Video game

Let’s talk about video game boycotts and ethical consumption

After being announced nearly two years ago – and leaked nearly two years prior – Hogwarts Legacy was finally revealed during this week’s PlayStation State of Play. What could have been an exciting time for lifelong Harry Potter fans has become a moral quagmire thanks to JK Rowling’s unwavering commitment to the persecution of transgender people. Now that Rowling has become the figurehead of a hate group, we can’t just buy a Harry Potter game without tackling the social and ethical ramifications of supporting her media empire. Some have called for a boycott of Hogwarts Legacy and Harry Potter, while others remain committed to the franchise, believing that certain commercial nuances will allow them to enjoy the wizarding world while keeping their hands clean.

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This isn’t the only boycott conversation the gaming community has had in recent memory. A similar debate arose out of the Activision Blizzard lawsuit and prompted many to call for a boycott of Diablo 2: Resurrected. The arguments made then were largely the same as the arguments made today. We’ll no doubt be having the exact same conversation again when Hogwarts Legacy, Overwatch 2, and Diablo 4 also release. The talk is circular and endless, but I’ve come to a position that has the power to free us all from spending the rest of our lives fighting the same social media battle every time a company or person in the games is doing something to compromise their work ethic. Here it is: boycotts don’t work, but you still have the moral imperative to oppose evil when you see it.


It may not be the most satisfying conclusion, but it is true. Video game boycotts have never worked and never will, and we have decades of evidence to prove it. Modern Warfare 2, Left 4 Dead 2, The Wind Waker, and Pokemon Sword & Shield were all involved in boycott movements prior to release, and each of them was a major commercial success. The problem is twofold. First, gamers simply aren’t particularly good at following up on boycotts, and second, the global gaming community has grown far too large to support collective action. Even though hundreds of thousands of people were so crazy about Dexit that they were ready to boycott Sword & Shield, millions of other gamers either didn’t know or didn’t care enough about the issue and bought the games anyway.


Related: Should You Play Hogwarts Legacy If You Care About Your Trans Friends?

The situation with Hogwarts Legacy and Activision Blizzard is obviously very different. It’s not about terminally ill online gamers raging on the art style of Wind Waker or the private servers of Modern Warfare. This is a widespread and ongoing developer abuse, in the case of Activision Blizzard, and a matter of targeted discrimination, in the case of Hogwarts Legacy. These are big and important issues that go far beyond the world of gaming, but it remains a fact that the huge customer base of Activision, Blizzard, and Harry Potter games will never know or care about a boycott. Even if everyone on social media was completely aligned on these issues and agreed that a boycott was necessary – which it isn’t – the vast majority of people going to buy Hogwarts Legacy would never even know it.


That’s not to say it doesn’t matter whether or not you buy Hogwarts Legacy. Just because a boycott is out of the question doesn’t mean we have to be nihilistic in our purchasing decisions. A boycott is a protest, it is intended to elicit a response from the person or company you are boycotting. But Rowling won’t change her mind and Warner Brothers won’t cancel the game. There’s nothing we can do in this situation but stand up against evil when we see it. If you think JK Rowling’s behavior and words are harmful to trans people, you shouldn’t buy the Harry Potter game.


Hogwarts Legacy Mirror

I want to take a second to address those who believe Rowling is a danger to trans lives but think they can always rationalize buying Hogwarts Legacy. There are a few common arguments I’ve seen, many of which could also be applied to the Activision Blizzard situation, and I don’t think they hold up to scrutiny. It doesn’t matter that Rowling didn’t work on the game or that the studio strayed (weakly) from its politics. Rowling’s strength as a media figure comes from being the creator of Harry Potter. As long as the Harry Potter intellectual property thrives, Rowling will continue to be a powerful and influential person in the world. It wouldn’t matter if she didn’t directly earn a penny from Hogwarts Legacy. Supporting Harry Potter supports Rowling, and it always will.


You also cannot defend buying the game by claiming that you want to show your support for the developers. Many people working at Avalanche Software oppose Rowling’s views, and it’s tragic that they likely worked on this game for years before Rowling laid out her beliefs. I sympathize with them, but to say that you intend to buy the game to support these developers is dishonest. If that were the case, you would have purchased every game ever made in order to support the developers who made them. As our own Stacey Henley points out in a recent post on this topic, “If you’re supporting them specifically because they’re working on Harry Potter, then you’re not supporting them. You do this thing called “buying a video game“. Unless you’re the biggest fan of Tak and the Power of Juju in the world, you’re buying it because you’re a fan of Harry Potter, not Avalanche Software.

You don’t punish the developers for Rowling’s behavior if you don’t buy the game. Developers aren’t paid based on sales, and performance-based bonuses are largely out of fashion. Even when it did happen, it was usually related to review scores, not sales numbers. If you’re worried about people getting fired if the game doesn’t do well enough, remember that’s something that happens in most studios all the time after a game launches, no matter how many copies sold. These developers need unions, not more sales.


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As the leftist Sonic the Hedgehog meme says, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. While the phrase is meant to rightly attribute the source of society’s woes to corporations, many like to use it to absolve themselves of responsibility for unethical consuming. This is an easy trap to fall into. Every time you saw a Marvel or Star Wars movie, you were indirectly funding Republicans in Florida who want to exterminate all LGBTQIA+ people. You can’t even drink a bottle of water without funding Nestlé or Coca-Cola, two companies that exploit the poor, destroy communities and cause irrevocable damage to our ecosystem.

It would not be possible to completely avoid contributing and spreading all the evil in the world, especially when so much corporate wrongdoing is unknown to us. With abusive and sexist cultures on display in the gaming industry, it can seem impossible to buy a game without lining the pockets of predatory and exploitative CEOs like Bobby Kotick.

You can’t do the right thing all the time, but you can do it. Don’t buy Hogwarts Legacy if you care about trans rights. It almost certainly won’t change anything, but it’s the right thing, and sometimes it’s all we can do.


Next: EA, Gearbox and Microsoft among 65 companies speaking out against Texas anti-trans guidelines


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