Scene from "Hogwarts Legacy": A game that many "Harry Potter" fans have been waiting for for a long time
Photo: Warner Bros. Games
It's a ritual in the gaming scene: when a blockbuster hits the market, you don't have to play it to hear about it.
Thousands of streamers and media rush to the big new releases: They produce live streams and video essays, write tests, guides and news.
And on social media, gaming fans are debating whether a long-awaited game is really as good as they hoped.
Big brands seem even bigger in the days surrounding release.
Things are different with »Hogwarts Legacy«.
When it comes out on Friday after several postponements, it will be the biggest and most spectacular video game in the Harry Potter universe.
And yes, it fulfills the dream of many fans of the book and film series: to be a magician or witch yourself in the world's most famous magic school.
But the game comes in the light of an online debate about Harry Potter author JK Rowling that has been heating up in recent years.
"Hogwarts Legacy" acts as an outlet: All around the game there are allegations, reprimands and calls for boycotts, most of which have to do with JK Rowling and less with the action role-playing game itself.
It's about whether and how easy it is to separate the author from her work.
About whether it is reprehensible to support Rowling financially as a gamer – even if it is indirectly through a game with a license for her fantasy universe, in the development of which she was not directly involved, as the developer emphasizes.
Ultimately, it is about morality in a world that is becoming increasingly complex.
What JK Rowling said
A sticking point in the Rowling controversy is an essay the author posted online on June 10, 2020.
In it, she explains her point of view and concerns about the debate about biological sex and gender.
In essence, Rowling fears one thing above all: that the category of biological sex will dissolve and that will have dire consequences for society and especially for women.
It is about the question of whether people should be able to change the gender entry without psychological examinations and state assessment.
For example, Rowling thinks it is problematic if a man in prison can choose to change his gender identity in order to be transferred to a women's prison.
Rowling, a former victim of domestic and sexual violence herself, sees safe places for women at risk.
That would probably also be the discussion that could - and should - be held: How do we deal with gender-specific places if the category of gender is treated less rigidly and finitely in society and politics?
This is a discourse that can and should be discussed in a free society.
It doesn't matter how you feel about him.
Why Rowling is considered a »TERF«
Looking at her essay and a number of tweets that Rowling has since posted, this desire for social debate was lost in the discursive roar.
And the author shouted along loudly.
For example, by invoking the so-called “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria”.
It describes the alleged phenomenon that young people suddenly identify with the opposite sex through a kind of social contagion, i.e. also because of their environment.
The study on which this is based was controversial from the start - and many other studies also question the phenomenon.
JK Rowling supports initiatives that oppose laws that allow trans people more self-determination.
She parades trans people on Twitter in front of her 14 million followers.
She funds a women's shelter where trans women are apparently not welcome.
And again and again she is concerned with public toilets that are said to be unsafe – but the gender of the doors has never been checked.
For her positions, which emerged from the end of 2019, Rowling is often showered with hate messages, she is accused of transphobia across the board.
But she, too, often tweets polemically.
In her unwillingness to differentiate, she focuses on a marginalized group of people as a whole.
In their language, trans people exist primarily in the context of fear and threat.
That's another reason why she got the name TERF, which stands for
trans-exclusive radical feminist
Suddenly a topic for gamers
It is probably also due to such terms that the Rowling debate seemed far away for many gamers for a long time.
But now, as many anticipate the release of Hogwarts Legacy, some game fans find themselves in a situation they find incomprehensible: they are being publicly slammed on social media platforms for stating they are heading towards a mainstream entertainment product be happy.
There were also personal attacks by radical parts of the trans activists and Rowling's opponents.
Part of the gaming scene positioned itself clearly in the debate that ensued: some influencers made it public that they would not stream or advertise the game, even if they missed out on clicks and income.
A large game forum prevents discussions about the game.
And games magazines explained the scope and focus of their reporting with unusual precision.
Anyone who, as a public person or as an institution, does not position themselves critically towards "Hogwarts Legacy" runs the risk of being labeled as transphobic on Twitter these days.
For example, when the video maker Gronkh stated in a stream that he personally didn't care about JK Rowling, a shitstorm started via the short message service - based on a short stream excerpt that largely ignored the context of Gronkh's statement.
Many outraged people missed the fact that Gronkh said elsewhere that he wanted to donate the income from his streams to trans organizations.
And how is »Hogwarts Legacy«?
»Hogwarts Legacy« itself sometimes degenerates into a symbol in the face of such excitement and itself seems insignificant and small.
But that's not it.
On the contrary: After a few hours of playing, it becomes clear that »Hogwarts Legacy« is a gigantic game that not only takes place in the magic school, but also offers a remarkably large open game world.
It's a well-done action role-playing game in which fans will immediately feel at home - thanks to a number of details and locations that they know from the books.
(You can find out more about the game in the photo gallery.)
What's more, you can tell the game is trying to be inclusive.
Trans people can be created in the character editor: the voice can be selected regardless of body shape and gender.
In general, there is no man or woman here, but witch and magician.
And so a witch with a "male" body shape and voice can walk through the game world and nobody takes offense at it.
And you shouldn't play this game at all or only with a bad conscience?
"My hope is that if there is a boycott, business will realize that they can no longer make money from transphobic, racist or homophobic authors," says trans non-binary Vivienne P. Lovecraft, a drag queen inspired by video games.
"It's our power to make a little change." Lovecraft says she realizes that's pretty optimistic.
But she believes that people can change.
"I hope that a Rowling will sit down and deal with their own problems."
"JK Rowling is so rich, it doesn't matter what else she can earn from the Harry Potter franchise," says Lili, who creates queer feminist content as a trans woman under the name Lilischote.
With the money she already has, Rowling can exert as much political influence as she wants.
Another point is more important.
"If 'Harry Potter' projects fail now, then nothing new will be produced for the franchise and she will become less interesting as a public person." A boycott, as Lili calls for it, should explicitly not apply to the content of the game, but Woman profiting from earnings from "Harry Potter" products.
Many trans people, including Vivienne P. Lovecraft and Lili, have a close connection to the Harry Potter universe.
You grew up with it.
Could identify with the story of an outsider who finally finds his place and is accepted.
This also partly explains the volume of this game in particular.
Rowling's testimonies resonate with people who feel the author stole an important part of their childhood and adolescence.
JK Rowling's management said on request that the author would not answer SPIEGEL's questions about "Hogwarts Legacy".
One can only guess how she feels about the work of the Avalanche Software studio.
Morality is not an easy thing
An expert, not specifically for the Rowling debate, but for questions about the ethics of boycotts is Philipp Schwind.
He is a moral philosopher and says that in modern society "there is no one left who lives up to the standards of a pure position as it is understood today."
In today's "morally compromised world" it is "impossible to act in all respects as a morally exemplary person would do".
What that means?
That it might help if people acknowledge that there are moral standards that they approve of in principle, but which are beyond what they can ask of themselves and others.
"A lot of things that we consume are problematic," says Schwind.
“Travel, food, clothes, computers.
But it would still be a profound revision of morality if we demanded that everyone do without it.« In other words: one should not expect more of others in individual cases that are particularly close to one's heart than in other areas.
Schwind puts it this way: »There is no justification for applying standards of everyday morality in most respects, but at the same time assuming maximum morality in certain questions that others may not even share.«
Buy or not?
So what does all of this mean if you take offense at Rowling's statements and don't want to support them?
In that case, the answer is simple: the obvious thing to do is not to buy, stream, or promote Hogwarts Legacy, since while the game more diversely represents the universe Rowling envisioned, it ultimately strengthens her most powerful brand.
At the same time, it's too easy to say that anyone who buys "Hogwarts Legacy" after all because they enjoy the game is transphobic.
Buyers should be aware, however, that they are supporting a person who many accuse of transphobia - and be it through gangs, unlike in a Rowling novel.
At the same time, and here you end up with the Twitter debate again, you are not necessarily a better person because you have publicly renounced a video game.
The so-called virtual signaling can even damage debates.
“You want to do something good and signal it to the outside world,” says Philipp Schwind.
“But that leaves no room for differentiation.
Neither in what I want to express, nor in dealing with the matter, which is often more complex than the signal allows.” The signal thus becomes more important than the matter.
Apart from that, in today's world, in which one learns about new, serious events every day, there is of course also the freedom not to take a stand, to simply have no opinion on something.
It only has limits when looking away would have serious consequences.
Is that the case with Rowling and Hogwarts Legacy?
There can be no one-size-fits-all answer to this.
One thing is certain: the game will sell millions of copies, despite all the excitement.
Simply because it is well-crafted fan service.
In addition, every potential prospect should have noticed that it is now appearing.
Because streamers will stream the latest blockbuster.
And because streamers are deliberately not doing this this time.