Reports have emerged today that the upcoming Harry Potter RPG Hogwarts Legacy will include a trans-inclusive character creator. Usually, when I hear that a video game is going to be trans-inclusive, my first thought is “oh that’s good, I hope they don’t mess it up.” With Hogwarts Legacy, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Harry Potter as a franchise – and this game in particular – has a lot of red in the ledger when it comes to trans inclusivity. Not only is there JK Rowling’s history of transphobia to consider, there’s also the fact that the game’s lead designer Troy Leavitt used to run a GamerGate-adjacent, anti-SJW YouTube channel. It would be disingenuous to suggest that Hogwarts Legacy is building off a blank slate when it comes to including trans characters.
On the other hand, games are developed by hundreds of staff, and the views of two people – even arguably the two most influential figures involved in said game – will not be shared by everyone. According to this report, the whole reason this trans inclusivity exists is because of pressure from the developers lower down the totem pole who are keen to balance out the views of Rowling in particular. But even then, we don’t know enough to be sure if this push for balance is out of a genuine desire to see trans representation in the game, or to get out in front of any incoming criticism. The fact you could stick a willy on a woman in Cyberpunk 2077 was frequently used to silence trans critiques of the game’s more problematic elements, and it’s natural that some Hogwarts Legacy devs might hope a trans witch could do the same for their own game. We just don’t know.
Cyberpunk 2077 is easily the biggest game to push a transgender character creator to the forefront, and I’ll be returning to that in time, but first I think there’s a big question to be asked: does Hogwarts Legacy’s trans inclusive character creator make any difference? My answer is a rather blunt ‘no’.
That’s a no regardless of whether this addition is well-intentioned or more cynically motivated, by the way. We can’t just treat Hogwarts Legacy like it’s any other video game given the history of the folks involved in it, and that’s why the option to play as a transgender witch is nowhere near enough to appease me. As well as that, the creator already has a few issues from what we know so far, but I’ll get to those in time as well.
JK Rowling is not just a transphobic person, she’s the transphobic person. She is the most well known and most respected openly transphobic person in pop culture, and her views get shared far and wide as a result of this. And while she’s a huge success, Hogwarts Legacy also feels like it might be her last roll of the dice for elite cultural relevance. Harry Potter book sales are declining, Fantastic Beasts has performed nowhere near as well as the Daniel Radcliffe-led original movie series, and while her recent adult novels have been bestsellers, they’ve had minimal staying power and have slid down the charts quickly. If this tanks, it’s a serious blow.
The success of Hogwarts Legacy – the success of any Harry Potter project – is her success, and even though she is not involved with the game itself, supporting it is supporting her. It’s not about the money; I know she’s already rich. It’s about the fact she continues to have a platform for her views, continues to be an aspirational public figure, and continues to be celebrated despite repeated transphobic – and often factually incorrect – comments on her blog posts, Twitter account, and even in her novels.
I know the devs are working hard. I know a lot of them are very good people. But this is true of literally every game. All devs work hard. Unless you buy every video game released each year to show how much you love video game developers, sympathy for the devs just doesn’t wash as a reason.
I’m not even telling you that you can’t buy the game. I’m saying if you do, it needs to be from a place of knowledge that support for the game continues to legitimise JK Rowling. Regardless of her apparent lack of involvement in Hogwarts Legacy, it ensures she maintains her platform. Hatsune Miku didn’t write Harry Potter; she did. You also need to consider that Leavitt, anti-SJW views and all, is part of that group of developers, meaning he’s getting your support too.
But okay, let’s leave all that aside and take a look at the creator itself. Right off the bat, things aren’t great, as it forces you to choose “witch” or “wizard”, meaning in this magical world of grumblesnorks, non-binary people are still a myth. It seems as though your pronouns are also tied to this choice, meaning you can still look and sound however you want, and still be referred to as your preferred gender. I’m not sure this balances out the lack of non-binary options, but it’s a good step at least.
This is where Cyberpunk 2077 comes back in. That too had no non-binary option – presumably non-binary folk went extinct in approximately 2056 – although unlike Hogwarts Legacy, it linked voice to pronoun choice, so at least Hogwarts Legacy appears to be going one better. I suppose while it doesn’t change my thoughts on the game, I am happy that it exists, if only so other games can learn from it. Cyberpunk’s trans representation wasn’t great, but the character creator – flawed as it was – broke an important boundary. Now Hogwarts Legacy is following in its footsteps, though it remains to be seen just how far it will improve upon it.
The report also mentions being able to change body type, but will that mean a standard male or female silhouette, or more in-depth customisations of height and weight too? Where Cyberpunk 2077 included a brilliant trans character in Claire, most of the world felt incredibly binary, and I also fear that in Hogwarts Legacy, the only trans character featured will be you. This way, they get trans inclusion for those that want it, and neatly trim it out for those who don’t, which sits quite firmly on the fence.
I’m not sure Hogwarts Legacy’s trans character creator makes that big of a difference to the game’s place in the industry, what it represents, or whether it absolves the game of any of JK Rowling’s baked-in guilt. It certainly doesn’t change how I feel about it. Hopefully, though, it can at least be a helpful stepping stone for a triple-A game to one day get trans representation right from start to finish. Until then, yet again the game industry is moving two steps forward, one step back.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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