Traditionally, February is a slow month for new video game releases. The holiday season is over and the industry is months away from the summer break, when millions of teenagers suddenly need to fill their free time. But shaking up this year’s gaming sales’ black hole is an increasingly controversial franchise: Harry Potter.
Rowling herself has implied that her royalty checks are indirect indicators of the popularity of her views on trans rights.
Tuesday’s long-anticipated release of Hogwart’s Legacy by Avalanche Software and Warner Bros. publisher has sparked a lot of consternation among the trans community, as we’ve struggled to respond to an overwhelmingly popular franchise born of an author, J.K. Rowling, who has come out as a strong critic of trans civil rights over the last few years.
The tension around Rowling’s negative views on trans issues has bred much conflict, with diehard Harry Potter fans and her biggest transphobic fans clashing with trans people who would probably just rather see the Potterverse die altogether. It’s prompted yet another discussion about the concept of “death of the author,” wherein some people are willing to overlook bad things about a creator of a work in order to continue enjoying the work.
But separating the work from the creator isn’t really possible in Rowling’s case.
Rowling herself has implied that her royalty checks are indirect indicators of the popularity of her views on trans rights. She will be profiting off Hogwart’s Legacy, and at least part of that profit will likely go directly into the hands of those responsible for pushing the fight to roll back trans rights, causes Rowling has implied she donates to.
Few modern franchises have found as much success as the extended Harry Potter universe. Even my own daughter is a huge Potterhead, much to my chagrin. Even trans people are fans, finding welcome in the past in what they thought was a world where people can be accepted for who they are.
But as Rowling has descended further and further into the depths of the hateful gender critical movement, a haven for bored rich British people with nothing better to do, trans fans of her work have had to pull back from their fandom out of a sense of pure preservation. After all, trans people are used to being disappointed by celebrities who secretly harbored transphobic views for years before unveiling them.
The game’s developers have tried to counteract the negative press they’ve received over the game by attempting to introduce the first ever openly trans Harry Potter character, comically named Sirona Ryan. Sirona, we’re told, is an old Celtic name for a goddess of healing. But many trans people immediately pointed out that the word “Sir,” which is a common way to misgender trans women, is quite prominent in the name itself.
Trans people on social media were bemused but unsurprised by this gambit from the developer. As a community, we’ve joked for years about what kind of insultingly stereotypical name we’d get for the first trans Potter character. Harry Potter characters have long had vaguely offensive names based on their ethnic background; Kingsley Shacklebolt for a Black wizard, or Cho Chang for an Asian wizard. My money for the name of the first trans character was on “Manny McManhands.”
There’s no amount of pandering or creativity that can distract from the damage the Potter franchise’s creator is doing to the trans community.
But there’s no amount of pandering or creativity that can distract from the damage the Potter franchise’s creator is doing to the trans community.
By buying, playing, streaming and promoting the game, you give money to Rowling to directly financially support the anti-trans movement. We already have a similar comparison to this situation in Chick-Fil-A, the chicken sandwich retailer whose owner directly funds the anti-LGBTQ movement. Just as we understand that people who eat there are putting money in the pockets of the homophobia industry, so must we understand that playing the new wizard game will help fund the anti-trans movement.
I wish there was a workaround to all of this. Some have suggested that gamers could play the game while also donating to some trans rights organization — equivalent to carbon offsetting, but for transphobia. But one action doesn’t exactly counteract the other; you might be able to assuage your own guilt, but you’re still boosting the profile and bottom line of the Potterverse, and therefore helping to endanger the lives of trans people.
I’m not saying you have to or even should boycott the game. It’s a free country, you can do what you want. But your trans friends will definitely notice you playing the game and readjust their trust levels with you accordingly.
So are you transphobic if you play the game? Probably not. But the trans people in your lives will always be wondering — and there’s no escaping the fact that they’ll be worse off for it.