Hogwarts Legacy does not deserve to be reviewed on its own merits

Whether or not we want to admit it, it is impossible to talk positively about Hogwarts Legacy without harming a community of human beings.
Hogwarts Legacy review

To judge a creation purely on its own merits is often lauded as a fair and positive method of review. Why should a bad game be praised, just because it comes from a normally brilliant creator? Why should a good one be vilified, just because the mind that inspired it is ignorant and hateful?

If something is good, we should be able to enjoy and endorse it, even if we acknowledge the faults of its progenitor. Perhaps even moreso when that creation takes steps to distance itself from those now-tainted roots, and offers support to the people who were wronged. An objective stance would be only fair, don’t you think?

I bet it would feel nice to be ‘fair’. To judge Hogwarts Legacy by its merits alone. To look at the strides the developers have made to offer inclusivity, and distance themselves from hatred. To acknowledge that they aren’t to blame, and to just enjoy a franchise that once held such important meaning to me. It would be easier to be fair, believe me. To turn away from the discourse, ignore context and consequence and just explore something I used to love. What a privilege – to spend a few dollars and play a game in one of the formative worlds of my childhood, choosing not to think about where that money goes.

I want to make it clear to you right now that as a transgender individual, I have no interest in that kind of ‘fairness’ or objectivity when it comes to Hogwarts Legacy

I feel a moral imperative to oppose Hogwarts Legacy.

Hogwarts Legacy cannot and should not be judged solely on its own merits, because the end result of supporting this game financially and socially isn’t simply a matter of how much you’ll enjoy it, or how nostalgic it might be to experience the world of Harry Potter.

If you purchase this game – if you praise its qualities and encourage others to ‘support the developers’ or ‘treat yourself to a guilty pleasure’ – you are making a choice that will harm the transgender community, whether you want to admit it or not. 

This statement might seem like quite a stretch at first glance, but for the sake of clarity, let’s break it down. If you buy Hogwarts Legacy, you are doing three significant things;

  • You’re directly supporting the royalty checks J. K. Rowling will receive for use of the Harry Potter intellectual property (IP).
  • You’re financially signaling to the wider market that the Harry Potter IP is a profitable space, likely worth investing in with future titles. The more profitable the IP, the more money Rowling makes.
  • You’re socially engaging with the IP and potentially broadening its audience, encouraging others to engage with it as well. This inevitably leads to more people being exposed to Rowling’s hateful beliefs, and potentially adopting it themselves. 

GamesHub has already detailed a small sample of the extensive transphobic rhetoric that Rowling spreads to her audience, as well as the comfort and support she draws from the royalties accrued by the use of the Harry Potter IP. It is a fact that she leverages her wealth and platform to support transphobic legislation, and that hate groups use her name to muster support for openly transphobic movements. I don’t need to prove that she’s a ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminist’ – she has openly identified with the label

Buying Hogwarts Legacy gives Rowling financial support, and risks broadening her audience. These actions are both harmful towards the transgender community. Economic influence is very real, and growing ever more overt in the video game industry. Think of how many microtransactions we’re seeing stuffed into games with no need for them. How many companies attempted to make NFTs, only thwarted by massive outcry and financial refusal from consumers. 

The money you spend has an impact. Your actions have consequences. You buy Hogwarts Legacy, you provide support that harms the transgender community. 

I did play the review copy of Hogwarts Legacy I received. What I found was a competently-made, semi-open world action RPG with a fairly linear storyline, basic character progression with very limited build expression or variety, and a combat model that was absolutely functional, but ultimately felt one-note and grew swiftly repetitive. 

I experienced no major bugs, but nor did I find much to make it stand out in the plethora of action RPGs available. If you choose not to buy Hogwarts Legacy, you won’t be missing out on any huge gameplay innovations, or a new paragon of the action-RPG genre. It’s very clear while playing that the Harry Potter IP is the star of the show, and every gameplay decision has been made to facilitate and showcase the IP to its fullest.

I remember when the Harry Potter fandom was a sanctuary for LGBT+ kids who felt isolated, like outsiders. There was a beautiful idea I read once about the stairs of Hogwarts, specifically the girl’s dormitory stairs that would allow girls to climb up but not boys, and vice versa. A closeted trans girl, lonely and desperately craving validation, would attempt to enter her assigned (dreaded) dorm, only for the stairs to deny her because the stairs knew that her gender wasn’t what the world said it was. Magic, pure and objective without bias or prejudice, knew their identity just as the child did themselves. The gendered staircase concept has a lot of problematic elements that could be unpacked (the binary nature, etc.) but magic as a force of validation? Beautiful. 

Of course, that’s not the truth of the Harry Potter IP. Rowling has made it very clear that a trans girl would find no validation in her world. No love or support. The more I played Hogwarts Legacy, and the longer I spent in the classrooms and grounds of Hogwarts, the sadder I felt at how tainted the franchise has become. That sanctuary is gone – it no longer exists for us.

Does buying Hogwarts Legacy make you a transphobe? Is one bad action enough to make you a bad person? After all, one bucket of sand doesn’t make a beach, and one tree doesn’t make a forest. 

But if you buy this game, you’re making a choice. You’re choosing to support J. K. Rowling, even if just in a small way. And if you knowingly weigh the costs and decide that your personal enjoyment of a video game is worth supporting a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, that indulging your nostalgia is more valuable than supporting the transgender community? 

…well, one tree might not make a forest, but it sure is more than none. 

Trans Rights are Human Rights. 

The PS5 version of Hogwarts Legacy was provided for the purposes of this article.

Percy Ranson is a non-binary writer based in Melbourne. They have no choice but to critically analyse their favourite media, due to years of gaming, theatre, and Creative Art studies. They can be found on Twitter at @Manarethan