Three clear reasons to boycott the upcoming Hogwarts Legacy video game
As well as its link to JK Rowling, the game is accused of antisemitism and was developed by a Gamergate defender
Most people considering buying Hogwarts Legacy probably know deep down that they shouldn’t.
The upcoming action role playing video game has already garnered significant criticism, and it isn’t due out until December. It is set in the Wizarding World universe, which is based on the Harry Potter series and Fantastic Beasts films – both of which are the intellectual property (IP) of our mediocre national hero, JK Rowling. It has also been accused of antisemitism. And its lead developer has defended sexual harassment.
Some of its would-be players will blame ‘cancel culture’ or ‘purity politics’ for the guilt they’re grappling with. Some will cry: “Let people enjoy things.” But maybe they should let people hate things which make a mockery of them.
Hogwarts Legacy is being developed by Avalanche Software and is published by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment. Now that Rowling has taken the place of Katie Hopkins as the country’s most public reactionary, it’s curious that Warner Bros would make the decision to use her IP as the basis for anything (a move that is likely to make her considerable profit).
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Warner Bros is clearly aware of Rowling’s record: it even felt the need to specify in an FAQ that “JK Rowling is not directly involved in the game”.
This is hardly reassuring. The same may be said of the vague statement made by Warner Bros about “inclusive culture” and the “responsibility to foster empathy and advocate understanding of all communities and all people”.
Warner Bros did not specify which events it was referring to and made no mention of Rowling by name. But its statement came after a highly publicised string of tweets (which I do not recommend reading if you’re affected by transmisogyny) by Rowling in 2020 that were widely condemned as being transphobic (an allegation which she denied) and recycled heavily debunked TERF rhetoric.
The media giant made no actual commitments towards any particular marginalised community. Nor did it say it would take any measures to avoid repeating Rowling’s own mistakes in the representation of marginalised people.
Warner Bros’ decision to press ahead with the game is even more curious given the behaviour of Hogwarts Legacy’s (now retired) senior producer Troy Leavitt in his videos on YouTube.
Leavitt describes the #MeToo movement as a “moral panic” and defends Pixar boss John Lasseter, who has been accused of sexual harassment. His videos also defend Gamergate – a reactionary movement encouraging sexual harassment and harassment of marginalised groups.
Leavitt has claimed that Warner Bros is aware of his channel and his views, and that his eventual departure from the company was unrelated to any pressure from the business.
Warner Bros has not publicly responded to this. Why not? What happened to the “responsibility to foster empathy and advocate understanding of all communities and all people”? Emphasis on the ‘bros’ in Warner Bros, I guess. (openDemocracy has asked Warner Bros whether any disciplinary action was taken against Leavitt, or whether Leavitt’s claims about the company are true, but has yet to receive a response.)
In response to the revelations about Leavitt, video game forum ResetEra decided to ban all discussions of the game. The move was a first for the site, whose admins said in a statement that: “This is a uniquely awful situation where both the creator of the IP and a senior producer on the game have unrepentant bigoted views.”
This is before we examine the content of the game – which, based on the previews we’ve had, looks horrendous.
Hogwarts Legacy, set in the same Wizarding World universe as the Harry Potter series, takes its antisemitic tropes to another level. The villains are hooked-nosed, beady-eyed goblin bankers, a well-known antisemitic depiction of Jewish people that dates back to medieval Europe and was capitalised on by the Nazis.
As Stacey Hanley puts it, caricatures of Jewish people “typically depict them as money-grubbing, secretive, manipulative, and the true keepers of power in the world”. In the Wizarding World universe, goblins are coin minters and metalsmiths, playing on this centuries-old trope of the “money-grubbing” Jew.
One of the lead villains in Hogwarts Legacy is a goblin named Ranrok. According to writer Mick Abrahamson, “his only spoken line is about kidnapping the main playable character, a 15-year-old child who learned late that they have magical powers… One of the most horrific antisemitic tropes used to villainize Jews is Blood Libel, or the accusation that Jews kidnapped and murdered non-Jews.” Gross.
Aside from the use of antisemitic tropes in her Wizarding World universe, JK Rowling has repeatedly and publicly made demeaning comments about trans women and opposed trans equality, including publicly opposing reform to the Gender Recognition Act to decrease the time it takes for trans* people to receive a gender recognition certificate. She has even written an alarmingly transmisogynistic novel (Troubled Blood) in which a cis man dresses as a woman in order to murder (cis) women.
The trope of trans women as femicidal men, dressing as women to murder (cis) women, is dangerous. It has been used to deny trans women access to resources and services and it increases policing, invasiveness and violence towards trans women. So much for Rowling’s claims to believing in trans rights and care about our safety. These are not just upsetting comments – they have real-world implications. They were even used by an anti-LGBT politician to block consideration in the US Senate of the Equality Act, a civil rights bill to protect people from discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”. Rowling is obsessed with trans women.
You’re looking for validation for what you already know to be a bad decision and you're uncomfortable with the guilt
So why would anyone want to purchase any new pieces of media using the Harry Potter IP?
Some have (bafflingly) continued to defend Rowling, the publisher and the game itself. Even in left-wing circles where Rowling’s views are well known, some say they will play Hogwarts Legacy all the same, arguing that they can avoid supporting Rowling financially by pirating the game.
This does not escape the charge of enjoying what critics view as a game with a clearly antisemitic premise, plot and characters, set in a universe that has already used caricatures of Jewish people and was created by an author who has repeatedly been accused of transphobia.
If you feel the need to announce in public forums that you’ll pirate (or even buy) the game, you’re looking for validation for what you already know to be a bad decision and you're uncomfortable with the guilt. It’s an unprovoked confession. I didn’t need to know and you didn’t have to tell me.
You’re also saying, in effect, that the readily available comments on the issue by the people actually affected by it don’t matter to you, and that your enjoyment of a poor piece of media with horrendous content and creators is more important than whether you’re being entertained by vile stereotypes or whose pockets you're filling.
If this isn’t reason enough for someone to pass on Hogwarts Legacy, then it’s clear to me they cannot be reasoned with and simply don’t want to be told that they shouldn’t play something. And if that’s your only real reason for playing it – spite and an oppression complex whenever someone asks you not to do something – then we both know you’re not going to enjoy playing it anyway.
If you’re agonising over whether to buy or play something unoriginal and reactionary, I have your answer: play a different game.
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