Non-stop controversy surrounds the upcoming release of Hogwarts Legacy. Should you still buy it?

By Mason Berlinka

Published Feb 2, 2023 at 10:17 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

The upcoming release of Avalanche Studios’ big-budget foray into the wizarding world of Harry Potter, Hogwarts Legacy has been marred with controversy during development, primarily in regard to the highly controversial author of the books, JK Rowling.

The writer lost a mammoth number of supporters a few years ago after she began transphobic rhetoric online. The strange reinvention of the once-beloved author into a hateful Twitter warrior has left gamers and fans divided over whether or not they should inadvertently support her by purchasing the new video game, set to release on 10 February 2023.

Spoiler alert: you probably shouldn’t.

A quick look at the controversy surrounding JK Rowling

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or just don’t use Twitter), Rowling is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, aka a TERF. The position seeks to eliminate trans women from the feminist conversation, essentially refuting their gender identity. For some reason, the author is outspoken on this issue and seems to spend most of her day crying about it on the aforementioned app.

It goes without saying that this sort of rhetoric only serves to further alienate an already highly oppressed small group of people—a group that is barely protected by our governments and face daily struggles ranging from dysphoria to targeted abuse.

Rowling’s anti-trans stance led many fans to reassess and reanalyse the Harry Potter books. What has since been highlighted is that her writing repeatedly perpetuated negative stereotypes. Moreover, fans have spotted ways in which the author failed to recognise her own ignorance, particularly when it came to diversifying her cast and naming her characters.

In 2022, Jon Stewart reminded us all on his podcast The Problem with Jon Stewart of how problematic the British screenwriter’s portrayal of goblins are in her fantasy novels, with their image as big nosed, greedy bankers sharing many parallels with antisemitic stereotypes—a negative portrayal of Jewish people that has long persisted.

The imagery was reinforced even stronger in the films, the production of which she was heavily involved in. The worst part is how the bank that Harry and Hagrid enter in the first film has the Star of David adorned on the floor, silently reinforcing the parallel. The plot of Hogwarts Legacy actually revolves around a goblin uprising too, making the oppressed minority the villains. Obviously.

There is a clear oversight and unconscious bias in Rowling’s characterisation. It becomes even more apparent when you consider the fact that the only named East Asian character in the book is called Cho Chang, a name that makes zero linguistic sense when considered against actual Chinese naming conventions. Even worse is the name Kingsley Shacklebolt, given to one of Harry Potter’s few named black characters. How Shacklebolt got past everyone is beyond me.

The problem with ‘Hogwarts Legacy’

In an interview with IGN on 25 January 2022, the game’s director Alan Tew addressed some of the issues surrounding the upcoming release, stating that they want to make sure that “the audience, who always dreamed of having this game, had the opportunity to feel welcomed back.” The team is painfully aware of the dark cloud that Rowling casts over the content. In spite of this however, Tew made a point of avoiding any mention of the author’s name during the recent interview, and instead only reiterated what he’d said previously when challenged on how he felt about working on the Intellectual Property (IP) after Rowling’s biases made headlines.

In addition to Tew’s unwillingness to get into the ethics of working on a world made by a transphobe, one of the game’s lead designers resigned from his role at the company in March 2022 after it was revealed that he ran a semi alt-right antifeminist YouTube channel. Red flag, anyone?

As you can imagine, Warner Bros’ and Avalanche Studios have tried to make positive changes to the game and entice fans back. Jason Schreier reported for Bloomberg in 2021 that Hogwarts Legacy would allow for trans playable characters, a move that was made possible thanks to persistent work from the team who were reportedly “uncomfortable with Rowling’s position and rattled by the effects she has had on a game they’ve put a lot into.”

Although a step in the right direction for the game, journalist Laura Kate Dale highlighted that it wasn’t really enough. And we can’t blame her, there’s a number of other better games you can support that are enjoyable and have zero ties to transphobes.

The team also previously announced that Rowling would have little creative control over the title—a pledge that ultimately failed to sooth critics as she’d still likely be making a  fortune from the use of her IP.

Twitter users have been outspoken in their criticism of the game and calls to boycott. SCREENSHOT wanted to speak with a member of the trans community to better understand their perspective on the reality of people purchasing a game that will actively put money in the pocket of a transphobe.

Aries, a 23-year-old trans woman and avid gamer, shared her thoughts with me on the upcoming release, stating: “Buying the game actively hands money to someone who uses her status to step on trans people and spread transphobic views. People need to grow out of this franchise—it really doesn’t deserve any attention especially considering how unimaginative it is, as well as the prejudices and stereotypes it pushes.”

It’s worth noting that some gamers don’t see any need to boycott the title. In a brief chat with someone who chose to stay anonymous, I was told: “Honestly, I see the issue people have, and power to them for wanting to boycott the title but ultimately it’s a game that a lot of people have worked very hard on.”

They continued: “No matter how sh*t Rowling is, she’s still entitled to earn money from a game that uses a world she created. I don’t agree with her, but I want to play the game and I think we should try to remember that she had very little involvement in the final product. We can enjoy something that the developers worked hard on.”

The problem for so many is that the legacy of the Harry Potter universe is forever scarred by a woman who repeatedly pedals outdated and transphobic logic into the Twittersphere. We haven’t even mentioned the fact that she’s actively supported by heavily problematic groups like the LGB Alliance—an organisation whose primary aim is to erode trans rights and issues from the conversation.

If you grew up loving Harry Potter, as so many gen Zers and millennials did, you’ve likely had to reevaluate your love for the series. Ultimately, your standpoint on the Potterverse is up to you. I just hope that this exploration  into the series’ problematic creator and on-going controversy might help you make an informed decision on whether or not you should boycott the game.

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