Feb 6, 2023 - Technology

Hogwarts Legacy game launch becomes referendum on J.K. Rowling

Video game screenshot of a student wizard holding a magic wand

Hogwarts Legacy. Screenshot: Avalanche Software

Hogwarts Legacy, the new video game stemming from author J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter" fiction, is launching this week to big sales and big controversy.

Why it matters: The game, which lets players create their own wizard and go through magic school, has become a flashpoint for reviewers and fans regarding what to do about work associated with Rowling.

  • The Potter author has been accused of transphobia — she denies it — since 2018, when she “liked” a tweet that said that trans women are “men in dresses” (per Politico, she said it was for research purposes). Among her many comments on gender since then, she has mocked the idea that the phrase “people who menstruate” could refer to anything other than women.
  • Amid calls for boycotts of Hogwarts Legacy, the game has still managed to top key PC and console bestseller lists weeks before its release, indicating high pre-order demand.

Driving the news: In a deviation from standard pre-release coverage, many outlets are putting caveats in their Hogwarts Legacy reviews, while others are sidestepping the game entirely. (Access to the game, so far, is controlled by Warner Bros., which like any other publisher, chooses which outlets to send review copies to.)

  • IGN, the most popular video game media site in North America, ran a rave, but included a sidebar labeled “concerning J.K. Rowling” that states inconclusively: “As critics, our job is to answer the question of whether or not we find Hogwarts Legacy to be fun to play and why; whether it’s ethical to play is a separate but still very important question.”
  • British gaming outlet RockPaperShotgun is counter-programming with a series of articles about magic-based games with a “special emphasis on magic games made by trans developers.”
  • A Canadian outlet, TheGamer, is among those that won’t review Hogwarts Legacy. The publication also won’t create online guides for the game, a greater source of revenue, editor-in-chief Stacey Henley tells Axios. “This is not because of any issue with royalties or monetary support for J.K. Rowling, but because we feel the continued popularity of Harry Potter only provides her with a larger platform and further legitimizes her views, which we in turn feel are harmful to trans people.”

Between the lines: Rowling may profit from Hogwarts Legacy, but she didn’t write it. It was developed by Warner Bros.-owned Avalanche Software.

  • The game’s official FAQ notes that J.K. Rowling is not involved in the creation of the game," but critics have said its popularity would still benefit Rowling.
  • One actor for the game has said he is “really sorry to anyone hurt” by his inclusion in the game, joining actors for the Potter movies who have distanced themselves from Rowling and overtly supported trans rights.

What they're saying: The game’s actual creators have largely avoided explicitly addressing the Rowling issue, though there have been hints.

  • News that the game will let players make trans characters by decoupling body and voice selections from gendered terms in the users’ character creation process has been viewed as a subtle repudiation of Rowling.
  • Warner Bros.’ management has steered even more clear. Asked about possible boycotts in August, the company’s head of gaming, David Haddad, told Axios: “We're going to stay very focused on the game that we built and the great job that the Avalanche studio has done.” He added: “We want everybody that loves this world and loves these stories and loves these characters.”

In December, Rowling acknowledged calls for boycotts of Hogwarts Legacy after GameSpot writer Jessie Earl called support of the game “harmful.”

  • Rowling quote-tweeted the claim, calling it “purethink” and snarked that people who disagree with her should burn down libraries.
  • GameSpot has since published an essay by Earl about Rowling’s views and the game. It has not yet published a review of the game.

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