Hogwarts Legacy, the new video game based on author J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels, debuted this week to high sales and controversy.
Why it matters: The game, which allows players to create their own wizard and attend magic school, has become a flashpoint for reviewers and fans debating what to do about Rowling’s work.
Since 2018, when she “liked” a tweet that said trans women are “men in dresses,” the Potter author has been accused of transphobia, which she denies (per Politico, she said it was for research purposes). Among her numerous comments on gender since then, she has mocked the notion that “people who menstruate” could refer to anyone other than women.
Despite boycott calls, Hogwarts Legacy has managed to top key PC and console bestseller lists weeks before its release, indicating strong pre-order demand.
Driving the news: Unlike traditional pre-release coverage, many outlets are including caveats in their Hogwarts Legacy reviews, while others are avoiding the game entirely. (Access to the game is currently controlled by Warner Bros., who, like any other publisher, selects which outlets receive review copies.)
IGN, North America’s most popular video game media site, ran a rave, but included a sidebar labelled “concerning J.K. Rowling” that states, inconclusively, “As critics, our job is to answer the question of whether or not we find Hogwarts Legacy to be fun to play and why; whether it’s ethical to play is a separate but still very important question.”
RockPaperShotgun, a British gaming publication, is counter-programming with a series of articles about magic-based games, with a “special emphasis on magic games made by trans developers.”
TheGamer, a Canadian publication, is among those refusing to review Hogwarts Legacy. According to editor-in-chief Stacey Henley, the publication will also not create online guides for the game, which would be a larger source of revenue.
“This is not because we have a problem with royalties or monetary support for J.K. Rowling, but because we believe that the continued popularity of Harry Potter only gives her a larger platform and further legitimises her views, which we believe are harmful to trans people.”
J.K. Rowling may profit from the Hogwarts Legacy, but she did not write it. Avalanche Software, which is owned by Warner Bros., created it.
Although the game’s official FAQ states that “J.K. Rowling was not involved in the creation of the game,” critics have claimed that its success would still benefit Rowling.
One game actor has stated that he is “really sorry to anyone who has been hurt” by his inclusion in the game, joining actors from the Harry Potter films who have distanced themselves from Rowling and openly supported trans rights.
Meanwhile, some fans have sworn off purchasing the game due to “the pain and difficulty in being a Harry Potter fan of late,” as described by the Washington Post.
What they’re saying: The game’s creators have mostly avoided directly addressing the Rowling controversy, though there have been hints.
The news that the game will allow players to create trans characters by decoupling body and voice selections from gendered terms during the character creation process has been interpreted as a subtle dig at Rowling.
The game lets you dive into an unseen era of the wizarding world, and it’s a joy to explore
Warner Bros. management has become even more circumspect. In August, when asked about potential boycotts, the company’s head of gaming, David Haddad, told Axios, “We’re going to stay very focused on the game that we built and the great job that the Avalanche studio has done.” “We want everyone who loves this world, loves these stories, and loves these characters,” he added.
Rowling acknowledged boycott calls for Hogwarts Legacy in December, after GameSpot writer Jessie Earl called support for the game “harmful.”
Rowling quoted the claim on Twitter, calling it “purethink,” and snarked that those who disagreed with her should burn down libraries.
Earl has since written an essay about Rowling and the game for GameSpot. It has not yet published a game review.
Playing Hogwarts Legacy reminds us that few fictional worlds are more enthralling than Harry Potter’s. My mother gave me a copy of Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States) in 1998, and the first chapter drew me right into its magical world. I was addicted for life.
So I reasoned. My emotional connection faded after the main book series concluded and no more film adaptations were planned. The overstuffed spinoffs, combined with author J.K. Rowling’s inflammatory comments about transgender people, sapped the franchise’s remaining fun, and I decided it was time to move on.