Why I’m reviewing 'Hogwarts Legacy'
It’s our world, not hers.
Five days ago, a review code for Hogwarts Legacy landed in my inbox. I’ve been thinking about this moment for more than a year, ever since the backlash against the game started gaining traction online. The author of the Harry Potter novels is transphobic and she’s targeted transgender women in particular. For this reason, some people in the LGBT+ community, and allies beyond, have decided to boycott Hogwarts Legacy and admonish anyone who chooses to play or stream it themselves, sparking explosive arguments across social media, Twitch and YouTube. Those in favor of the boycott argue that playing the game benefits the author financially and indicates support for her beliefs. On the flipside, potential players point out that the author wasn’t involved in the creation of Hogwarts Legacy and her status as the world’s richest author won’t change regardless of the game’s success. Also, they really want to play it.
I fall into the second category. I’m currently about 15 hours into Hogwarts Legacy and I’m just barely scratching the surface; I’m having an incredible time. This feels like the RPG that Harry Potter fans have been waiting for, rich and alive and absolutely packed with magic.
It’s slightly frightening to write that down, knowing the condemnation I could receive. It’s an extra-light version of the dread I felt while publishing literally anything during Gamergate, but this time it’s more personal: The hate would be coming from people I actually care about.
I’ve been a video game journalist for the past 13 years, I’m a bisexual woman and I have a big ol’ Harry Potter tattoo next to an anti-TERF tattoo. I feel uniquely positioned to care about this particular topic, and to that end, I have a quick story to tell. It involves literary internet culture in the early 2000s, and I hope it illuminates factors that entwine the Wizarding World with the LGBT+ community, while demonstrating the vast divide that’s existed for decades between the fantasy and its creator.
As a pre-teen and throughout high school, I found solace in Harry Potter fanfiction, a bustling online ecosystem powered by Livejournal, FF.net, AO3 and other community-run sites. I cannot overstate how popular Harry Potter fanfiction was and still is, nor how queer it’s always been. Most stories in Harry Potter fanfiction center on LGBT+ characters, and for good reason – in the early aughts, media for and by gay people was ridiculously hard to come by, and then when you did find something, it was often campy, trashy, or both. It was a pre-streaming, pre-YouTube, pre-TikTok way of life. So we wrote our own stories as fanfiction. Long before the release of the final Harry Potter book, we infused the halls of Hogwarts with magically amplified, non-heterosexual and non-cisgender characters, and we wrote millions of words about them living full, fantastic lives. We made Dumbledore gay long before the canon did.
In those early days, an important part of the Harry Potter fanfiction process was critiquing the world and recognizing the limits of the author’s imagination. With each new book release, the forums would light up with praise and criticism, and our own stories would continue to evolve outside of the pages of the novels. These fics are more real to me than the source material; when I traverse the hallways of the Slytherin dungeons in Hogwarts Legacy, my mind accesses memories from my favorite fanfics – not the books – and I’m infused with warmth. The halls of Hogwarts are my safe space, still.
I recognize my circumstances are incredibly specific, but I also know mine isn’t a unique experience. Fantasy worlds offer an escape for queer and non-queer people alike, and coming-of-age fiction can be powerful, formulative stuff. This particular fantasy universe was a place of belonging for me, and I think its latest iteration, Hogwarts Legacy, could offer a similar slice of peace to young players today.
I understand the anger and protective energy from people who don’t want to play the game. It’s a terrifying time to be transgender: Ultra-conservative lawmakers are writing discrimination and blind hate into law, while neo-nazi rhetoric has found new life on mainstream social media platforms. Deadly violence against trans people, particularly Black transgender women, remains a pervasive epidemic in the United States. Among these real-world threats, we’re clashing over the virtues of playing or not playing Hogwarts Legacy. It’s been depressing to observe as this conversation sows division and sucks attention away from our shared goals, limiting our ability to celebrate new successes.
Harry Potter will outlive its author. She is not the future of the franchise. Avalanche, Portkey Games and Warner Bros. have been well aware of the pervasive disgust for the author’s ideology for years, and I believe it encouraged them to include more representation in the game than the series has ever seen. Hogwarts Legacy allows for various expressions of gender identity in the character creator and casually drops “they” pronouns in conversation; all around, the cast is diverse and Avalanche writes BIPOC characters better than the original author did. There’s still room for improvement, and that’s why the conversation needs to be ongoing: Positive progress is our shared goal.
As someone who searched desperately for an example of my own identity in the pages of Harry Potter novels, I deeply appreciate the evolution and inclusion in Hogwarts Legacy. This level of representation didn’t exist in AAA games 15 years ago, and it’s the result of all the progress made, through protest and education, since the books were published. Long before the in-fighting over a choice to play a video game.
If you don’t want to engage with Hogwarts Legacy, please, boycott the game – just don’t boycott the players. It’s us against the transphobic people in the world, not us against each other. Some of us will choose to play, some of us won’t. Even more will wonder why anyone even cares about this fictional kid and his heteronormative, whitewashed, multibillion-dollar franchise. These are all valid options. Playing Hogwarts Legacy doesn’t automatically make you transphobic. Boycotting it doesn’t automatically make you an ally – supporting our community members does.
We’ll have a full review of Hogwarts Legacy later in the week, once I’ve had enough time with this enormous game to fully form an opinion on it. Even if I catch hell for this perspective, I’ll be here, supporting local inclusion efforts, protesting discrimination, calling my lawmakers, loving my community and playing the gayest version of Hogwarts Legacy possible.