No, Buying Hogwarts Legacy Doesn’t (Necessarily) Make You a Bigot


Art/Photo by Philip Lam

With over 12 million copies sold, Hogwarts Legacy is one of the top selling video games on the P.C. distributing platform Steam. With the open-world fantasy costing $59.99, there has been renewed debate as to how much of the sales goes toward J. K. Rowling. Emerging as a prominent social reactionary within recent years, Rowling has faced sweeping condemnation for her views widely deemed as transphobic. The release begs two questions: how might Rowling’s presence have impacted the game, and what might this say about its consumers?

   Ever since its Feb. 10 release, the open-world fantasy video game Hogwarts Legacy has sold over 12 million copies and generated over $850 million in global revenue amid controversies surrounding J. K. Rowling, creator of the beloved Harry Potter franchise. Rowling has been scrutinized in recent years for increasingly inflammatory comments that many deem transphobic.

    The controversies surrounding Rowling’s politics have seemingly been revived by the release of Hogwarts Legacy, placing into the crossfire years-, even decades-long Harry Potter fans who face the dilemma of enjoying the world they’ve come to love with inadvertently harming the LGBTQ community. Despite calls for a massive boycott, sales within the past few weeks have shattered company records at publishing firm Warner Bros., with the New York Times hailing it as being “in the same league as blockbuster franchises like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto” based on initial sales numbers. The game is already a top seller on Steam, PlayStation, and Xbox. So one has to wonder, did the increased attention due to the Rowling controversies produce the opposite effect by skyrocketing sales? More importantly, does purchasing the game say anything about your views with respect to Rowling?

   I would argue for the former, but against the latter.

   For avid Harry Potter fans like Martin Grahmann (11), who grew up reading the Harry Potter series and watching the films since elementary school, he shared that “it’s always been a dream to be able to go to Hogwarts” in an interactive digital world. Certain to conjure a nasty bout of cognitive dissonance, this posed for him the inevitable moral conundrum: purchasing a game that would fund Rowling’s platform. Despite Warner Bros. insisting the author had no direct role in development, Harry Potter and the Wizarding World associated with it is the intellectual property of Rowling. So while there are no overt anti-trans tropes depicted in the game, Rowling still receives royalties, ostensibly helping to amplify her transphobic rhetoric. It makes arguments against purchasing the game seem more compelling, like GamesHub’s insinuation that buying Hogwarts Legacy does in fact make you complicit in spreading transphobia: “one tree might not make a forest, but it sure is more than none.” Or, more pointedly, from the Los Angeles Times, “you don’t get to fund transphobia and then still claim to be an ally.”

   These statements can’t be further from the truth.

   It’s not because these statements are erroneous, but because they are incomplete. They are dichotomic oversimplifications portraying those who support the game as a diabolical force impeding transgender rights and those who oppose the game as divine. As The Gamer put it bluntly: “If you can’t help, just play with your toys quietly and stay out of our way.” It conveniently assumes that every single transaction goes directly to Rowling, thus augmenting her platform of hate instead of dismantling it. It willfully ignores nuances like the fact that there are transgender individuals who’ve expressed no qualms about playing the game itself. 

   Instead, Grahmann invites us to inspect closer: “there still are plenty of shops like GameStop or online third-party key sites . . . where none of the money that [he] used to buy the game went to Rowling.” Indeed, gamers can enjoy this medium of entertainment while making conscientious decisions as to where and for whom their money goes. It’s reckless to argue that buying this game means tacit acceptance of Rowling’s views, just like “you can’t call someone transphobic for buying the game if they had no idea even about [the controversies],” Grahmann concurred. By choosing to purchase through a third-party provider, he “wasn’t hurting [nor] helping the movement,” but was merely making an informed decision as a consumer.

   Jackson Mancilla (11), who has also played the game first-hand, recognized that “buying the game and supporting [Rowling] is always a concern of many people,” which is why, like Grahmann, Mancilla purchased through a third-party service. Mancilla conveyed that “you can enjoy what other people make, the game developers,” without directly supporting Rowling, without funding transphobia.

   The very criticism of Hogwarts Legacy, I would contend, is so riddled with inconsistencies, that the argument is untenable. Grahmann summed up my thoughts exactly: “[If] we’re boycotting this game, why aren’t we boycotting the books, why don’t we boycott Universal Studios for Harry Potter?” Let’s not forget about the movies, cartoons, and LEGO sets. I’m inclined to agree with Grahmann’s observation that “moral buying in capitalism . . . so quickly evolves into such a complex issue.”

   Claiming as GamesHub did, that “the money you spend has an impact”, that your actions have consequences, that if you buy Hogwarts Legacy, “you provide support that harms the transgender community,” those are all unequivocally true — there’s no denying it. The problem with this statement is that it is a ubiquitous one. How can a consumer muster the confidence to purchase a product if they fear they will bring harm to someone, whether it be in fashion, video games, food, technology, or the screen you’re looking at? Do we just resort to gratuitous censorship? Are we forbidden to buy the things we want? These questions on consumer morality open up a can of worms on the topic of globalist capitalism that has no easy answer nor attachment to any one movement.

   For instance, if I were perusing a clothing store, need I check every clothing tag I’m interested in to ascertain where it was manufactured, whether child labor was employed, whether salaries were equitable, and whether working conditions were humane? Need I consult Google to verify the code of ethics for a particular clothing line? That they’re Fair Trade Certified? Diligent individuals like Mancilla and Grahmann might do that, which I have no problem with. But let’s stop pretending that we’re all spotless, socially omniscient individuals that slander others’ natural shortsightedness when we manifest similar, if not identical behaviors.

   I am in no way discounting the salience of transgender rights, but perhaps instead of scrutinizing Hogwarts Legacy, we should promote other games created by LGBTQ developers through advertising. Grahmann wagered that just “10 percent” of people thoroughly researched the controversies before purchasing the game. This would lend credence to the astronomical sales recorded by Warner Bros.: people simply prize their own nostalgia and entertainment needs over a less tangible, distant movement. Let’s bring the movement to them, not shut down what they love.

   Should they be judged? Mancilla and Grahmann think not. Indeed, Grahmann suggested that we ought to consider why certain people hold particular views before criticizing them. Some people might have been Harry Potter fans since the age of six while others “bought the game specifically because it was deemed as transphobic,” Grahmann pointed out. To be sure, transphobes who bought the game hoping to encounter anti-trans tropes are obviously bigots. But treating the consumers as a monolith — alienating the ambivalent — does nothing to ameliorate the wounds Rowling has inflicted.

   Some say that art ought to be separated from the artist. After all, it wasn’t Rowling herself that made the Harry Potter franchise the behemoth of success it is today; it was the millions of fans that built a culture off of her novels. Seen in this light, it seems logical to extricate the beloved franchise from its unsavory author, as not doing so would deal a great disservice to fans, not to mention the developers and crew at Avalanche Software. And yet, the Harry Potter intellectual property is so inextricably tied to Rowling, that trying to rightfully censure her would surely have a ripple effect on Hogwarts Legacy. It seems many gamers just aren’t willing to make that sacrifice.

   In short, only you can decide whether to purchase Hogwarts Legacy, which will require (if you so choose) a careful cost-benefit analysis: the trade-off between personal enjoyment or potentially empowering Rowling’s exclusionary rhetoric. But even so, I think Grahmann’s advice merits consideration: “It’s a lot more than buying the game, it’s how you bought the game, it’s what you thought as you bought [it].” No one should judge an informed decision. No person or group, no matter how outstanding their intentions are, should impose a single opinion on the grounds that dissenters are bigots. Ignorance is not bigotry, nor is ambivalence or nostalgia. No one will judge you for buying the game directly. No one will judge you for buying the game through a third party. No one will judge you for boycotting the game.

   Just know that a good chunk of the $850 million is coming from the wallets of people who could look the other way.