Anticipated Harry Potter game Hogwarts Legacy will feature playable trans characters. However when considering context, this announcement feels cynical, inauthentic, and reactionary.
In a major charm offensive, the team behind upcoming Harry Potter RPG Hogwarts Legacy has announced that players will have the option of creating playable transgender characters. However, the motivation behind this news appears to be rather less charming.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably aware of Harry Potter creator JK Rowling’s controversial opinions regarding the trans community. Essentially, she doesn’t believe that trans people should be treated as the gender that they identify as. Her constant desire to reiterate and clarify this has gone down like a ton of bricks on the internet.
While Rowling isn’t involved in the development of Hogwarts Legacy, it isn’t hard to see how this negative publicity could lead to some backlash. Still, if she were the only dinosaur in the room, it seems unlikely that any of this backlash would be terribly impactful.
The problem runs deeper than Rowling
The problem is that she isn’t. Hogwarts Legacy lead game designer Troy Leavitt has a history of posting pro-Gamergate opinion pieces and anti social justice sentiments. We won’t post them here, but the titles of his YouTube videos, In Defense of John Lasseter (a former Pixar executive who parted ways with the company following sexual misconduct allegations) and In Praise of Cultural Appropriation, should give you an idea of this guy’s general vibe.
His response to criticism was also hardly apologetic, and reflects somewhat poorly on publisher Warner Bros. Games:
“I am to say that even though I disclosed my YouTube channel to WB Games, it didn’t appear to be an issue for them – not that they endorse anything I’ve said, of course, but at least they seem more concerned with making good games than with pushing some kind of a social justice agenda, so there is hope.”
This news was starting to filter through the internet and a number of publications started to make decisions – video game forum Resetera even decided to ban all promotional material relating to Hogwarts Legacy. It seemed like a storm of bad publicity was headed towards the game.
A solution to appease the haters… that requires little work or thought
Just as the mob began knocking at the gate, an announcement was made: Hogwarts Legacy would allow players to create trans characters. Nice right? The game developers Avalanche Software were actually a stand-up bunch that always planned to make the game inclusive and accepting. Except that this all reeks of cynicism and tokenism in the worst way possible.
To understand what this announcement actually means, you have understand what the developers mean when they refer to ‘trans’ characters. Hogwarts Legacy is an action role-playing game; having a robust character creator that allows customisation is an essential part of this style of game. It isn’t revolutionary or praiseworthy.
The developers seem to be claiming that playing as a trans character equates to combining a masculine body with a feminine voice and calling them a witch. If this is what trans means in video games, then playing as trans characters is old news.
Come to think of it, my Demon’s Souls character was trans. As was my Pillars of Eternity character back in 2015. Neither of these games felt the need to make an announcement about these features, either, especially just days after a horrific PR moment.
While Hogwarts Legacy still has time to course correct, the game is slated for a 2022 release, and the signs aren’t promising. Bloomberg recently reported that even these token gestures were met with “resistance from management at first”.
If Avalanche Studios have plans to include meaningful dialogue options or storylines for trans characters, or could announce that they have already included trans NPCs (as seen in Baldur’s Gate, Chrono Trigger, The Last of Us Part II, and many other games new and old), then this would be a different matter.
As it is, they seem to have dressed up an existing feature of their game as something that it isn’t as a knee-jerk response to bad press. This is virtue signalling at its most cynical and transparent. So at the very least, let’s hold our applause.