Hogwarts: Legacy and Cancel Culture: a love letter from a concerned fan

Content warning: this article contains discussions of transphobia and gender-based discrimination.

By Maddy Corbel

In June 2020, J.K. Rowling posted a tweet. Now, in 2023, enjoying content from the magical world of Harry Potter risks hurting the people around us.

I’m nervous to write about Rowling’s words because we should go through life hurting as few people as possible. I also can’t forget that Harry Potter—back before the days of Rowling retcons and Twitter showdowns—shaped my passion for stories. It taught me to imagine worlds, invent magic and horror, find friendship and family. It told my generation that bravery and power are good, but loyalty and selflessness are better.

But now, online bullying is rampant and Rowling’s discourse has upset whole communities of people. Ripples from the fallout have continued to shape public discourse and further alienated marginalised groups.

The Tweet that Must Not Be Named

In 2020, as the pandemic caused lockdowns all over the world, a DEVEX article explained that many people had no access to menstrual products due to the COVID-19 crisis.

J.K. Rowling had a problem with the inclusive pronouns chosen for the piece. ‘People who menstruate,’ she wrote. ‘I’m sure there used to be a word for those people.’ To the everlasting devastation of her fans, Rowling announced: ‘I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.’

J.K. Rowling’s response to DEVEX’s opinion article explaining Covid-19’s impact on global menstrual product access.

Many HP fans—many people—do not identify as either female or woman and still experience menstrual cycles. Furthermore, a significant number of people who also don’t menstruate identify as female. J.K. Rowling’s comments effectively barred a whole community of people from their own identities. Understandably, many of these people were profoundly hurt. In response, hateful comments towards Rowling exploded on Twitter and news outlets, and the pain of those affected by her public statement still reverberates in the media cycle today.

Hogwarts: Legacy

As a result of Rowling’s problematic platform, the recently released Hogwarts: Legacy game has sparked a lot of mixed emotion from the public. Twitch streamers have been ravaged online for playing the game publicly because the act is seen as endorsing Rowling’s views. This is despite many of the streamers needing to make an income and maintaining a bond with their followers. Many gamers have been excitedly awaiting the release of this title for years, and have found joy in the new characters, celebrating the design of the gameplay and the achievements of its makers.

I watched in confusion as a game became a mascot for an online culture war. Playing the game became an act of defiance or ignorance; boycotting was a conscious decision to avoid making Rowling any richer. Either way, Hogwarts: Legacy became a symbol.

Forbes covered how writer James Greig took to Twitter. ‘I can’t decide what’s more embarrassing,’ they wrote. ‘People on the right buying [the] Harry Potter game specifically ‘to trigger the wokes’ or people on the left buying a Harry Potter game then writing tearful little essays about why this doesn’t make them any less of a trans ally.’ Any discourse I read or listened to was weighed with emotion, strain, panic and hurt—the problematic but powerfully comforting world of Harry Potter as I knew it was decimated in the wake of anger. I didn’t know whose opinion to trust and where I should go to educate myself.

Meanwhile, many streamers were boycotting the game, refusing to give airtime to the franchise. Other gamers insisted that most people don’t care about the politics: Twitch streamer HasanAbi explained that avoiding the Potterverse would be like attempting to boycott Disney. They argue that these franchises are big and loud, and as mainstream consumers, we all just want to go to Hogwarts and Disneyland.

But civil rights attorney Alejandra Caraballo rightfully explained that while we all concern ourselves with whether to play a video game, there are lives at stake. I feel such intense shame whenever I read statements like these: my focus has somehow slipped away from the people in pain and drifted toward the shiny commercialism of the game. I had been seduced by the money and power of the Warner Bros. corporation.

Haters versus allies

My unease also comes from the backlash faced by the streamers that choose to engage with the product. Some are using their funds from playing Hogwarts: Legacy to raise money for trans charities; others are using their platform to create an online discourse about trans and LGBTQIA+ rights.

The dangerous hate proliferating online is turning into a test: you’re either with us or against us. You either play, or you don’t. You hate the trans community, or you’re an ally. This makes me nervous; I’m not sure that people should be simplified or shoved into binaries.

These dichotomies are proving essential to the cultural argument and Hogwarts: Legacy is becoming a determination of someone’s character and belief system. The game is becoming a test. And we’re avoiding the real, political issues in favour of trolling players.

Is it okay to love Harry Potter

Online bullying—whether from J.K. Rowling’s comments or a single troll targeting gamers—is never okay.

But by investing our money in the Hogwarts: Legacy game, are we supporting Rowling’s views and hurting people further? A small part of me would like to assign the ‘death of the author’ principle here—a metaphorical separation of the writer from their work. In my view, the characters of Harry Potter are strong enough to stand alone; Luna’s charm, Neville’s bravery, Tonks’s ferocity and Malfoy’s complexity exist for me no matter what rhetoric Rowling shares online. For many fans, the Harry Potter universe has been a source of great comfort in dark times. These same fans, many of whom are trans people, are also hurt by the words of its maker.

I’m not sure, though, that we should completely strip Harry Potter of its position on the shelf of cultural history.

The fans

In the wake of Rowling’s devastating Tweet and the establishment of her damaging rhetoric, Daniel Radcliffe publicly denounced her words.

‘To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you,’ Radcliffe said to LGBTQIA+ suicide prevention charity, the Trevor Project. ‘I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you… And in my opinion, nobody can touch that.’

Many people have worked on and contributed to the fandom of Harry Potter and the creation of the wizarding world. Harry Potter will always bring me joy, but I will never allow myself to stop questioning its shortcomings. I will always read with my eyes wide open.


Any views or personal opinions in this blog belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of other people or groups. Any views or opinions offered are in no way intended to malign or offend any individual or group. If you would like to access further LGBTIQA+ resources, the University of Melbourne, Victorian government, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia and Trans Health Australia offer help and support.

Maddy Corbel is an aspiring publisher from Melbourne. When not reading or studying, she can be found writing for Bookish Nooks. She is also a passionate singer and pianist, and loves drinking tea while learning about history.

Cover photo by Tuyen Vo on Unsplash (used with Unsplash free license).

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