Hogwarts Legacy - The political part
I wrote an unpolitical review of Hogwarts Legacy, but everybody knows that is only half the story. Unfortunately the political part is a lot darker and contains a lot of scary shit. If this is the future of social media and video game journalism, we are in for a world of hurt. But let's start with some background.
Some activists believe that "trans women are real women", and should therefore be referred to simply as "women". In consequence, the group of people previously referred to as women should be referred to as "menstruating people". While this change of language is designed to prevent offence to trans women, unsurprisingly some feminists think that being referred to as "menstruating people" is offensive to them. In 2020, J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, and long-time feminist tweeted a rather mild tweet mocking the term "menstruating people". Since then she is being accused of being "transphobic", with that tweet being widely thrown around as evidence for her transphobia. As you can see for yourself, that is already a stretch. At no point before or after that did J.K. Rowling actually object to trans people, she even made tweets supporting their rights to live as they like. She only objected to a rather ridiculous attempt to redefine the word "woman".
J.K. Rowling is also a political activist against men who are pretending to be trans women in order to gain access to single-sex spaces and harm women there. That culminated in the case of Isla Bryson, a person who presumably identified as male while raping several women. When facing two trials for rape, Isla transitioned, and identified as female at the time of her conviction, demanding to be sent to women's prison. To the abject horror of many people that worked, probably related to the timing shortly after Scotland passed the the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. Only after widespread public outcry did the Scottish government backpedal, and transferred Isla to a men's prison. First Minister of Scotland (at that time) Nicola Sturgeon then stated her opinion that Bryson is "almost certainly" faking her transgender status. But for having fought to keep a rapist out of women's prison, J.K. Rowling was again accused of transphobia. You have to ask who would do that? Pro-rapists? I would rather say that preventing men from faking transgender status to harm women is an area where the interests of real trans people and feminists are very much aligned.
A decade ago, in 2013, J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers reached a deal which resulted in Warner Brothers co-owning the US trademark rights for “J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World”, and receiving rights that would eventually enable them to make not only Harry Potter movies, but also Hogwarts Legacy. Other than by the terms of the 2013 deal, J.K. Rowling was not involved at all in the making of Hogwarts Legacy. With the game not actually using very many characters of the Harry Potter books, her royalties from Hogwarts Legacy are probably just a few cents for every copy sold. She made, and continues to make, a lot more money by other ways.
A quick search for "Harry Potter" on Amazon.com just yielded 20 pages of results. There are Lego sets, Golden Snitch Fidget Spinners, wands, stickers, flags, sofa cushions, suitcases, and every other Harry Potter branded merchandise you could possibly think off. There are Harry Potter theme parks in Orlando and London, and a myriad other ways in which J.K. Rowling is making money out of the intellectual property she created. She is a billionaire now, but she was born middle-class, and made all that money out of the shrewd marketing of her creative work. Before the "transphobic" accusations, she was rather a hero of the left, having suffered domestic abuse in her marriage, ended up as single parent, and was on social security before her breakthrough. So I have no idea how we got from there to people earnestly claiming that "if you buy Hogwarts Legacy, you contribute to trans people dying". Why single out that one video game among all the other products J.K. Rowling is making money from? And how does mocking the term "menstruating people" and fighting men faking transgender status contribute to trans people dying? This is an extremely far stretch, that is probably only possible due to the character limitation of Twitter, which encourages extreme shortcuts in arguments.
Now if the story had ended with a few video game journalists and people on social media calling for a boycott, and a few people being convinced by the flimsy arguments and not buying Hogwarts Legacy, that could easily have been the end of it. Unfortunately Hogwarts Legacy turned out to probably be the best-selling PC game of 2023, and outsold fan favorites like Elden Ring. Which made the people who had promoted the boycott really, really angry. And made them react really, really badly. Having proven unable to affect either J.K. Rowling nor the general public, they went after what they considered the weakest link in the chain: Streamers. There have been a large number of cases in which content providers on YouTube and Twitch who streamed Hogwarts Legacy were harassed, up to the point of receiving death threats. An activist put up a website that allowed activists to find streamers who played the game, so they could be harassed. Some streamers quit their careers because of it. Others went on record saying they didn't dare stream the game. Some fought back. Hogwarts Legacy still ended up breaking records for the most streamed game on Twitch, but it got pretty ugly. George Carlin once said 'Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.' You wonder what he would have said about 'Harassing for tolerance'. This isn't just a witch hunt. It is a mob with torches and pitchforks threatening to burn down their more reasonable neighbors' houses if they don't join the witch hunt.
Now this wasn't just a few alt-left trolls. Several rather prominent gaming sites attacked gamers as spineless, or even defended the trolls, stating that whoever streamed Hogwarts Legacy deserved the death threats they received. Wired went full troll themselves, and gave Hogwarts Legacy a 1 out of 10 review. Other game journalists were pretty spineless themselves, and put out reviews with a disclaimer that basically said "Dear activists, please don't hurt me, I agree with you, I just had to review this to keep my job", or downrated the game to a lesser degree. The problem with that is that if you do that with Hogwarts Legacy, you should do that with every game that has some remote connection to somebody controversial. Which is basically every game. "If you buy Atomic Heart, you are contributing to the slaughter of civilians in the Ukraine" is not strictly a true statement, but has actually more truth to it than the connection between buying Hogwarts Legacy and hurting trans people. Where do you stop? And as it turns out, most people visit video games sites to get reviews and game guides, not to get into political discussions about what dirt the video game journalist was able to dig up on somebody remotely connected to the game. Controversy is clickbait, but clickbait is not a sustainable way to run a business. Readers who mostly want a honest review of games feel betrayed if they get review scores skewed by questionable politics instead. The alt left is loud on social media, but is a small minority of the people who buy videogames and represent the audience of game websites.
As I consider myself to be center-left political, I feel hurt by the damage that the alt-left is doing with actions like these to the left cause. There is a reason Desantis is running on an anti-woke platform: You don't need good politics to win elections, you only need regular people to be more scared of the other side than of you. Hogwarts Legacy is the the moment the alt left movement showed its uglier side to the world of video games. And many content creators are scared. So am I.