Today (February 10, 2023) marks the release of a game mired in controversy since its announcement in 2020. Hogwarts Legacy is an action RPG set in the Wizarding World, takes place hundreds of years before the events of the Harry Potter books, and for the first time gives players the chance to create and customise their own characters.
Vast numbers of people are gazing back through the lens of nostalgia, seeing their 11-year-old selves and imagining the joy they could have experienced if they had been given free rein of an open-world Hogwarts 10 or 15 years ago.
Unfortunately, we’re stuck in the now, a time when the original fans of Harry Potter aren’t 11 any more – they’re in their 20s or 30s, and are fully aware of how Wizarding World creator J.K. Rowling feels about some of the most marginalised people in the world.
J.K. Rowling’s views and tweets have widely been seen as transphobic for years now. She believes that transgender people are dangerous and deluded, and that sex and gender are immutable. She has called Nicola Sturgeon a “destroyer of women’s rights” for the First Minister’s support of the Gender Recognition Reform Act, and has used her not-inconsiderable wealth to support people suing leading LGBTQIA+ charity Stonewall. A Republican senator has even directly quoted Rowling when voting against an LGBTQIA+ bill.
Many people have chosen to hide behind the shield of Rowling not being directly involved in the game, with developers Avalanche stating that it has liaised closely with “her team”. However, the world has been inextricably shaped by Rowling and her views.
Quite aside from the intense scrutiny of her stance on trans issues, which apart from some distasteful descriptions and an acutely questionable name, is kept out of the Wizarding World content itself, there are anti-Semitic tropes deeply ingrained into the canon and Hogwarts Legacy doubles down on this in a deeply concerning way.
We will probably never know whether J.K. Rowling’s goblins are deliberately anti-Semitic or whether she just unquestioningly went with years of ingrained prejudice. It seems likely to be the latter, as her stance on the Jewish community has never been so explicit as her aggressive stance on the transgender community. What we do know, however, is that it has been pointed out time and time again, and never changed.
Beyond goblins themselves being fantasy caricatures of a Jewish stereotype, Hogwarts Legacy features a goblin uprising as a main plot beat. Goblins who are said to kidnap children, a longstanding anti-Semitic trope known as blood libel. They are also known to use shofar, Jewish horns, which wizards stuff with gorgonzola to silence. Many kinds of cheese are kosher, but gorgonzola is not one of them. People pointing out these issues on Twitter have been accused of nit-picking, but it becomes impossible to give the benefit of the doubt when something happens time and time again.
So, not only is the creator problematic, the game itself manages to be problematic in an entirely different way. Hundreds of games are published every year with no harmful stereotypes, with creators who spend their money on things like paying rent.
It’s easy to argue that your £50 (or lack thereof) won’t make a difference to Rowling, and of course, it won’t – she’s wealthier than almost anyone will ever get to be. However, choosing not to buy or play Hogwarts Legacy will, piece by piece, start to dismantle her cultural capital.
While people still cling to Harry Potter and his world, they ensure that Rowling stays relevant. They ensure that her viewpoints will be spread across the world, and that her 14 million Twitter followers will continue to mean something. She must be allowed to fade into obscurity.
Trans people have been saying for months that an easy action to take as an ally is to simply not play the game, and it has been a disappointing week on Twitter, Twitch, and YouTube. Trans people are seeing that for many, “allyship” might extend as far as retweeting “trans lives matter”, but stop before “I want to play the Wizard game” and that is a bitter pill to swallow.
The fact of the matter is that even if you do not intend it to, making a purchase of any officially licenced Wizarding World products results in money and tacit support making its way back to Rowling. While she’s never outright stated that people buying her stuff makes her feel supported in her views, Rowling has heavily implied as much.
Buying the game puts money in the pockets of hate, and even borrowing it from someone means you’re okay with playing something profoundly hateful in other ways. The trans community has openly said how it is an insidious way of marking yourself as unsafe for them. Trans, Jewish, and other minority people (let’s not forget the other concerning portrayals of people of colour) asked the world to step up, and the choice of whether you play or not is one that they will remember.
University is the time to begin to make the decisions that will define who you are and where you stand. The choices you make now will lay the foundations you’ll be building on for many years to come, and playing Hogwarts Legacy will forever mark you for that choice for many people.
Featured Image Credit: Avalanche Software
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