Pushing Buttons: ‘We can survive without it’ – the gamers boycotting Hogwarts Legacy
I’ve spent the past week playing and reviewing Hogwarts Legacy, an exercise in wizarding wish-fulfilment that would once have been a no-brainer purchase for anyone who grew up fantasising about walking the hallowed halls of that imaginary castle. But like the rest of the Wizarding World, including the ailing Fantastic Beasts franchise, Hogwarts Legacy has become caught up in the controversy surrounding JK Rowling’s statements about sex and gender. (This is a pretty comprehensive breakdown of what she has publicly said.) As someone who unequivocally supports trans rights, Rowling’s comments have soured and complicated my relationship with Harry Potter – and I am far from alone.
Discussions of the ethics of buying the game have generated thousands of tweets, many loudly calling for a boycott, others wrestling with financially supporting it. (Rowling played no part in its creation; developer Avalanche consulted closely with her team.) The discourse made it on to BBC Radio 4 last week, and has been covered by the Times, the Mail and Sky – another beat in the endless media culture war that trans people have been subjected to. If you’re wondering why Rowling’s comments on this issue have attracted so much attention, consider the climate they’re feeding into. For more on that, especially as it intersects with Hogwarts Legacy, read this breakdown by media critic Jessie Earl, who writes about transgender topics.
As a result of this controversy, some games media outlets decided not to cover Hogwarts Legacy. The moderators of ResetEra, one of the biggest and longest-established games discussion forums, have banned all mention of it. One of the game’s actors, meanwhile – Sebastian Croft, who also plays a character in beloved LGBTQ+ Netflix teen drama, Heartstopper – has followed the example of the stars of the Potter movies and issued a statement distancing himself from Rowling’s comments. “I was cast in this project over three years ago, back when all Harry Potter was to me, was the magical world I grew up with. This was long before I was aware of JK Rowling’s views,” he said, in a series of tweets. “I’m really sorry to anyone hurt by this announcement. There is no LGB without the T.”
Many people out there are likely unaware of what Rowling says on Twitter, and what Twitter says about her. And for some people, her views will have no bearing on whether they buy the game. But for the OG millennial contingent of Harry Potter’s fandom, this is not a fringe issue. The UK charity Stonewall reported last year that 18% of millennials identify as LGBTQ+. A majority of this generation agrees that, in the words of Croft, Emma Watson and other actors associated with the Harry Potter franchise, trans women are women and trans men are men; one-third of millennials have someone transgender in their lives.
When I asked people on social media for their views on the game, all but one mentioned Rowling’s association with it. “As someone with trans family and friends, this is an issue that I care deeply about, and I could never look them in the eye and say that I supported [Rowling] monetarily,” says Pat, a 31-year-old who found Potter’s veiled magical world captivating as a child. “I would implore anyone who claims to support trans people to stay away from this game.”
Tom, who is 29, told me: “I grew up with Harry Potter – it was a large part of my life right into my young adulthood. [But] I made a conscious decision to part ways … From what has been shown so far, the game itself seems almost exactly how I’d have pictured the perfect Potter game [would be]. I won’t be purchasing or playing it, however, as I know that Rowling will receive royalties from it, and I don’t want a single penny of my money to go into her pockets.”
Other Potter fans told me their misgivings won’t stand in the way of enjoying the game – which, as some pointed out, has been made by hundreds of people who have no association with Rowling. “I have been looking forward to it,” says Sarah, 31, who identifies as gender-fluid. “From my perspective, JK is a smart and successful woman who, despite her differing opinions from mine, has a right to use her platform in any way she wants … Even if I did want to save my money and boycott this game, I think condemning others is a bad look. You can support trans people, donate to them, march with them, and still not want to overanalyse a video game.”
Henry, who is 38, says that “while I am concerned and don’t agree at all with JK Rowling’s comments regarding transgender people, I’m still keen to give Hogwarts Legacy a go, largely because the content itself is seemingly not transphobic.” (Rowling has denied accusations of being transphobic.) “I feel if I’m only able to enjoy art/entertainment from a person or groups of people that have never done anything horrible in their lives,” Henry adds, “I won’t be able to enjoy anything at all.”
It’s said that there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, but as 31-year-old Fi puts it, we have a choice about where we spend our money. “I’m a peak Harry Potter millennial: queued to buy the books, obsessed over the movies, bought merch and film memorabilia, went to the studio tour multiple times. I used to get excited about the thought of reading the books to my future kids,” she says. “But that was before. I now have no intention of buying the game … And for anyone who argues that we still buy phones that were probably made unethically and drive cars using petrol, we need to do those things to survive and partake in society. We can survive without buying Hogwarts Legacy.”
Social media has made it difficult to remain blissfully ignorant of the views and values of writers, artists and game developers, and how they might conflict with our own. For my generation, who have been living online since adolescence, what we play, watch or read – especially what we pay to play, watch or read – has become something that others might judge us by. Hogwarts Legacy may not be Rowling’s game, but it is emblematic of how spending money on entertainment often makes us part, willingly or not, of a bigger conversation – and how our relationships with the culture that helped shape us as kids can cause us consternation as adults.
What to play
I have two recommendations for anyone skipping Hogwarts Legacy. First, a game that has been hanging around in my subconscious for more than a decade: Dragon’s Dogma. It’s a super-weird 2012 RPG from Capcom, a western fantasy viewed through a Japanese lens. It has wizards, rolling Scottish-esque countryside and mountains and castles, a bizarre story about dragons and royalty, and an abundant sense of peril when you’re out adventuring. And second, one of Rockstar’s lesser-appreciated games, Bully, which puts you in a (decidedly non-magical) boarding school and makes you fit all your troublemaking in around lessons, friendships and rivalries. I always thought it would make a good template for a Harry Potter game, back in the day.
Available on: PC, and older consoles
Approximate playtime: 50 hours (Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is the most recent, expanded version); 15 hours (Bully)
What to read
The first Grammy for best video game soundtrack was awarded to Stephanie Economou for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök. Pity the poor presenter, Randy Rainbow, who flubbed the name of the game while reading out the winner.
Nintendo’s financial results are out, showing that the Switch is now the third best-selling console of all time, and its most successful ever in terms of software sales. It’s sold 122m units and 994m games! Fifty-three million people have bought Mario Kart alone (that’s almost two copies for every single person in, say, Australia). I wrote about what makes Nintendo, Nintendo for Saturday magazine: a fun-first approach to game design, tireless enthusiasm for experimentation and a talent for making the most of modest technology.
This Saturday Night Live parody of a prestige HBO interpretation of Mario Kart, featuring the stars of The Last of Us, has absolutely sent me. I can’t decide what’s best – Pedro Pascal’s gravelly “It’s-a me” or bisexual Yoshi.
What to click
Hogwarts Legacy review – wizarding wish-fulfilment whose magic wears off
Hi-Fi Rush review – a brawler set to the beat of a drum
Ten great video games about evil corporations
Dead Space review – an intensely horrible sci-fi classic returns
This week’s question comes from reader Ali: “Last year, my kind and generous wife got me a PS5 for my birthday. However, quite a few new games are sequels to one I missed, such as God of War and Assassin’s Creed. Should I play the games that I missed first?”
I remember, years ago, arriving at a screening of a Marvel movie and being told in no uncertain terms that I would not be able to understand it without having watched the seven other Marvel movies that preceded it. But let’s be honest: those movies aren’t that complicated, and the same is true for most game series. Games will always find a way to fill you in on crucial narrative elements – and failing that, there are 20-minute YouTube plot summaries and supercuts of cutscenes that can educate you. Play the previous games if they are verifiably brilliant, like 2018’s God of War, and if you have the time – but don’t worry about jumping straight into sequels after reading a couple of explainers. If you like what you play, you could always really go wild and play the prequels afterwards.
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