So, this is initially something that I wrote about back when this game was first announced, but as time went on, the subject got talked to death and I never got around to posting my own thoughts. However, discussions are making the rounds about this game again witht he more in depth look that we got recently, so it’s about time that I finally do, don’t you think? Obviously, though, I’ve had to make some edits and changes based on new information. Either way, let’s get into it, because we really do need to still talk about the issue of the upcoming game Hogwarts Legacy and what it means for those who have been hurt or put off by J.K. Rowling’s revelations about her deeper character and views.
What’s up with JKR?
For those of you who are not aware of what has been happening with the Harry Potter author, she has revealed herself to be transphobic and, at times, antagonistic towards trans people. Most of her vitriol seems to be focused towards transwomen in particular, but the bases of her rhetoric do effect both transwomen and transmen. This started as simply liking a few tweets or retweeting something odd, but quick deletions and these being attributed to being a slip of the thumb led many at the time to be willing to let these slide with just a wary side-eye. However, over the past two years things ramped up, with Rowling stating things outright herself and even going so far as to write what some consider to be an anti-trans manifesto where she lays out all her thoughts on the matter. Not to mention that some elements of her post-Harry Potter books have been taken in a much less charitable light now that her views are known. She’s also gone on another tweeting spree and promoted a shop that sells buttons, shirts, and stickers that are downright offensive to trans folks. This was even happening just days before the reveal of the long rumored game, which is maybe the worst timing that I have ever seen. These occasional outbursts have only continued, popping up every few months.
Now, I’m not trans myself, nor do I want to even think I could claim to speak for any trans folk, but it’s not hard to see how this would upset a lot of people even from an outside perspective. Rowling had already been the subject of criticism in recent years for her attempts to try and add representation into her books after the fact by statements she made through resources such as Pottermore. This had led to people going back over the books with a more critical eye and finding many characters that seemed to be downright stereotypes in in their portrayal. Granted, many of these were small side characters, but the fact that they were presented as little more than a few stereotypes and a name has rubbed many the wrong way.
Of particular umbrage has been the way that goblins are written in the series to be hook-nosed and gold hoarding creatures who control the wizard banks, which can easily be interpreted as an anti-Semitic allegory for Jewish people, whether it was explicitly intended or not. This has only worsened with the recent reveal that the game will feature a goblin uprising. The goblins in the books were often treated as being second class citizens in the magical world. One would think that in a case like this, given the themes of the films and books, you would be on the side of this hurting underclass and trying to help them get the respect that they deserve. Nope! They’re the bad guys of the game…
This is all especially hurtful for a lot of fans because the books did preach the values of accepting others and standing up for the oppressed. Believe it or not, but media does influence the way we view the world, even if subtlety. Story or song is one of the best ways to teach children for a reason, they internalize the lessons in these forms very well. In fact, it’s been found that people who read the Harry Potter series growing up did tend to have a more negative view of Donald Trump as the way he talks about minority groups tend to be antithetical to the messages of the series. It’s not by any groundbreaking margin, but the trend is there. You can read more about the study HERE.
And Hogwarts Legacy?
So, what about that game then?
Hogwarts Legacy is a game coming to next-gen and current gen systems in which the player creates their own legacy in an 1800’s Hogwarts. There’s been a lot of excitement even when this game was nothing more than mere rumors. The Harry Potter series is no stranger to video games in many forms (I personally played the Prisoner of Azkaban GBA RPG to death as a kid), but the distinction of this being a game set in that world but without the beloved characters of the books has been an exciting prospect. It’s been a long held hope for a lot of fans that they would be able to play a game where they could truly have their own adventure in the rich world of the series. However, the recent events surrounding Rowling has soured the excitement for a lot of people too.
The biggest sticking point is that a purchase of the game is like putting money directly into Rowling’s pocket and the desire to send a message to the companies that use her world in order to make money that she is no longer viable to be involved with. Now, the original FAQ for the game stated that 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.” Many interpreted the start of this as an entire lack of involvement, but they neglect to consider that J.K. Rowling IS the Wizarding World. She has always had a close eye on matters related to her characters and has seemingly made it a point to have her hands on everything involved in that. While she might not have written the story of the game, there would have been some level of input from her, if even in just a consulting role, especially since this is delving into an era of her world that has not been discussed much in Harry Potter media already. Her input on what the history of the world looks like would have been absolutely vital to the worldbuilding of the game. Moreover, the current FAQ states instead “Her team have also collaborated with Warner Bros. Games on all aspects of Hogwarts Legacy to ensure it remains a true part of the Wizarding World experience and is in line with the creativity and magic that fans expect.” which gives off a higher level of involvement than Warner Bros. initially tried to portray.
Additionally, there is the fact that she will profit off of this game. She likely has already been paid her licensing fees or whatever else, but many do still view giving money to companies who produce Harry Potter products as putting money directly into her pockets as high sales do encourage further production which does result in another check being cut for Rowling, even if there isn’t royalties on every specific piece sold. It’s similar to how many do not want to pay for things related to Ender’s game from Orson Scott Card after the writer was revealed to have homophobic views and actively donate to anti-LGBT groups.
One thing that really stands out to me in discussions about this game, though, are the people loudly saying “separate art from the artist” or “death of the author” in order to prop up their view of taking the series from Rowling and giving ownership to the fans. Here’s the thing… that’s not what Death of the Author means!
Well, what does it mean?
Death of the Author was actually one of the focal points to my thesis project for my English degree (a lengthy paper on authorship and perspective in the Sherlock Holmes series), so I actually know the concept quite well. Saying that you refuse to acknowledge the views of the creator of a work so that you can continue to enjoy that work is not what Death of the Author is at all and is actually a quite disingenuous way to speak about the concept. I’ll keep this brief and direct you to these two videos by Lindsay Ellis that focus on both Death of the Author and how the concept directly relates to Rowling herself. However for those of you who don’t have the time to watch nearly an hour of content, here’s the long and short of it.
Death of the Author does not mean to simply separate the author from what they have created. What it actually is is the idea that once a work is out in the world for public consumption, the views of the author are not necessarily the only lens by which to critically analyze the work and in fact, viewing it in a framework that the author did not essentially intend is a valid way to view it (provided you can back up your argument, of course). So, for example, say that I create a book about a teenage boy who goes on a long journey through hardship before returning home a changed man. I say that this is all a story and nothing more, with nothing deeper behind it than what is presented on the page. However, when you read it, there are elements in the writing that I put in, perhaps without even realizing it, that lead you to be able to argue that the story is all an allegory for a soldier going off to war, seeing the horrors of it, and then returning home. While I might not have intended it, because Death of the Author says that my words are not absolute, your view of it can be taken as a perfectly valid way to interpret the text.
J.R.R. Tolkien famously said: “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence…I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” Many take this to mean that Tolkien did not intend any allegory with the Lord of the Rings novels, but nonetheless, people have found much applicable allegory in them, their findings being perfectly acceptable ways to view the books.
However, Death of the Author does not mean that we entirely ignore the views of a writer. It’s easy to read things such as racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia into various works. That becomes even easier when we look into the views of writers and their views are able to become more blatant in the text. Lovecraft was incredibly racist if you read his letters and other writings, looking into his works, you can find the ways that this seeped into the text or subtext. The views of a writer will permeate their work, whether they intend them to or not. For example, Rowling’s habit of using stock stereotypes to characterize her side characters not native to England can be read in a very uncharitable light if you want to go down that rabbit hole. Was this intended? Perhaps not, but we can’t really know her mind until she speaks it, so who knows. This is why the “[insert another person/character here] wrote Harry Potter!” memes are bad for conversation as they ignore the ways that an author’s views can seep into their work.
Saying to separate the art from the artist ignores the ways that the views of the writer can influence their work down to the core, even in ways that they did not even notice. Sure, you may not read those elements in that way, but when someone tells you that they find the things an author is publicly saying do correlate with problematic views expressed in their work, you can’t just say to separate the two to try and end a conversation or invalidate their argument. That’s not what these concepts are for. They’re meant to free analysis from the shackles of seeing the creator as the end all and be all. I’ve seen plenty who try to use Death of the Author in that way and it’s simply not possible.
This is especially true when the one with these horrible views is still able to voice them loudly and profit off their work. We know now that many authors of the past had deeply problematic views of the world and that is awful, but there’s not really shame in enjoying what their creations spawned because the author is literally dead and cannot profit from you or have your voice amplify their own. The difference with someone like Rowling is that she is still alive, is still profiting, and does still have a very large platform in which to put her views out into the world. If you really disagree with what she is saying and wish she didn’t have that, putting your money in her hands isn’t the way to do it.
About that game again…
Which brings us back to that game…
I want to play it. I do, problematic storyline and all. It looks spectacular so far and it is a game I would have died for as a kid. However, I will not personally purchase it at launch. There are some who intend to, but also intend to donate equal to the cost of the game to trans-positive charities. This is a little yikes because in essence it is just something that you are doing to assuage your own guilt about supporting someone with views that you find distasteful. There’s no need for you to buy this game in order to donate, you could just donate. There are those who want to buy it just to support the developers and everyone who worked on it. Now, that would be fair if the workers were actually going to get a cut of the profits, but they have already been paid and if they were contractors instead of employees, might not even work there anymore by release day.
The simplest thing to do and the one that is going to take the least effort on your part would simply be to not play the game at all. It’s an effort neutral move and takes nothing from you to do. But, I know for many of us that will be something that is exceptionally hard to do. If you really absolutely must play it, one of your best options could be just to wait, to play it used. It’s really the only way to enjoy the world that the fans are claiming for themselves without putting money into the pockets of Rowling. Does this create a demand for used games? Yeah, but at least the person you don’t want to support isn’t getting anything from you, someone else is.
All this hullaballoo that I’ve given you isn’t meant to say that you’re not allowed to like Harry Potter because the woman who wrote it said some really awful stuff in a way that could negatively influence conversation on an issue and endanger people. You’re still allowed to like the books or movies if that hasn’t ruined them for you. It’s not on me to tell you how to navigate your personal relationship to a creative work. However, it does mean that if you want to see an end to the things she is saying, you need to think critically about the purchases you make and who profits off of them. You also need to consider what it really means to separate the author from their work and how it is not a way to close off the bad about something for your own enjoyment, but a tool to free you to look more deeply into the creations that you love and not worry about someone else’s voice talking over what you find there.