The Hogwarts Legacy boycott controversy, explained
Weeks away from its release, the Hogwarts Legacy video game continues to be bogged down by controversy and debates about whether to boycott the game. Between the reputation of the franchise's creator to allegations of thinly-veiled anti-semitism, the forthcoming debut of one of this year's most highly anticipated releases has stirred conflicting emotions for many fans of the wizarding world.
Here's everything you need to know about the controversy:
What is Hogwarts Legacy?
Hogwarts Legacy is an open-world role-playing game (RPG) that allows players to explore the magical world of the Harry Potter franchise. The immersive experience puts fans at the center of their own story in the wizarding world, allowing them to attend classes at Hogwarts, duel with other wizards, and even wield deadly curses if they choose. The game's plot precedes the events of the series and is set in the 1800s, where your "character is a student who holds the key to an ancient secret that threatens to tear the wizarding world apart." Characters are customizable, and players can choose which house to be sorted into — Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin.
The game is a collaboration between developer Avalanche Software and Warner Bros. Games, and it will be released on Feb. 10 for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S after a few delays. The PS4 and Xbox One version drops on Apr. 4, and a Nintendo Switch release is scheduled for Jul. 25. Experts are reporting that pre-orders for the game are setting it up to be one of the best-selling games of 2023.
Why are critics calling for a boycott of the game?
One of the primary reasons many are calling for people to boycott Hogwarts Legacy is the connection between the project and the creator of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling. Over the past few years, Rowling has been embroiled in controversy due to making a series of statements that have been denounced as transphobic, leaving many of her fans questioning their connection to the franchise.
In 2019 she tweeted in support of a researcher who was fired for making anti-trans comments, prompting immediate backlash. The following year, she posted a series of tweets that reignited the accusations of transphobia, including sharing an article referencing "people who menstruate" while commenting, "I'm sure there used to be a word for those people." She also published an essay defending her anti-trans stance that only fueled more outrage from fans and LGBTQ advocates. Several actors from the franchise films started to distance themselves from Rowling and spoke out her comments, including Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe and Eddie Redmayne, who leads the Fantastic Beasts film series. The International Quidditch Association even announced a name change in an effort to separate itself from Rowling's waning reputation.
While Warner Bros. has clarified that Rowling is "not directly involved" in the creation of the game, and a Bloomberg report confirmed that the game would have character options that are trans-inclusive, some critics feel that it's not enough to justify supporting Rowling, who will benefit financially from the game's profits. Jessie Earl, a prominent trans gamer and journalist who uses she/they pronouns, argues that purchasing the game is harmful because it helps keep Rowling relevant. "She's equating that relevancy with people supporting her views, and her views are directly harmful and attacking and doing damage to the trans community," Earl told The Washington Post.
Other critics have spoken out against Hogwarts Legacy's Goblin rebellion storyline, which they say perpetuates what GameRant calls a "racist-coded narrative." The franchise has previously been criticized for its portrayal of goblins, a species that is consistently persecuted in the Wizarding World. Critics have argued that the goblins resemble antisemitic caricatures of Jewish people. Jon Stewart also speculated that the goblins that run the Gringott's bank in the series could be interpreted as Jews. However, he later clarified that he didn't believe Rowling was antisemitic.
How have people responded to the backlash?
While Rowling hasn't directly mentioned Hogwarts Legacy by name, she responded mockingly to Earl's tweet expressing her position that supporting "Hogwarts Legacy is harmful." Rowling responded by asserting that choosing not to support anything "connected with her" because of her polarizing views is worse than burning her books. She equated it to burning down "the local library, anything with an owl on it, and their own pet dog."
The team behind Hogwarts Legacy has avoided directly addressing the controversy swirling around Rowling, though they included an answer about her involvement in the FAQ section of the official website.
"J.K. Rowling is not involved in the creation of the game, but as creator of the wizarding world and one of the world's greatest storytellers, her extraordinary body of writing is the foundation of all projects in the Wizarding World. This is not a new story from J.K. Rowling, however we have collaborated closely with her team on all aspects of the game to ensure it remains in line with the magical experiences fans expect," the company states.
In an interview with IGN, Alan Tew, the game's director, responded to the pushback by saying, "I think for us there are challenges in every game we've worked on. This game has been no different. When we bumped into those challenges, we went back and refocused on the stuff that we really care about. We know our fans fell in love with the Wizarding World, and we believe they fell in love with it for the right reasons," he said. "We know that's a diverse audience. For us, it's making sure that the audience, who always dreamed of having this game, had the opportunity to feel welcomed back. That they have a home here and that it's a good place to tell their story."
Actor Sebastian Croft, who voices one of the available choices for the game's main character, recently apologized to his fans for participating in the project. "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. I believe wholeheartedly that trans women are women and trans men are men," Croft tweeted, "I know far more now than I did three years ago, and hope to learn far more in the next three. I'm really sorry to anyone hurt by this announcement. There is no LGB without the T."
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