Hogwarts Legacy may be one of the most anticipated new games of 2023, but it's arriving under a cloud of controversy. Developer Avalanche Software is creating the new open-world RPG in collaboration with Warner Bros. Games, with franchise creator J.K. Rowling confirmed to not be "involved in the creation of the game." That piece of information is key, as the author has sowed division within the Harry Potter fan base by using her platform to amplify dangerous transphobic statements and attack the wider LGBTQ+ community.
Both the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts franchises have been criticized in the past for their lack of diversity, and Rowling's continued efforts to dismiss the trans community (particularly trans women) have only fuelled calls from some corners of the franchise's massive fanbase for a boycott of the author and any of her associated works. With Hogwarts Legacy set to release on February 10 for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X, it's no surprise to see the game being closely scrutinized.
J.K. Rowling and Hogwarts Legacy
Warner Bros. Games announced Hogwarts Legacy shortly after J.K. Rowling began amplifying transphobic views to her 14 million followers on Twitter. In the months and years since, the author has continued to double and triple down on the dangerous rhetoric against trans rights in public, which has left millions of Harry Potter fans reconsidering their relationship with the world of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Several cast members of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts have distanced themselves from J.K. Rowling, including Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Eddie Redmayne. Grint issued a statement in June 2020 to US Weekly that clarified his position in a succinct fashion: "I firmly stand with the trans community. Trans women are women. Trans men are men. We should all be entitled to live with love and without judgment."
This backlash against Rowling's views also extends to the Hogwarts Legacy cast. Sebastian Croft, who provides one of the two available voices for the game's main character, recently spoke out against their own participation in the project. "I was cast in this project over three years ago, back when all Harry Potter was to me, was the magical world I grew up with. This was long before I was aware of JK Rowling's views. I believe whole heartedly that trans women are women and trans men are men," says Croft. "I know far more now than I did three years ago, and hope to learn far more in the next three. I'm really sorry to anyone hurt by this announcement. There is no LGB without the T."
Despite years of backlash against her dangerous rhetoric, Rowling has continued to expose her anti-trans views on social media and in interviews, and went so far as to compile an essay on her unfounded fears surrounding gender recognition and trans-activism. This has left Hogwarts Legacy in a somewhat precarious position; while Rowling has no involvement with the project, she will ultimately profit from the game's connection with the Harry Potter universe – both financially and with respect to her enduring profile and legacy.
Will J.K Rowling make money from the game?
J.K Rowling isn't directly involved with production of Hogwarts Legacy, although she will indirectly profit from its success. The author retains the IP rights to the wider Harry Potter franchise, which means that she will receive revenue for the sale of all Harry Potter related creations – be it the sale of theater tickets, Blu-rays, merchandise, or video games.
While Rowling is yet to comment on Hogwarts Legacy directly, the author did go after Jessie Earl, a YouTuber who supports (and belongs to) the transgender community, after they commented that supporting "Hogwarts Legacy is harmful." Rowling responded by claiming that not supporting anything "connected with her" because of her controversial views wouldn't be akin to burning their Harry Potter books or movies – but rather burning down "the local library, anything with an owl on it, and their own pet dog."
Ultimately, while WB Games has done its best to make it clear that Rowling has not been involved in the creation of Hogwarts Legacy, the nature of IP rights and royalties mean that the author will ultimately profit from its release, sales, and success.
Hogwarts Legacy controversy
J.K Rowling's dangerous statements against the trans community aren't the only controversies surrounding Hogwarts Legacy. In 2021, the game's lead designer Troy Leavitt, left the project after criticism online following the uncovering of YouTube videos from 2016-2018 where Leavitt was seen to dismiss sexual misconduct complaints against corporate executives and defended elements of the broader Gamergate harassment campaign. Leavitt says he "made the decision to part ways with Avalanche Software" in 2021, shortly after the backlash.
The Hogwarts Legacy story has also faced criticism. Historically, the goblins in Harry Potter have been accused of perpetuating anti-Semitic imagery, with some fans drawing comparisons between their portrayal and position in the Harry Potter books and films as being similar to the ways Jewish characters have been portrayed in Nazi propaganda. The Hogwarts Legacy story has renewed this criticism, with a central plot point seeing the player work to stop a 'goblin rebellion' – although promotional material suggests that this group is simply rebelling against their lack of rights in the wizarding world, as they are unable to wield wands or have access to the same educational opportunities as others in the universe. As we're yet to play through the game, it isn't yet clear how Hogwarts Legacy will frame this fight for greater rights.
Should you buy Hogwarts Legacy?
The question of whether you should buy or otherwise support Hogwarts Legacy is something that we can not answer for you. GamesRadar+ will be covering Hogwarts Legacy at launch as we would any other AAA video game, although you will ultimately need to decide whether you are comfortable supporting the project for yourself – by reading up on all available information, by speaking with friends and family members who are a part of the trans community, and then making the necessary judgment call for yourself.
That isn't necessarily an easy action to perform. The question of whether art can be separated from artist is a debate being had all throughout society, particularly as we continue to reevaluate the media, entertainment, and culture from our past. It's a complex topic that deserves real consideration. Jessie Earl perhaps put it best in this excellent article for Gamespot – which explores JK Rowling's anti-transgender stance and how it relates to Hogwarts Legacy in great detail – where the journalist opines: "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.”
Similar debates are being had all throughout the Internet as the February 10 release date approaches. Recently, gaming forum ResetEra issued a total ban on Hogwarts Legacy discussion. The site's staff says of its decision: "We began outlining the issues put forth by Rowling and the game in question [...] each time we kept coming back to the simple fact that Rowling [...] is actively pushing, in her position as a wealthy and famous individual, for legislation that will hurt trans people."
So while J.K. Rowling is not involved in the development of Hogwarts Legacy, GamesRadar+ does acknowledge the author's role in the creation of the Wizarding World, as well as her publicly stated, harmful views regarding the rights of transgender people. If you'd like to offer your support to the communities affected by Rowling's rhetoric, consider donating to the National Center for Transgender Equality in the US, or Mermaids in the UK.