Why Is the Harry Potter Game So Controversial?

Why Is the Harry Potter Game So Controversial?

If you aren’t on video game Twitter or follow gamer news, then you may not have heard much about the video game set in the world of Harry Potter called Hogwarts Legacy. For many who grew up reading the books and/or watching the beloved film series starring Daniel Radcliffe as the Boy Who Lived, the announcement of this game was akin to discovering that their childhood dream of attending Hogwarts had come true. But for others, there was too much bad will built up from the background, origins, and development of the game that couldn’t be ignored or forgiven for the sake of playing one video game.

So why are some people boycotting Hogwarts Legacy? Why is a video game in one of the most popular franchises of all time such a contentious topic? We’re hoping to shed a little light on the subject, and we recommend looking at reputable gaming websites if you’re interested in learning more.

The Story and Setting

The game falls into the action role-playing genre, which in this context means you’re playing a particular student attending Hogwarts, the school for magic in the universe. You take on this role and gradually learn more skills to help you progress through the game. The “action” element of this kind of game indicates that you are likely engaging in combat, or other physical challenges for your character, as a means of solving problems.

Early on in the game’s coverage, many gaming publications were reporting on one of these problems: that of a goblin rebellion. Goblins in the Harry Potter universe have a complicated history—their depiction has been criticized as reductive at best and anti-Semitic at worst, being frequently described as suspicious, cruel bankers with exaggerated physical features. The fact that players’ student characters, who are teens or pre-teens, would be (at least partially) responsible for suppressing such an uprising left a bad taste in people’s mouths.

Closer to release, an interview with development team leads revealed that players would be able to cast Unforgivable Curses in the game. These curses are spells that are essentially outlawed in the Wizarding World because of the sheer cruelty involved in their casting: their effects involve physical torture, bodily control of another person, and murder. It seems clear that there are consequences for casting these spells in Hogwarts Legacy, but does being able to cast these spells and be “evil” at all fit in with the “canonical” experience of attending Hogwarts the development team was aiming for?

The Studio

Hogwarts Legacy was developed by Avalanche Software, a company based in Utah, and released by Warner Bros. Games, itself a part of the larger Warner Bros. conglomerate. This title is the studio’s first expansive open-world game, suggesting a sandbox that players can freely explore and play around in. Previous games that this team has developed include action-adventure games like Rampage and the Tak series, as well as tie-ins for Disney properties like Bolt, the Cars franchise, and Disney Infinity.

There was some controversy in the studio when, in March of 2021, lead designer Troy Leavitt resigned following criticism of past videos he had uploaded to YouTube. In the videos, Leavitt defended individuals accused of sexual harassment, as well as misogyny in the video game industry.

This in-studio drama heightened the existing controversy surrounding the game that centered on a certain elephant in the room—the elephant who was responsible for the entire universe to begin with.

The Elephant in the Room

While she has not been without her controversies in the past (see the note on goblins above and everything about the character Cho Chang), Harry Potter author and Wizarding World creator J.K. Rowling drew increased ire online in 2020 for comments she made regarding the transgender community. Such comments coming from such a wealthy and established celebrity very much in the public eye has the potential to influence people and corporations around the world. The sticking point for Rowling is her refusal to accept that trans women are women, a stance which has lost her many fans, including some of franchise’s biggest stars. Critics of this viewpoint have dubbed followers of it “trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” or “TERFs,” people seeking to keep trans women out of what they view as women’s spaces.

The people behind Hogwarts Legacy have asserted that Rowling had little to do in the development of the game, but it can be difficult to extricate her from her intellectual property, an IP that continues to bring her money, power, and attention. Rowling has kept a tight grip on that bespectacled wizard boy, and she has done a good job of making sure that her legacy is entwined with his.

What Should You Do About Any of This?

Whatever you choose to do about Hogwarts Legacy (buy it for yourself, watch a stream, boycott it, ignore it entirely), it seems necessary to do it mindfully. If you want to play a different game like this, or if you just don’t want to engage with the controversy at all, there are and will be other video games where you have fantastical powers (like Genshin Impact) or attend a magical school (like Ikenfell). Those games may not have the words “Hogwarts” or “Potter” on them, but how important is that anyway?

If you would like to support the rights of transgender people, some organizations you can donate to around the world include the National Center for Transgender Equality in the US, Mermaids in the UK, Egale in Canada, and the TGEU group in Europe.

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