Hogwarts Legacy and the Ethical Consumption Debate

Harry Potter is one of the most popular book series in the world, and as such, it has spawned many other properties. For example,  the movie adaptations of the books, the amusement park in Universal Studios, and the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are probably the most popular ones. In addition, there have also been several video games. One of the most recent video game spinoffs, Hogwarts Legacy, is shaping up to become one of the most talked about games of the year in more ways than one. On one hand, the game has been earning positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, and the premise of creating your own character that goes to Hogwarts and studies magic has been a dream for many Harry Potter fans. On the other hand, this game has been mired in controversy online from the moment it was announced, prompting discussions on whether buying the game was worth it. The main point of controversy comes from the owner of the Harry Potter IP and the author of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling.

For the past two years, J.K. Rowling has received heavy backlash for beliefs that are considered to be transphobic. It started in 2020, when on Twitter, she defended a woman named Maya Forstater, who was fired from her job for harassing and misgendering her transgender colleagues. She claimed that Forstater was fired from her job for saying that “sex is real,” which implies that anyone who identifies as anything other than cisgender is being delusional. This is clearly transphobic, and this was not lost on many people. She doubled down on it in more tweets, which can be summarized as her saying that recognizing trans women as women somehow takes away from the womanhood of cisgender women. Rowling even published an entire essay on her blog that promoted harmful stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding trans people. Despite her attempts at gaining sympathy, the goal of the essay was overall very clear: to demonize trans women, infantilize trans men, and ultimately dehumanize both. For fans of the Harry Potter series, especially those who identified as trans, nonbinary, or genderqueer, this felt like a betrayal of everything the Harry Potter series stood for. This series of events prompted many LGBTQ+ organizations, such as GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign, to denounce Rowling. Several actors from the Harry Potter movies, such as Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, have also disavowed her statements. This did not affect Rowling, who is also promoting and giving donations to people with similar viewpoints, in addition to saying harmful things. Regardless of Rowling’s controversies, Harry Potter is still a very popular franchise, and the discourse around Hogwarts Legacy has only reinforced that. 

Ever since Rowling revealed herself to be a transphobe, there has been much discussion on whether anything associated with Harry Potter can still be enjoyed knowing that Rowling’s beliefs do not line up with the series’ message of embracing those who are considered to be different. Hogwarts Legacy is no exception to these discussions. Even though Rowling is not involved with the game, she is still receiving royalties from it. Considering that she has been donating her money to transphobic organizations, many people have called for a boycott of the game. The game had other points of concern, such as the usage of goblins in a way that evoked antisemitic stereotypes, and its one transgender character merely being a token as opposed to a character of any real importance. However, the fact that Rowling is profiting off of the game is by far the biggest concern, considering that she is using her money to fund transphobia. This has led to debate online over whether buying the game is ethical or not, as well as what it really means to be an “ally.”

Many people have tried to justify buying Hogwarts Legacy for several reasons. One of those reasons is that Rowling is still ultimately very rich, so even if Hogwarts Legacy flopped, she would be perfectly fine and would probably carry on as though nothing happened. Another reason is that since most of the money goes to Avalanche Software, a boycott would ultimately hurt them more than it would hurt Rowling. Others have said that since the vast majority of buyers don’t know Rowling is transphobic and just want to buy the new Harry Potter game, a boycott would barely be perceptible. People have also used the argument that “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism.” Some people have tried to offset the royalties by also donating to a charity supporting transgender people. However, for many other people, including those from the trans community, none of these points justify buying Hogwarts Legacy.

One of the main arguments for not buying Hogwarts Legacy is probably the most obvious: Rowling still gets paid, and she’s going to use the money to promote harm to a group of human beings, which is very bad. In addition, Avalanche Software has developed other games prior to Hogwarts Legacy, such as Disney Infinity, and will probably continue to do so after. They would probably be fine as well. In addition, many of the voice actors who worked on the game have denounced Rowling and said they would not have signed on to work on Hogwarts Legacy if they had known about her beliefs beforehand. In addition, the quote “There is no ethical consumption under capitalism” is meant to apply to things that are absolutely necessary in order to survive, such as food and clothing, and Hogwarts Legacy is not necessary to anyone’s survival. Saying that quote to justify buying a video game comes off as saying that you care more about your personal entertainment than the well-being of actual people. While it is true that other companies do awful things in the name of money, that doesn’t discount the harm Rowling is doing. Lastly, while the people who are donating have their hearts in the right place, it’s still not as helpful as it could be because the people buying the game are still giving money to J.K. Rowling. Royalties from one purchase might not be much on their own, but when you add the royalties coming from people that are unaware of the controversy, it’s still a lot of money. Rowling has a lot more influence than even the biggest transgender organizations, and giving her royalties will only enable her further. When all these points are taken into consideration, buying the game while knowing what the money is going to be used for feels very irresponsible, especially at a time when trans people are more targeted than ever. Even with all of this baggage, the game still became the eighth most played game on Steam, the most streamed game on Twitch, and topped many sales charts. This is yet another example of a video game boycott that failed for several reasons.

In recent times, whenever people call for a boycott of a video game, it’s usually due to a lack of quality in the game or because the people behind it weren’t treated well. However, this never seems to actually work. One reason is that many of these calls for boycotting never extend beyond online spaces. While the people calling for boycotts are undoubtedly passionate, at the end of the day, they are still a minority of the video game-buying public. Even if critics give bad reviews, the games are still going to sell if name recognition is high enough. For example, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet received many complaints online due to its numerous technical problems, but the games sold ten million copies in three days. Hogwarts Legacy has a massive amount of name recognition, so the games were going to sell regardless. This name recognition also means that anything related to this game is going to get attention, including a lack of attention. To protest against J.K. Rowling, some gaming sites, such as Eurogamer and Kotaku, decided not to review Hogwarts Legacy. The video gaming forum ResetEra also decided to ban any mention of Hogwarts Legacy from the site. However, this tends to create an effect where trying to not talk about something only draws more attention to it. In the case of Hogwarts Legacy, a boycott was never going to work due to the sheer popularity of Harry Potter. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t be mindful of where our money is going.

If you follow discussions about Hogwarts Legacy online, you might find people going on and on about why buying the game isn’t actually that bad, and they might respond very negatively to other people saying that buying the game funds harmful ideology. If you only looked over there, you might get the impression that there’s a massive hate campaign targeting anyone who even thinks about Hogwarts Legacy. That is far from the case. There have been some nasty incidents, such as when boyfriend-girlfriend streamer duo Girlfriend Reviews were harassed by their chat for playing Hogwarts Legacy to the point where the girlfriend broke down crying. Considering they were also raising money for The Trevor Project, it’s safe to say that they were at least trying to enjoy the game and support the trans community at the same time. However, cases like those are vastly outnumbered by the amount of people (many of whom are transgender) who get harassed and shut down for voicing concerns about the game. It does feel very hypocritical to denounce transphobia one day and then gleefully pre-order Hogwarts Legacy the next. Just because someone isn’t actively doing anything to hurt a marginalized group doesn’t translate to them being an ally. The people buying and streaming Hogwarts Legacy might not be actively hurting trans people, but simultaneously saying that they stand with them does not make them allies, especially when they are willing to give money to someone who is actively hurting them. 

It becomes even weirder as to why people act so defensively about Hogwarts Legacy when one considers the typical life cycle of a game. First, the game gets announced. This leads to curiosity. Next, the trailers come out to promote the game, which prompts a massive amount of excitement. Then, the game actually comes out and people spend time constantly talking about it. Whether the game was good or bad, the cycle always ends the same way: People stop playing it, and they move on to the next big thing. Even if the game is an instant classic, the hype will die down. The other thing that stuck out was that while critic reviews were positive, they weren’t exactly glowing. There were many points of criticism, such as the lack of enemy variety and performance issues. For a massive Harry Potter fan playing their first video game, it might feel special, but to everyone else, it seems like it’s going to be just another video game that gets hyped up and then disappears. The fact that some people are trying really hard to defend buying a game proves that it is not “just a game” to them.  Therefore, it seems hypocritical to say that others shouldn’t be concerned because it is “just a game.” There is a very good chance that most people are not going to think much about the game in the next couple of years, including the ones trying to justify their purchase.

By the end of the day, nobody is stopping anyone from buying Hogwarts Legacy. It is true that playing the game does not make one transphobic. However, if you really want to be an ally, someone who actively helps people, you may want to reconsider your purchase. If you really want to play the game, you can buy a used copy. That way, you get to play the game and not a single cent will go to J.K. Rowling. We might not be able to control what businesses do or what people decide to buy, but the least we can do is draw our own lines and call out hate when we see it.

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