Growing up is one of the worst feelings in the world. Especially when you discover that one of the most prevalent fictional worlds of your childhood, once imbued with magic, friendship and adventure, has been corrupted with foundational hate and ignorance. What was once a chance for comforting escapism has now morphed into an uncontrollable critical analysis of the harmful and vilifying stereotypes that plague everything affiliated with it. J.K. Rowling has not only ruined Harry Potter for me, but for many thousands of young people who have grown up with her highly influential children’s series, especially those who have been directly harmed as a result of her actions.
If this is news to you, I envy your Twitter-less lifestyle. The Harry Potter series hosts a plethora of concerning tropes and ideas, from naming token POC characters ignorantly and offensively, to broader political ideologies such as the house elves’ slavery (yes, Hermione does campaign for SPEW, but she is relentlessly mocked for it, told that she was being ridiculous as the elves seemed to ‘enjoy’ it, and ultimately fails; that J.K. Rowling writes the house elves as taking offence to Hermione’s efforts must be unsettling for others too, right?).
Most recently, more discussions addressing antisemitism in Harry Potter have surfaced, following excitement from many online due to the release of Hogwarts Legacy. Rowling’s goblins feature in the first Harry Potter book. Depicted as working at Gringotts Wizarding Bank and tasked with secretly looking after wizards’ money, they are described as having long, hooked noses and plenty more stereotypical features besides. Even wizards are wary of them, emphasised in the film when Hagrid says that they are “clever as they come… but not the most friendly of beasts.” In a recent episode of his podcast, Jon Stewart points out that, as a Jewish man, this stereotype was glaringly obvious to him in the cinema, describing this image of goblins as a direct copy of a piece of antisemitic propaganda from World War II. While Stewart maintains that he is not accusing Rowling of being antisemitic, I believe that it’s important to recognise the danger of this perpetuation – even if it is unconscious – of antisemitic caricatures by people with an influential platform. They are repulsive stereotypes, originating from hatred, and in failing to progress beyond them, society has remained stagnant.
Now, we turn to Hogwarts Legacy. The premise of the narrative is that of a war between wizards and goblins: the “Goblin Rebellion.” They are an oppressed minority, rebelling for rights, but you as the player… are fighting against them? Situating goblins as the antagonists of the story further adds to the Wizarding World’s antisemitic history. As a result, some gamers are prepared to boycott the game to avoid Rowling acquiring royalties. Some, on the other hand, are more encouraged to buy the game after the discourse began. However, reading their comments has led me to conclude that this largely stemmed from a dislike of being told what to do, rather than a celebration of the game’s treatment of minorities.
One such minority is the transgender community, and specifically trans women. Rowling has made several tweets that indicate her alignment with TERF ideology, as well as having made considerable donations to anti-LGBTQ+ organisations and maintaining relationships with the late Magdalen Berns. Those wishing to boycott hope that there will be less money spent on the restriction of basic human rights, especially in light of Rowling’s tweet, in response to being asked how she feels about losing a large chunk of her audience, that “I read my most recent royalty cheques and find the pain goes away pretty quickly.” Not only that, but the lead designer of the game quit the project for sympathising with GamerGate, a hugely misogynistic campaign.
To purchase this game is to be aligned with the dangerous ideology hidden behind it. Some believe that pirating the game fits better with their morals, however in doing so, you are still being entertained by the very stereotypes you wished to condemn. Before learning about the details of this game, I was really looking forward to it: its features are innovative and inclusive, and the sheer size was so appealing to me. But for me, it’d be immoral to buy it with the knowledge of the harm it perpetuates.