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She Still Gets Your Money

A young wizard starts their journey in Hogwarts Legacy.
A young wizard starts their journey in Hogwarts Legacy.
Image: Warner Bros./Portkey Games

A few days ago at Sony’s splashy PlayStation 5 showcase event, a long-rumored video game made its official debut: Hogwarts Legacy, an action-RPG set in the universe created by the current celebrity face of anti-trans hate, J.K. Rowling. Approaching media created by problematic figures is always a messy prospect, but Legacy finds itself in a particularly complex place.

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The people who made it really want you to know that the woman behind one of the most popular fantasy franchises on the planet had nothing to do with it.

Hours after Legacy’s debut trailer hit the internet, Warner Brothers and Portkey Games, the Publisher/Developer team behind the game, posted an FAQ guide that is not uncommon with big new game announcements. It answers all the typical questions you might expect from this kind of guide—what genre of game is it? What platforms will it release on? Is it canon to the wider franchise?—but it also answers something unprecedented: “What is J.K. Rowling’s involvement with the game?”

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It has to answer this because Rowling has spent months leveraging her platform to ceaselessly espouse repeatedly debunked lies about the existence of transgender people. She has supported fellow bigots who she claims have been “canceled” for their beliefs when it comes to transgender rights and expressed fears that “any man who believes or feels he’s a woman” might be allowed to share a bathroom with “natal girls and women.” She’s just released a book in her long-running Cormoran Strike crime series (written under the pen name Robert Galbraith) that perpetuates the stereotype that transwomen are men disguising themselves to prey on cisgender women.

Rowling’s influence as one of the aforementioned most popular children’s writers of our time has exploded her transphobic views into the mainstream, even as collaborators in bringing her work to life have publicly spoken out against her. Warner Bros. Studios has stood by Rowling, releasing an empty statement that could not even name the writer or even why it was actually releasing a statement in the first place. As Rowling continues to make her beliefs about trans people known to the public, there’s been an ongoing debate with both collaborators of the author and her legions of fans who have had to reckon with the developments.

Portkey Games had to stress Rowling’s lack of involvement because it knows there are Harry Potter fans who are, in this moment, having to put their personal relationships with the franchise up against their own beliefs in trans rights, and in some cases deciding which of these things is worth more to them as individuals. It’s a conversation the developer’s workers have allegedly had themselves—a recent report by Bloomberg from before the game’s official unveiling this week noted that the team working on this game has expressed internal dismay at Rowling’s repeated and public statements against transgender rights.

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So the question around Hogwarts Legacy has not become “Can I get this on the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X,” but instead “Can I support the people who made this game despite its connections to a person whose views I believe are repugnant?” Despite Warner Games and Portkey’s reassurances about the lack of Rowling’s direct involvement—despite their purported private dismay—the answer is no.

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There’s an argument to be made that your purchase isn’t handing $60 right into Rowling’s transphobic hands, but going to support the developers, who have worked for years on a project in an industry rife with hard, often brutal production processes. But the people who directly made Hogwarts Legacy have already been paid for their work. While some game studios may have wage bonuses tied to review scores or sales targets, the $60 you hand on over for your copy won’t go directly to those worker’s hands. It will go to their bosses at the studio, it will go to their bosses at the publisher, and to their investors. Because it’s a licensed title, some part of it will indeed still go to Rowling, if they haven’t paid a lump sum to her already as part of the IP deal. It’s the same for a ticket for the next Fantastic Beasts movie, or the many planned after that. Although at the very least there the link easier to see given that Rowling is literally writing and co-writing every entry so far.

So what can you do if you’re staunchly against Rowling’s views? Some fans have suggested matching their purchase with a donation to pro-trans charities and political causes—but that still puts money into Rowling’s coffers. Even if it’s “balanced” out, it’s simply a punitary action to mollify your own guilt while still getting a shiny new video game. If you really want to play it, you could buy a used copy after release. Sure, someone else bought it, but at least then you’re not directly contributing a purchased fresh copy.

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This is far from the first time fans have been confronted with an ethical reckoning that creators of works they love do not align with their own societal views. There have been so many, from Orson Scott Card to Rudyard Kipling, from H.P. Lovecraft—currently the focus of an entire TV show about reclaiming his fiction from his racist views—to actors embroiled in scandal like The Flash’s (and Fantastic Beasts’) Ezra Miller and The Expanse’s Cas Anvar. It’s not even the first times fans have been confronted with such a reckoning in Rowling’s own work.

In the end, this is a moral debate you can only have with yourself, and it’s one the fandom community is having more often these days, even if concerns of this nature aren’t new. How far you are willing to reconcile your love of the world Rowling created with her continued desire to platform hatred is up to you. But it extends to how much you are willing to continue to engage with Harry Potter as a franchise—a world that is inextricably linked with her ideals and worldviews through the financial gains she makes from its continuation.

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The books, your well-read copies that she built her power from, are in the past. You can still love them, love what they meant to you, and continue to do so while acknowledging Rowling’s actions in the present are abhorrent. But the Fantastic Beasts saga, merchandise, and now Hogwarts Legacy are the series’ future—one made in the shadow of the figure Rowling has become. No matter how you justify engaging with that, she will still profit. No matter how distant her reach.

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

Unpopular Opinion incoming:

I absolutely get not wanting to support JK Rowling. I absolutely get why some people think “Support the devs” isn’t a good argument, since they’ve already been paid. But, the people involved with making the game, do not share the views as JK Rowling. They worked on the game, and want it to be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

Not buying the game will have 0 effect on JK Rowling. She’s one of the richest women on the planet. If the game sold 0 copies, or a million, it affects her 0.

Video game development is an art. The people who worked on the game are artists. A lot of them put their life and creativity into the game. It kind of sucks for them that it is tied to a wretched woman, but I feel like punishing them for her mistakes isn’t the right answer.

I don’t know if buying the game is the right answer either, but if I put myself in the shoes of the developer, I certainly would hope people would enjoy the work that I did.

I would be very interested to hear the thoughts from transgender individuals. Would buying this game be a slap in the face? Or is it possible to separate the art from the artist (or in this case, not even the artist, but the “world builder”)? I genuinely want to know.

If transgender individuals really feel that this game should not be supported, I will not buy it. But I would love to know their thoughts.