Yesterday, Sony had a State of Play dedicated to a third party game, which is pretty unusual, but it quickly became clear it was a special occasion. The game was Hogwarts Legacy, a new title from the developers of Disney Infinity, which made me somewhat skeptical they could handle a project of this scale, but the result was a deeply impressive presentation that made Legacy effectively look like everyone’s Harry Potter dream game.
Hogwarts Legacy looks like a totally immersive Harry Potter experience with a range of everything from taking classes to fighting wizards and goblins in combat with spell combos. The visuals look stellar, the action looks intense and enjoyable. I came away deeply impressed by something that was not really even on my radar before this.
Enter the JK Rowling problem.
Talking about the game on Twitter, even briefly, sparks a debate between two sides. One is that this game, and really anything related to the Harry Potter universe should not be supported or given coverage due to Harry Potter creator JK Rowling’s firmly anti-trans positions that she’s expressed in the years since the books were released. The other side says that Rowling has nothing to do with the development of this game, and that you can separate the creator from their universe to still enjoy it. There may be a third side who supports Rowling and her positions, but I’m not even going to entertain those views at all.
All of this leads me to be very personally torn on what to do about something like Hogwarts Legacy. The game goes out of its way to say very clearly that JK Rowling has not written the story for this game, but she has effectively given the game her “blessing” and obviously the entire world was created by her in the first place. What’s happened now with both the game and things like the new Harry Potter movies is that you have a very nervous Warner Bros. and thousands upon thousands of people working on Harry Potter projects that do not support Rowling’s views trying to make enjoyable, profitable offerings for fans.
If you’re my age, you probably grew up with Harry Potter as a cornerstone of your youth. I was the exact same age as Harry and his friends when the books were released and grew through my teens along with him. I did not really recognize the problematic aspects of the series until much later on (goblins! Cho Chang! Dumbledore sexuality ret-conning!), but it’s hard to split that from the initial joy I felt reading them growing up.
I can understand the argument about playing the game without feeling like you’re supporting Rowling and her views. All across Hollywood and the gaming industry there are all manner of people who have made things I love that have personal, terrible views or character flaws. Like, is it still okay to love one of my favorite space westerns, Firefly, now that I know how terribly creator Joss Whedon has treated women, or how actor Adam Baldwin has gone off the right-wing deep end?
LONDON – NOVEMBER 4: (L to R) Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), author J.K. Rowling, Daniel Radcliffe … [+] (Harry Potter) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) attend the world film premiere of “Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone” at the Odeon Leicester Square cinema in London on November 4, 2001. The film is titled “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone” for it’s U.S. release. (Photo by Gareth Davies/Getty Images)
But I also understand how the JK Rowling situation is different, and divorced from say, someone like HP Lovecraft and his extremely awful views on race, as he died in 1937. JK Rowling is very much around today, and constantly making headlines with fresh anti-trans rhetoric daily, a truly bizarre obsession of hers that has made her one of the lead figures in the anti-trans movement. And this is not a settled issue in our society, in that in America we have Texas attempting to enforce egregious anti-trans laws against children and their parents, and the trans community remains one of the most at-risk groups around the world, namely because of how we’ve treated them. JK Rowling is doing active harm to them daily.
JK Rowling is also not divorced from Harry Potter as an entity. Not as much as Warner Bros. would want you to believe. No, she may not be writing Fantastic Beast scripts or working on Hogwarts Legacy, but this is not a George Lucas situation where she’s sold the rights to Harry Potter to WB (as much as they might love that). It stands to reason that yes, any time any Harry Potter property makes money, that filters back directly to JK Rowling herself.
Yes, I know we support a lot of different products that end up giving money to bad people or bad corporations that do bad things with it, but this one feels more tangible. We can just go on Twitter every day and see Rowling’s latest anti-trans statements in real time, which is why I know so many people have an issue with this.
I do not know the answer here. I have deep childhood connections to Harry Potter and I know that thousands of perfectly unproblematic people worked hard to make a fun, charming game based on that world. But JK Rowling’s presence looms too large and she remains too connected to the franchise, so I understand the desire for boycotts based on that alone.
It’s hard, and a wholly unique situation in many ways. I welcome feedback and opinions on how you feel about the game itself, and how it should be covered.
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Pick up my sci-fi novels the Herokiller series and The Earthborn Trilogy.