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Hogwarts Legacy debuts amid LGBTQ gamer protests over J.K. Rowling

Hundreds of streamers are protesting the release of the game on Friday while raising funds for the Trans Justice Funding Project.

For many in the LGBTQ community, the ongoing controversy surrounding Harry Potter's creator, J.K. Rowling, has made the debut of the video game Hogwarts Legacy anything but magical.   

The long-anticipated game has been marred with controversy since it was first announced in September 2020, largely due to Rowling’s outspoken views on the transgender community, which many have called transphobic. 

A slew of gamers, including former Harry Potter fans, have vowed not to purchase Hogwarts Legacy. And on Friday, nearly 300 LGBTQ gamers and allies are launching a week-long protest against the game on Twitch and discouraging people from streaming it.

“Being an ally is something that you do; it’s not who you are,” said Valerie, a queer gamer who organized the protest on Twitch. “That’s how you spend your money, that’s how you spend your time … if your support comes with restrictions or exceptions, like buying and playing a game like this, you’re not being an ally.”

In conjunction with the game’s release, those participating in the protest will stream anything but Hogwarts Legacy on Twitch while raising money for charity. Before Valerie’s protest stream had even begun, she said the online boycott had already raised more than $20,000 for the Trans Justice Funding Project.

“Ultimately, there is no ethical way to consume a luxury good whose profit and influence prop up hateful, transphobic rhetoric,” said Veronica Ripley, a Twitch ambassador and transgender woman, who goes by “Nikatine” on the platform.

The video game, which Rowling has had no direct involvement with, includes features intended to make transgender players feel welcomed in the Wizarding World.

It introduces a character named Sirona Ryan, who runs a pub in the town of Hogsmeade. While the game does not explicitly state the character is trans, it is suggested in Sirona’s dialogue with the players, when she says it took a moment for her classmates to realize she is “actually a witch, not a wizard.”

Players are also able to build their characters without having to choose a gender; they just pick a body type and voice tone without relegating either to a specific gender. They then are able to pick whether they want to be a “witch” or “wizard.”

Ultimately, there is no ethical way to consume a luxury good whose profit and influence prop up hateful, transphobic rhetoric.

-Veronica Ripley, a Twitch ambassador who goes by 'Nikatine' on the platform

But some trans activists who spoke with NBC News said these additions to the game seem shallow.

“These are attempts at a performance of inclusivity the same way that movies about trans characters played by cis people are performances of inclusivity,” Ripley said. “At best, they’re like a quick cash grab and a pat on the back from rich executives and at worst they’re actively malicious toward the trans community.”

Online, many also suggested that the trans character’s name, “Sirona Ryan,” is problematic in itself, noting that the first three letters spell out “Sir.”

Others pointed out that even if the game is trying to be more inclusive, Rowling will likely financially benefit from the game’s success.

“Social currency is still a thing and cultural relevance is still a thing,” said Candace Melody, a Canadian Twitch streamer and queer gamer. “As long as she’s relevant … there’s still work to be done.” 

A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Interactive, the game’s publisher, directed NBC News to an article in video game website IGN in which a spokesperson responded to the addition of a trans character. 

When asked about the new character by IGN, a representative for the game’s developer Avalanche Software said, “It has been a high priority throughout the development of Hogwarts Legacy to create a game that is representative and diverse, aligning with our wonderful fan community.”

“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,” the representative added. “We have a diverse cast of characters that players will encounter throughout the game.”

A spokesperson for Rowling declined to comment.

Thus far, gaming critics have given the game fairly positive reviews, though some like the outlet Wired wrote the game’s “real-world harms are impossible to ignore.”

Those who ordered the deluxe edition of the game were given early access ahead of the official release, which has led to an influx of streamers sharing the game on Twitch.

Ahead of its release, Hogwarts Legacy announced on Twitter that the game became ranked as the No. 1 single-player game on Twitch, with with 1.28 million peak concurrent viewers at launch.

Despite their strong feelings against Rowling, many Potter fans have grappled with their relationship to the franchise.

“‘Harry Potter’ was a way for a lot of kids to find an escape from really tough times,” said Twitch streamer MSTRSSFOX, who only wanted to be referred to by her username out of concern for her safety. “I would say these books really helped me when I was very young … When I heard this game was coming out I felt very sad.”

The discourse surrounding Rowling has gotten so heated that a Reddit thread discussing the game has reinstated a ban on talking about her, citing concerns that "allowing conversation about JKR quickly spirals into bigoted language towards LGBTQ+ individuals."

Instead, users were encouraged to debate the ethics of the game "in good faith" in a separate Reddit megathread.

On Twitch, some claimed they were being bullied and called bigots for streaming the game. Others said they would play the game just to spite the transgender community

Some industry experts suggest any representation in gaming is better than no inclusion at all.

“It’s important to get as much representation in games of different types of people, different lifestyles, different ethnicities, different religions, different aspects of what we see in real life represented in games,” said Darion Lowenstein, an industry veteran and video game consultant, who is gay.

Even if the representation is imperfect, having diverse characters in a major game like Hogwarts Legacy could potentially open doors for future games that can perfect the representation, Lowenstein said. 

Still, those boycotting the game remain adamant that it's impossible to be an ally to the LGBTQ community and still play and support the game.

MSTRSSFOX said she's already lost the people in her life who have chosen to play the game.

“They’re not people I consider to be my friends, because they did choose their nostalgia over the furtherment of trans rights, over the furtherment of this message,” she said. “It’s unfortunate.” 

Those behind the boycott said they ultimately hope to raise awareness and get more people getting involved with trans rights activism.

“I hope we can use this moment as a springboard for a larger discussion for the needs of creators," Ripley said. "And the safety of the community overall."

Valerie said she wants the protest to send a message to the trans community that, despite the success of the game, there are allies who stand with them and have their back. 

“I want the trans people in my life to know … that their rights are human rights,” Valerie said. “We love you more than we love a stupid little video game.”