is the infamous "death of the author" defense (see Lindsay Ellis's video on this topic). Although controversial, it speaks more to a consumer's passive indifference and privilege than their active transphobia.
Others commenters argue that this boycott has been pointless and ineffective, and they aren't always your far-right reactionaries. "Just enjoy the game. Rowling is a die-hard reactionist," writes one user, "[but] money won't fix it, and it's fine because no one really listens to what she has to say. Why would a sane person? Money doesn't mean smart or educated."
One may disagree with this statement (from my perspective, it sounds a little defeatist and ignores the fact that many do listen to JK Rowling), but it’s worth bringing up because this conversation is not always a rigid binary between transphobes and trans-supporters. There is some nuance here. Some consumers of this game are transphobic, others are passive supporters of that transphobia, and others still are people on the left who disagree with the political effectiveness of this boycott.
An unmagical conclusion
When we look at the reaction to this game, it's clear that celebrating transphobia motivates a large segment of the community. However, it does not seem like the overwhelming majority. The natural question becomes, considering everything we have discussed, should one boycott this game?
Drawing a line in the sand with a consumer product is always tricky to do in a capitalist society that is, by and large, toxic. Many food distributors actively use slave labor (see Nestle), exploit the working class (see Walmart and Amazon), and [email protected] with our laws (see Disney). Does Rowling's publicness make her hatred worse or simply more visible? Does the arbitrariness of the boycott even matter if indecisiveness here is being used as an excuse for inaction? After all, when it comes to political activism, one has to start somewhere, and it's highly doubtful that many people engaging in whataboutism on this topic are organizing Amazon boycotts.
It's okay to be torn by these questions. We will not pretend here like we have cracked the code regarding ethical consumption under capitalism, but if these questions resonate with you, that's a sign that holding off here is not the worst thing in the world. We are talking about entertainment, not a vital service you need to have this second. One doesn't need to buy this wizarding game as soon as it comes out. We can wait to see whether these fears are accurate or, indeed, overblown.
In the meantime, as you mull this dilemma over, posted below are some games to scratch that itch for fantasy content. Many of these feature queer characters, so consider giving them a playthrough; you won’t be disappointed.
Some Queer Fantasy Games To Follow:
6. 80 Days
10. Road Not Taken
About the Creator
I write long-form pieces on timely themes inside entertainment, pop culture, video games, gender, sexuality, race and politics. My writing currently reaches a growing audience of over 10,000 people every month across various publications.