Last September it was announced that we would soon be getting a new Harry Potter game, the likes of which fans have been begging for ever since the books and the movies ended over 10 years ago.
An open world RPG, Hogwarts Legacy will have players create their own character, traverse through familiar and new locations and discover fantastic beasts – all while you craft potions, master spells and upgrade your talents.
A game like this, which is not simply a retelling of Harry’s story but something new and original and on such a large scale, is something that would usually have the Potterverse and gamers alike exploding with excitement.
However, this announcement comes at a time when the author of this franchise has lost much of her golden sheen, with controversy following her throughout most of 2019-2020. J.K. Rowling is an active Twitter user and over the years has used the platform to add details to expand her universe.
Lately however, she has become entrenched in a war over her comments about transgender people. Labelled as a TERF by many (TERF meaning ‘Trans-exclusionary radical feminist’) many LGBTQA activists and charities have spoken out against her comments.
J.K. Rowling has become increasingly polarizing due to her comments online (Source: Daniel Ogren via Flickr)Rowling has made several remarks where she claims to not be transphobic but ‘gender-critical’. Her comments seem based around an irrational fear of men claiming to be trans to invade women only spaces. “When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman … then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside.” As Mermaids (an LGBT charity aimed at supporting transgender, nonbinary and gender diverse families) points out, this is not founded on any true scientific backing.
Her remarks have certainly divided her fanbase, as we now wonder whether it is possible to reconcile one of the world’s largest and most beloved franchises against an author who continues to spread ideas which many scientists and activists have deemed false, harmful and transphobic.
Hogwarts Legacy (now set to be released in 2022) will not be the first Harry Potter game to exist. In fact, Harry Potter games can trace themselves as far back as 2001 for the PlayStation 1 and Gamecube etc.
The most recent addition to this catalogue is Jam City’s free side scroller adventure game, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, which was released 3 years ago on mobile devices.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Legacy is a free mobile game developed by Jam City (Source: Taken by me)What separates Hogwarts Legacy is that it will be the first game to truly test whether gamers feel comfortable sweeping her comments under the rug. Rowling is tied to this franchise is a way few authors are to their properties, to support Hogwarts Legacy is to manage the baggage she brings to the table.
Warner Bros. Interactive have tried to subdue some of the backlash. On the game’s FAQ page there is a response to a question on Rowling’s involvement with the game. The response reads: “J.K. Rowling is not directly involved in the creation of the game, however, her extraordinary body of writing is the foundation of all projects in the Wizarding World. This is not a new story from J.K. Rowling.”
What the statement does not mention is that the author is likely to receive royalties from the project – as she does with anything set in the Wizarding Universe.
This is perhaps the largest obstacle to overcome. A similar response was leaked in October of 2020 from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment President, David Haddad. Responding to employee concerns over Rowling’s comments he stated, “She’s entitled to express her opinions on social media. I may not agree with her, and I might not agree with her on a range of topics, but I can agree that she has the right to hold her opinions.”
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play which Rowling co-wrote and earns royalties from (Source: Martin Pettitt via Flickr)Some may be able to separate art from artist, as Hogwarts Legacy is set in the 19th century, many years before the events of the Harry Potter novels take place. It will presumably contain almost entirely new characters and story lines.
It is also easy to feel sympathy for the developers who have been working on this game for years – beginning development before Rowling’s controversies. It seems unfair to those developers to have their game fail because of Rowling’s comments – comments which they cannot control and many disagree with.
No matter how much Warner Bros. and Avalanche Software try, they cannot escape the fact that Rowling’s words have been severely hurtful to an already vulnerable group of society, and she continues to use her platforms to spread her opinions. So long as she continues as she has, they will remain in constant damage control mode to manage the backlash whilst trying to separate themselves from the woman whose universe they are building in.
Knowing she will financially benefit, even if the game has no “direct involvement” with the author, will be a bridge that many will not cross.
Harry Potter signs can often be found at Pride rallies – for the author to hold the opinions that she does has caused many to turn away from the series. (Source: GGAADD via Flickr)Time will tell on whether Rowling will impact the game’s sales but in the meanwhile, excitement for this game comes with an element of bittersweetness. This is a game so many fans have waited for and for it to be spoiled because of the author’s own doing, comes as a blow.
For some, the damage has already been dealt and they have moved on from this series. How many people are willing to return for this game is unknown, as are the number of people who feel comfortable in supporting a game which may espouse different opinions than Rowling, but will financially benefit her nonetheless.
Feature Image: Austen Sqaurepants via Flickr