In last week's PlayStation presentation about Hogwarts Legacy, the upcoming Harry Potter open-world role-playing game, members of the development team Avalanche Software talked about using magic, caring for magical creatures, flying on broomsticks, and finding secrets hidden throughout the castle. They did not discuss Harry Potter’s creator, J. K. Rowling.
Man, 10 year old me would be so confused if I had to tell him “Ok, so your dream game is coming out based on Harry Potter. Unfortunately you’re not going to play it because the money you pay will go to an absolute monster of a person.”
It’s such a shame, because the game itself looks really good imo.
And even if Warner announced tomorrow that they had given Rowling a couple billion for HP and she would never see another nickel from it, I would still have some problems engaging with more Harry Potter. I’ve seen enough people vivisect Harry Potter and show off all of its problem bits in a way that I can usually sit down and say “Okay, I can reengage with this now knowing all of this,” but with Rowling still out there doing her thing, more HP just feels like taking a bath at the Chernobyl Inn
The inherent problematic parts are indeed not great, but that’s less of an impediment for me. I see it as something like Lovecraft, where the worldbuilding certainly is suffused with prejudice, but there is a core concept that still resonates with myself and a lot of other people. The difference, of course, is that HP Lovecraft is dead and not actively harming people today. So if JK Rowling were to fuck off and not materially gain from the sale, I would be much more inclined to see what different, less bigoted creators can do with what remains, to me, a very compelling world.
What is the state of the Harry Potter Fandom these days? Are middle school aged kids obsessed with it the way people now in their 30s were? Since the output after the deathly hollows movie has consisted of a weird grim play and the completely baffling Fantastic Beasts movies.
There’s also a million ways to play with Lovecraft’s work and influence in ways that directly subvert his racism and xenophobia. You can’t do that with Harry Potter because it is so specifically a single author’s work (whereas the cosmic horror community HPL was a part of was collaborative, loose, and continues to this day) within a broader genre that she did not establish or define. When we work in the space Lovecraft helped define, we aren’t legally bound to make it fit with his particular vision. You can make stories about inconceivable monsters from distant space and time that aren’t about the terrors of race mixing or your Catholic neighbors begetting the downfall of Hwite society.
I mean, this game is about putting down a goblin rebellion in the late 19th century. Goblins who are so sickeningly and specifically a Jewish caricature, rising up for their rights. We already know how it ends: they become a racial underclass with their rights revoked. It’s a game about doing a reactionary counterrevoltionary pogrom to Jewish revolutionaries. That’s the world Rowling has built, and if we want to see interesting stories that don’t perpetuate her world view, we have to go outside of her IP. That could be adapting other magic school fiction (Earthsea) or creating something totally new that subverts and critiques her work the same way something like Bloodborne or Ballad of Back Tom does Lovecraft.
I watched the recent Shaun video on HP so I have a broad idea of how absolutely seething JK is when she writes any of her minority stand-ins, but it is somehow exponentially more fuck-off ridiculous that this specific lore carveout is what they’re gonna game. Oofadoofa
To be clear, that synopsis is based on a brief snippet of dialog from the trailer, and we don’t know where the story goes. It could very well be something like you realizing the injustice of the status quo of goblin rights and work on their behalf. But we really don’t know.
And yeah, the world of Harry Potter is suffused with racist tropes. Just like Star Wars, just like Lord of the Rings. And that sucks. But coming from the perspective of a 90s brown kid, it’s something I’ve had to work around to appreciate a lot of western fiction.
There’s a lot of nostalgia tied around Harry Potter as an aesthetic, I know I loved at least three of the films and read the first book for school, but I really don’t feel like it’s wholely original enough that there exists no substitute. There’s no need to keep re-engaging with a work made by an actively harmful creator when there’s so much more to see, especially when that work itself is also further compromised by the authors prejudices.
Anyone wanting to play the HP game should just play a sorcerer class in Elden Ring.
Maybe I could be convinced to play this game if it handles the goblin protests the way Little Witch Academia did, with its hero taking two minutes to listen to the concerns of labor, and then turning around and immediately joining the cause against the school.
I would be INCREDIBLY surprised if a harry potter videogame were allowed to meaningfully examine how much wizard society sucks actually
(my guess? at BEST it’ll be like that one korra villain who organised the non-bender rebellion - ie the movement will maybe be shown to Have A Point but the leader will Go Too Far / be evil, and so he gets defeated, and then oh the rebellion is also over and the status quo is restored)
(actually read the article edit: hey shrieking shack! a good podcast imo. I’ve been listening to it recently and it’s kind of wild hearing them talk early on about rowling liking questionable tweets, knowing where this goes over the next few years…)
I feel genuinely sorry for the devs at Avalanche because (bar a few people who have since been pushed out of the company) they seem to be extremely uncomfortable with Joanne and her whole deal.
I don’t necessarily think the game will be amazing, but it’s clearly an immense production. The animation alone on display in that showcase was top-tier expressive. It really does look like they were getting an opportunity to establish themselves as more than the Disney better-than-they-ought-to-be licensed game factory, and instead they trod on another rake Sideshow Bob-style.
I can kinda trace my personal falling-out with Rowling through Twitter. Asked a friend of mine from high school about Rowling’s post-HP stuff and she said “It’s good, but it’s weird. Every one of her characters are terrible people.” And the thing that ultimately got me to give up on Rowling (before the mask came off) was her incessant bad political takes, often of the “pox on both your houses” flavor of centrism.
This is a trashfire before it even releases. One look at the story premise is enough to make an educated guess that they aren’t going to salvage that world (they’d have to deliberately steer hard into the opposite direction of the premise after a twist and have a bad end, which they won’t do because that would ruin the world for people). I admit that I’m intrigued by the gameplay that was shown during the state of play but jesus.
Honestly, I believe watching that video should be mandatory preparation for everyone wanting to write something in that universe from now on.
Can’t say I love that the player character seems to have a house elf.
I have to admit, even without elves or goblins or the poison of Rowling’s attachment to the series, the game looks… kind of bad. Mobile game-style timers in a single player, $70 game? A morality system in a game where - again - you have a house elf, seemingly regardless of if you’re good or evil? Quidditch?
Mustering up any fondness I had for the series, I’d probably enjoy exploring the castle - the dormitories especially - but then, even that feels weighed down by the State of Play juxtaposing ‘exploring never before seen parts of the castle’ with footage of the house elves’ quarters.