Sigh… Okay, on Hogwarts Legacy…

Okay. people are talking about Hogwarts Legacy. Lots of arguing about the game, discussions on whether it’s okay to buy the game even if you don’t support JKR’s bigotry, whether or not “think of the poor developers!” is even a valid counterargument, and whether it’s justified to get angry at people who buy the game.

So once and for all, here’s my take on it:

First of all, one thing out of the way so that nobody misunderstands: NO, I don’t think buying a video game automatically makes you a bad person.

At the same time, I will definitely not buy the game, nor will I encourage anyone else to. Even if I had been a gamer, which I’m not, I wouldn’t have bought the game.

Like I’ve said before, I’m no longer supporting, financially or otherwise, any official Harry Potter products. That means movies, books AND games. JKR’s bigotry has soured the HP canon for me too much… and JKR’s increasingly terrible behaviour makes it even harder to support the franchise. I mean, she’s made it clear that she thinks if her works sell, that means people agree with her. She speaks about the “silent majority,” brags about the royalties she gets, and throws temper tantrums at people who dare suggest that it might be cool not to buy Hogwarts Legacy.

We all remember her petty and childish response to Jessie Earl last December… Jessie said that personally the HP books and movies had brought her a lot of joy and comfort over the years and she understood people not wanting to give up that nostalgia, but that she couldn’t condone giving even more money to JKR, who has been spending so much time and money on being anti-trans. JKR responded with what boiled down to “well then if you’re going to boycott my things, why not burn all books and all libraries and everything that has an owl in it and kill your pet dog!” before going on some irony-laden and incomprehensible rant about the police arresting everyone who wore Hufflepuff socks.

As you can no doubt understand, behaviour like this does not really make me want to pay for anything HP-related ever again. I don’t want to support this woman in any way. Her behaviour is too ugly… and what’s more, seeing her true bigotry exposed has also done a whole lot to highlight all the uglier sides of the HP franchise as well, especially the books. The contempt for those who are different (Muggles, non-humans) never being called out on. The fatphobia. The gender essentialism. The mild sexism. The borderline colonialist attitude towards other people, races and cultures. And of course just how MEAN-SPIRITED the series is. Unusually mean-spirited for a series that’s supposed to be about the battle between good and evil, and how bigotry is bad. The books preach tolerance and acceptance, but don’t practice what they preach. Instead they seem to revel in small cruelties towards people who are “lesser.”

(I actually DID notice those things before. But, being young and stupid, I thought it was meant to be satire. I didn’t think it reflected the author’s opinions.  My only defence is that I watched a lot of Simpsons and South Park at the time.)

However, and I’ve said this before too, I still acknowledge what the HP franchise has meant to people throughout the years, including LGBTQ people like myself. Those positive feelings and influences were real… and they have inspired lots of other great art and stories. Art and stories that quite often lacked or at least downplayed the mean-spirited cruelty of canon. Fan art, fanfics, Hogwarts-inspired RPGs, webcomics, podcasts, puppet shows, AI-written surreal stories that were the basis for hilarious fan animations on YouTube… and of course the surprisingly sharp and witty off-Broadway stage play Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic — a parody of HP told from the Hufflepuffs’ point of view, with careful avoidance of actual trademarked canon names and terms, So many creative, accepting and amazing stories, sprung out of a magical world shaped more by fans (a huge number of them LGBTQ) than by Rowling… hell, even I’ve done my own fan re-interpretations in the form of extremely AU fanfics.

It’s like how the Lovecraftian mythos nowadays has very little to do with Lovecraft himself, but has been expanded on and turned into something quite different from what the original author wrote… and with less racism to boot.

Of course, it’s not QUITE the same, since Lovecraft is no longer with us, and JKR is very much still continuing to collect royalties and spread her transphobia, and the HP fandom isn’t yet THAT removed from JKR, but it’s a start. And I like the creativity and the acceptance. I know, people in the fandom know how very picky I am, but I still like how the stories of someone so bigoted can be turned into something so open and accepting and welcoming. 

Which is why the only HP-related things I support now are LGBTQ-friendly fan works that have no official connection to JKR and that she gets no royalties or support from. While the canon world of HP is lost to JKR’s bigotry and mean-spiritedness, fandom doesn’t have to be.

And this brings us to Hogwarts Legacy. Unfortunately, this is not one of those projects I can condone; for everything that Warner Discovery insists that JKR was not involved in the making of the game, how you can totally make a trans character in the game through character customization… it’s still an official HP game. JKR still collects royalties, she still gets to rub its success into trans people’s faces as an example of how “people agree with her” (yes, I know you don’t have to agree with her to buy the game, but SHE thinks you do!), and like the Jessie Earl situation shows, she definitely cares enough about its success that she’ll throw temper tantrums when people talk about not playing it. Plus… well, if rumours are correct, the plot involves stopping a goblin rebellion, and I know the goblins of the HP franchise have been accused of being anti-Semitic caricatures, and that’s an entirely new can of worms I think would be better off unopened.

Now, especially on social media, a lot of trans people and allies have asked people not to buy this game… with the predictable mixed reactions, all the way from agreeing or not caring overly much (“Eh, the game looks boring anyway.”) to childish spite (“Oh yeah? Well Imma buy THREE copies now IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT THIS GAME BECOMES A HIT LOL LOL LOL!”). And somewhere in between this, we have the gamers who want to play the game but don’t want to appear like they agree with JKR and spend quite some time justifying their purchase with various levels of defensiveness.

Just because memories are short and this text is getting longer than I planned for it to be, I’ll repeat here: The act of buying or playing the game does NOT make you a bad person. It does NOT automatically mean you are a transphobe. And I do NOT condone harassment of people wh0 buy, play or even worked on the game. Keep this in mind as you read on, because the next few paragraphs might come across as judgy, and that’s not my intent with this. 

See, some of the arguments they use sounds more like excuses. “JKR is already rich, so my money won’t make any difference to her,” for example. Or “I’m just supporting the game developers, if the game doesn’t sell they won’t get any money/they’ll lose their jobs.” Or “If you’re going to cancel everything that’s tied to problematic people why are you still on Twitter and using smartphones?”

For the first argument: You’re right, JKR won’t suffer economically if the game fails or does worse than expected. She’s got enough money and power that she could not earn a penny the rest of her life and she’d still be richer than 99% of us. However, judging by her temper tantrums towards someone who said (in a rather polite and understanding way) that maybe not support JKR by buying this game, she is in no way unaffected by how this game does.

For the second argument: The developers have already been paid. They don’t make more or less money depending on game sales. If you’re worried about them losing their jobs… well, then, that would be the danger of every developer of every underperforming game. Since you can’t plausibly buy every single game ever to keep every single developer employed, it might be more productive to instead support some indie games that AREN’T based on a franchise belonging to the world’s most prolific transphobe? Those indie developers probably need the support a lot more, since they don’t have the resources and capital of a huge corporation like Warner Discovery backing them up… plus, the games have a good chance of being notably cheaper than the $60 you’d have to pay for Hogwarts Legacy.  Or even better, support game devs unionizing. that’ll help them even more!

For the third argument: It’s a sad fact that in our capitalist society ethical consumption is impossible. No matter what you buy, or use, chances are someone’s been unfairly exploited in order to bring it to you and some awful person is making a profit. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try. Try to choose producers that aren’t the worst of the worst (for smartphones, Fairphone, LG and Nokia are far better than Apple and Sony), don’t actually pay money for social platforms belonging to sleazy billionaires (don’t pay for Twitter verification). And if you use those platforms to speak against discrimination and unfairness, that’s a bit of a plus too. It’s fairly rare that a franchise is this irrevocably tied to one of the most, if not THE most, prolific transphobes in recent times… and you can’t actually play it without paying $60. Unless you pirate it, but that’s a different discussion altogether.

Like I said, those arguments do come across more as excuses. 

Now, I GET it. Nobody wants to think of themselves as bad people. HP fans and gamers who just want to experience Hogwarts in the 18oos don’t want to be told they’re terrible transphobes for doing so. Especially since many of them are trans allies themselves. But I don’t think using those arguments to justify yourself is very productive. It comes across more as a knee-jerk reaction, a search for validation and being told “don’t worry, you’re one of the good ones.” And I get that too. I’ve had that desire with other minorities; sure I’m LGBTQ, but I’m also white as a lily and I don’t like the idea of some black people telling me I’m a racist. It’s natural to want people to like you… or at least not hate you.

I’m sure there are people who would call me a terrible person for still supporting HP fan-created content and as such “keeping JKR culturally relevant.” And, well, if they think that, and if they tell me to my face what a terrible person I am… well, I’ll listen to their arguments and then decide if they have anything I failed to consider… which they probably won’t because I’ve tried to consider the situation from all angles, but you never know… I’ve listed my reasons above (being an LGBTQ person supporting LGBTQ-friendly creators and honouring the intended spirit of tolerance and acceptance instead of the bigotry of canon), but if those reasons are not enough for some people, then I understand. 

But we all have to act according to our own comfort levels. I’m not comfortable supporting any official HP stuff, but I am comfortable supporting unofficial fan created stuff (especially as a more tolerant and accepting replacement for the canon stuff… it’s why I only draw the Witching World incarnations of characters…). Other people might not be comfortable even with the fan creations. I’ve encounteres deveral fanfic authors who dropped all their HP fanfics because they just couldn’t deal with JKR anymore… including at least one author of a really good “Trans!Harry” story. 

Everything we do sends a message. Sometimes it’s not the message we intended to send. All we can do is try not to send messages that are too harmful… and sadly, openly supporting Hogwarts Legacy will send the message to several people, including JKR, that you support her and her views.  And I do notice that the people who go the most out to inform trans people and allies that they’re going to play the game, tend to be the ones getting the most vitriol. (Especially if they also add “JKR said nothing wrong,” but by then you know they’re probably already transphobes themselves.) Now, the people who do it out of spite, the “MWAHAHA, I’m buying three copies, you loser!” crow, they’re already lost causes. They’ve probably already ragequit reading this post and are planning saying nasty things about me on social media. But if the rest of you are still with me… is it possible to play Hogwarts Legacy and NOT send the message that you support JKR to anyone?

Well… gives me no pleasure to say this, but no, probably not. At this point the game is too steeped in controversy. So at this point it’s more about what can you do to downplay or counteract this message? Well… a couple of ideas do come to mind.

  • Donate to trans charities. Some people have talked about doing livestreams of the game as a fundraiser towards trans charities. which… might come across as a little tone deaf, and has garnered a lot of debate, but it still shows a willingness to try.
  • Speak against JKR and her transphobia on other occasions. Mind you, if you promote Hogwarts Legacy at the same time without mentioning her, that might come across as a little inconsistent…
  • Get the game used, or borrow it from someone, or buy it from some place like Humble Bundle, where a portion of the profits goes to a charity of your choice. Or find some other way to give JKR more money. If you’re willing to wait a while you’ll probably find it in some bargain bin.
  • If you play the game, don’t brag about it. I’m not saying you can’t talk about the game to friends or fellow game enthusiasts, but don’t go online to respond to people who condemn the game with a “I’m playing the game and I’m not transphobic.” It’s not going to look good.

None of these things will keep some people from assuming the worst and accuse you of being a terrible person anyway. I’m afraid you can’t avoid that. Now, to refresh everyone’s memory after all this, I do NOT think you are a bad person if you choose to get this game. (Sorry for repeating myself, but I was starting to feel people starting to get defensive again.)  In the end, what we all have to do is decide for ourselves. Personally, I can’t in good conscience support the game, but you might feel differently. And that’s okay. Just… it’s going to be a controversial subject no matter what.

I’m going to end this with a quote by Jessie Earl, from this article:

You’re not a bad person if you want to play Hogwarts Legacy. Many trans people themselves are planning to buy the game despite their justified anger towards Rowling. Yet, the important thing is not to condemn the game or renounce your love of Harry Potter; it’s to wrestle with the complexity of it and decide for yourself.

[…] So supporting Hogwarts Legacy, a game about fighting magical fantasy bigots, isn’t wrong, but ignoring its legacy within actual bigotry would be.

And, um, that’s all I wanted to say. Now let’s never speak of Hogwarts Legacy on this blog again.

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