Hogwarts Legacy has become ammunition in the anti-trans culture war

A wizard in Hogwarts Legacy stands with Professor Fig
(Image credit: William Schubert)

The controversy over Hogwarts Legacy has very little to do with the game itself, but that’s not stopped it from becoming ammo in a culture war. 

The open-world Harry Potter RPG is hardly GTA 6; you’re not mowing down civilians, robbing banks, or shooting police. You play a student who joins a school for witches and wizards, attends magic classes, and explores a world filled with fantastical beasts. However, the game, which launched on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S on 10 February, is at the center of a huge and often very heated row.

JK Rowling has become one of the most visible figures in the culture war around transgender issues

The problem for some gamers is that Harry Potter’s creator JK Rowling – who profits from the game, as it’s an officially licensed title – has become one of the most visible figures in the culture war around transgender issues. It’s very scary to be trans right now, and many trans people believe that buying a Harry Potter product is effectively supporting a movement whose more extreme voices want to eliminate us from society. And that means Hogwarts Legacy has become part of this culture war.

For a lot of people on social media, the question is no longer whether the game is any good. It’s whether you’re a good person if you buy it, or if good people should boycott it. 

Hogwarts Legacy

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Increasing trouble

Since writing about the controversies surrounding Hogwarts Legacy last year, the situation has only become more heated. There are now more than 300 anti-trans bills in front of US legislators, the UK government has blocked Scotland’s proposed gender recognition reforms, and Donald Trump has said if he is elected president, he will pass a law banning minors from receiving gender-affirming healthcare, while a potential Republican presidential candidate rival, Ron DeSantis, says doctors providing this treatment “need to get sued”.

Since writing about the controversies surrounding Hogwarts Legacy last year, the situation has only become more heated

Rowling herself has become more central to the trans/anti-trans culture war – and, as a result, Hogwarts Legacy has become embroiled in it too.

In July last year, Rowling praised Matt Walsh’s film, What is a Woman?, saying it did “a good job exposing the incoherence of gender identity theory and some of the harms it's done”. In the film, Walsh addresses a Loudoun County School Board meeting where residents are debating whether transgender children can use their correct names and pronouns and use toilets and locker rooms that align with their gender. “You are all child abusers," he says. "You prey upon impressionable children and indoctrinate them into your insane ideological cult, a cult which holds many fanatical views but none so deranged as the idea that boys are girls and girls are boys.” The film was described by Science Based Medicine as “a science denying propaganda film disguised as a documentary”.

Rowling has also engaged with people who have stated they would boycott Hogwarts Legacy. In December, filmmaker Jessie Earl said she did not “begrudge anyone their love of past works or things they already own that they take comfort in [...] but any support of something like Hogwarts Legacy is harmful.”

“Deeply disappointed [Earl] doesn't realise purethink is incompatible with owning ANYTHING connected with me, in ANY form," Rowling said. "The truly righteous wouldn't just burn their books and movies but the local library, anything with an owl on it and their own pet dogs.” 

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The Harry Potter author also shared another tweet in which someone advocated the position that it was fine to watch and read the books you already owned, but urged people not to buy the new game.

“And as for this, I'm appalled," Rowling said. "This individual actually advocates reading the books because ‘nobody needs to know’. All fine and dandy until you get drunk and accidentally quote one, sonny. 'I never did it in public' won't save you when the police see your Hufflepuff socks.”

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A wizard in Hogwarts Legacy flying a broomstick

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment)

The backlash, and the backlash to the backlash

Hogwarts Legacy has become a totem in the trans/anti-trans culture war. The game’s release is being used by both trans people and trans allies, and people who are anti-trans.

There’s currently a donation drive for the trans charity Mermaids, the organizer of which says, “I will not be purchasing the game, so instead, I would like to support Trans folks” and “any amount is accepted but especially the amounts for the cost of Hogwarts Legacy - $59.99 for standard edition, $69.99 for deluxe (£50.00)”. At the time of writing, the campaign has raised over $12,000 / £10,000 / AU$17,000.

There is also a report of purchases of Hogwarts Legacy being used as an anti-trans statement.

“In case you were wondering how Hogwarts Legacy is used to hate on trans people, I regularly get messages from anti-trans folks proudly telling me they’re buying the game to harass me,” Jessie Earl said in a tweet. “The game, due to its association with Rowling… has become synonymous with hate.” 

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While it’s probable that many people will have none of these considerations in mind when buying the game, it’s important to see how Hogwarts Legacy has already become ammunition for the anti-trans movement. 

It doesn’t matter if Hogwarts Legacy is good or bad; that it features a character who is implied to be trans; or that a trans voice actor is in the game’s cast. Because of Hogwarts Legacy’s ties to JK Rowling, and the perception that she is part of the anti-trans movement, the game has become an emblem of the debate. People are buying it to make a statement, people are not buying it to make a statement, its sales figures can be perceived as a statement; playing the game, streaming the game, and reviewing the game can all be perceived as a statement of pro or anti-trans intent.

If you’ve taken a side in the trans debate, it’s impossible not to take a side on the issue of Hogwarts Legacy. For many in the trans community, this is not a game.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.