A new video game stemming from the fictional world of the "Harry Potter" book series by J.K. Rowling is generating controversy over its inclusion of a trans character, particularly due to accusations of transphobia against Rowling. Scheduled to release Feb. 10, 2023, on some gaming consoles and with a wider release in April, the open-world, role-playing game is set in Rowling's Wizarding World of more than a 100 years ago.
Players are introduced in the game to Sirona Ryan, the proprietor of Three Broomsticks pub in Hogsmeade village. She informs player-characters that her classmates took some time to realize she "was actually a witch, not a wizard." The player-character interacts with her while on a mission with a goblin named Lodgok, who is her friend.
The team behind "Hogwarts Legacy" at Portkey Games confirmed this detail in an interview with IGN, a popular gaming news website:
The team felt that it was very important to create a game that is representative of the rich and diverse world of Harry Potter as well as the groups of people who play games, which includes the LGBTQIA+ community. We have a diverse cast of characters that players will encounter throughout the game.
When asked about why the character was not featured in promotional materials, the company said, "As with most of the game, we want players to discover all of the different elements of the story and gameplay as they play through it."
The game's official website states, "J.K. Rowling is not involved in the creation of the game, but as creator of the wizarding world and one of the world's greatest storytellers, her extraordinary body of writing is the foundation of all projects in the Wizarding World. This is not a new story from J.K. Rowling, however we have collaborated closely with her team on all aspects of the game to ensure it remains in line with the magical experiences fans expect."
The company added, "Each experience offered under Portkey Games will take place in the wizarding world and will be authentic to it. J.K. Rowling has entrusted the design and creation of the games to Warner Bros. Games and the developers involved who are collaborating with her team on all aspects of the games."
Since 2018, Rowling has been accused of being transphobic, which she denies. She once liked a tweet that said trans women are "men in dresses," an action she later claimed was for research purposes. She also mocked the idea that the phrase "people who menstruate" could refer to anyone other than women. She has made a number of statements over the years that appear to question and belittle the experiences of trans people, leading many to label her a TERF (a trans-exclusionary radical feminist).
A number of gaming review sites have opted to boycott the game, while others have published reviews with caveats stating Rowlings' views. IGN wrote:
The elephant in the room with Hogwarts Legacy is Harry Potter's creator, J.K. Rowling, whose comments about transgender people in recent years have left a sour taste in the mouths of many current and former Potter fans, both at IGN and in the world at large. This has driven some to call for a boycott of the Wizarding World altogether – including Hogwarts Legacy, though Rowling was not directly involved and there are good reasons (both in-game and out) to believe the developers at Avalanche don't necessarily share her views. Regardless, IGN has always and will continue to champion human rights causes and support people speaking with their wallets in whatever manner they choose. [...] As critics, our job is to answer the question of whether or not we find Hogwarts Legacy to be fun to play and why; whether it's ethical to play is a separate but still very important question.
However, Axios reports that Rowling may still profit off the game.
According to Bloomberg, the game will allow players to customize their character's voices, body types, and gender placement, allowing them to create transgender characters as part of the gaming experience.
In December 2022, Rowling tweeted about calls to boycott the game from video producer and writer Jessie Earl, saying, "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."
Jessie Earl, who is trans, acknowledged the inclusion of trans characters in an essay for GameSpot:
Rowling is not directly involved in the game, and although WB Interactive's president failed to condemn Rowling's words, the developers inside the company have worked to let you create a transgender character in the game. However, it's still difficult for any trans person to look at any element of the Harry Potter franchise and not see the harm that continues to be perpetuated by the woman who created it. [...] Rowling still sits at the head of the franchise, benefiting not only financially from every sale, but through its popularity. The more relevant Harry Potter remains, the more platform Rowling is given to perpetuate anti-transgender language. [...]
You're not a bad person if you want to play Hogwarts Legacy. The important thing is not to condemn the game or renounce your love of Harry Potter, it's to wrestle with the complexity of it and decide for yourself. Trans people don't get to ignore the pain the franchise has become intrinsically linked to, and those who wish to care for them shouldn't get to do so, either.
Warner Bros.' Head of Gaming David Haddad told Axios in response to questions about boycotts: "We're going to stay very focused on the game that we built and the great job that the Avalanche studio has done. [...] We want everybody that loves this world and loves these stories and loves these characters."