Hogwarts Legacy, “Professional” Journalism, and How Financial Incentive Can Corrupt Completely

So, I’ve been pretty busy lately. If you haven’t noticed, not only is my attention being pulled every which way—a novel to write, games to play, shows to watch and review, people to talk to and spend my increasingly precious, increasingly limited time with—but the entire ecosystem of gaming media outlets has gone ahead and lost its collective mind with the release of Hogwarts Legacy. In case you’re somehow unaware, Hogwarts Legacy is a video game set in the Harry Potter universe published by Warner Bros. Games and developed by Avalanche Studios, a third-person open world action RPG where you get to explore Hogwarts and the environment surrounding it while pursuing various quest lines and slinging a bunch of cool spells at people. If you know me, you know two things; I’ve loved video games since the early days of my childhood, and I am rather explicitly not a game reviewer. I have great respect for those capable of critiquing video games and their associated industry well; TotalBiscuit, The Act Man, AngryJoe, videogamedunkey, etc, but my specialty lies moreso in literary analysis than anything else. You’ll notice there’s a commonality between all the various critics I just listed; all of them are independent. When I think of reviews for video games, I think of individual personalities with consistent voices—which, of course, is the way it’s supposed to work even when reviewing products within other industries.

Before I say anything else, I wanna take a quick breather and provide some context for you. Firstly, if you’re at all curious, I did in fact pick up and play Hogwarts Legacy courtesy of a buddy who gifted me its digital deluxe edition (though I was going to buy the game with my own money anyways before receiving that unexpected gift) and I’m enjoying it a great deal, I’ve sunk in just about 50 hours into the game so far. I was discussing the game with my best friend over a year prior to its release date since he’s a huge fan of the Harry Potter license and has been looking forward to this for ages, and for good reason I might add—it’s essentially the dream game Harry Potter fans have always wanted to play, an equivalent for me personally would be like if an open world triple A quality Rance game came out where you got to fully explore its universe as your own custom character in which case I’d probably fucking nut. While I’m not a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, I still enjoy the movies and I think the developers for Legacy did a fantastic job recreating setpieces from them in incredible detail; in general, the game looks drop-dead gorgeous, plays great and has a lot more to it than I was expecting.

I have been doing critique for quite a while. It was only somewhat recently however that I really started to become comfortable with the idea of being a self-professed “critic”. Despite that, I think it’s important that I be honest with the both of us about what exactly it is that I’m doing here, and how it’s been exaggerated by the insane political discourse that has erupted around Hogwarts Legacy for over a month now. I am not a confrontational person by nature; I don’t usually like doing anything that I know is going to make people upset. I’m also a person who, like many other people these days, is rather afraid of the consequences one might incur by going against the radical left-wing ideology that is becoming more and more socially acceptable, enforced by those intent on defaming and destroying the livelihoods of any who dare to have a difference of opinion on the subject matter. I try to avoid overtly political discussion in my review material, since more often than not the current state of American politics has nothing to do with what I’m critiquing, and a certain level of healthy political detachment is extremely important for the maintenance of one’s mental health and wellbeing—there’s no use having a fucking crisis over things we as individuals are totally incapable of controlling, especially when considering that the politicians serving as public mouthpieces for these ideologies in the first place are almost all doing so for the sake of serving an ulterior motive; it’s their job, after all. If you ever wonder as to why the people at the top always end up being corrupt and slimy, take a moment to consider why you have no interest in becoming a politician yourself, and you’ll come up with the answer pretty quickly.

If you’re curious, my political stance is very moderate. That wasn’t always the case; I grew up with a pretty far-right wing father, and it took me a good amount of time into my adulthood for my political bent to shift into a more healthy place. As I’ve grown up, I’ve become more and more disturbed by how severe the divide between political parties is becoming. Genuine conversation and civil discourse is dying, replaced instead with vitriolic hatred for and dehumanization of those who don’t align with your political beliefs—a culture war where a subscription to one side or the other is required, and questioning its doctrine is tantamount to heresy. Most disconcerting of all though is how these political debates are being twisted into matters of inherent morality—an assertion that if you don’t have the socially acceptable opinion, you are an inherently, irredeemably evil person, and belief in that socially acceptable opinion is a basic moral instinct that all genuine people possess. Simply letting people live their lives in good faith and living peacefully is not enough; if you aren’t a self-professed activist fighting on the front lines for the cause of your people, you’re contributing to the problem. God forbid anyone try to be happy and enjoy life, let’s all just complain about how unfair the world is instead.

I have developed, slowly but surely, an identity as a critic writing for the purpose of trying to inform, offer constructive criticism and make arguments for my opinions that are compelling. It isn’t only the material I’m criticizing that comes under the microscope; writing is, inherently, a very personal thing for those willing to let themselves be seen within the pages of their work. I have done everything in my power to be as honest, open and transparent as I can possibly be, and I like to think that a reader can probably get a good idea of the kind-of person I am, the kind-of beliefs I hold and the things I stand for if they are familiar enough with my work. But despite all that, I have always been very hesitant to share any of my work with a broad audience. It’s a dilemma I’ve run into since becoming more serious about my critique; who am I benefiting by intentionally holding my opinions in reserve, shying away from negative feedback or targeted attack? Can this form of one-sided dialogue truly be considered as having been made for anything other than the sake of pure entertainment for a select few? Despite that, I’ve leaned towards the notion that the risks outweigh the rewards. For one, reviews are often intended to inform prospective consumers about products that are new; I just review whatever I decide to watch, I don’t have any sort-of system (and I certainly don’t have enough time or patience to watch literally every single new anime coming out every season). The pointlessness of shallow internet argumentation, the futility of trying to change pre-existing, deep-seated beliefs, the all-too-real possibility of such backlash against my own beliefs (assuming I somehow managed to attract enough attention to be noticed in such a capacity anyway) that my livelihood is threatened, the idea of meaninglessly preaching to an apathetic audience looking for nothing more than to have their own opinions validated by someone else; all of these things give me reason to fear sharing my work on any sort-of public forum. No self-respecting critic wants their opinion on anything to be taken as gospel. Instead, I want to make people think for themselves; I want to offer up my perspective, make good arguments as to the why and how of it and let that inform the reader’s own deliberation as to what they believe is right or wrong.

I’ve been thinking about this more than usual recently for a few reasons, the first of which being the novel I’m trying to write, which I am seriously considering trying to publish (by which I mean almost definitely self-publish, I’m not fucking Brandon Sanderson). Of course, whether or not I decide to do that hinges a lot on what final product my work ultimately amounts to, and I’ll probably have people I trust read the story first and provide feedback before I make any final decision on the matter. More to the point though, you start to realize when you have a message and a viewpoint you’re really set on delivering that distribution of the work is about more than a chase for widespread acclaim or financial gain; it’s about the potential that someone will get something out of what you’ve written. Once you graduate past the point of assuming anything you write won’t be worth anyone else’s time and truly believe that your material has worth, it becomes less easy to convince yourself publishing that material would be foolish, or too dangerous of a risk. The second reason this has been on my mind has to do with the political firestorm whipped up by Hogwarts Legacy as of late; if you don’t already know this since I’ve neglected to explain it up to this point, Hogwarts Legacy became the target of left-leaning trans-rights activists before its release for a total boycott due to the political views of Harry Potter author J.K Rowling. I would get into those in more detail considering I’ve read all of what she’s written on the subject, but I won’t bother; none of that actually matters, I urge you to take a look at it yourself if you’re curious. Truthfully, if political activists had simply agreed not to play the game in solidarity for their movement and stopped there in an effort to be adults about it, that would’ve been completely fine. But like I said earlier, the mentality of radical political activists is not one of maturity and grace; if you aren’t with them, you’re against them. As a result, anyone who dares to so much as buy the game or talk about it in any positive way now risks being targeted, harassed, and told that they are transphobic enemies of the LGBTQ+ community, truly evil people who can never be trusted again because they were “too selfish and conceited to give up such a small thing, even if it was in service to the greater good”. It’s almost like there’s a concerted effort being made here to use Hogwarts Legacy as a tool, rooting out so-called enemies of the faith in disguise—a “great filter for fake allies” as an unfortunate acquaintance of mine put it (that is a genuine verbatim quote). And look, I don’t want to generalize anybody unfairly; obviously the actions of these people do not represent their entire movement or the individuals who are a part of that movement. It’s important when witnessing events like these to stop and take a moment to at least attempt to understand why they’re happening in the first place. I go out of my way to point out that the perpetrators of this harassment are extremely radical because I don’t want to give the false impression that all members of one or the other political party behave this way. But regardless of the motivation behind the actions taken here, or who exactly it is taking them, the simple fact remains that they are, without a doubt, reprehensible. This “activism” has ultimately amounted to nothing more than bullying, harassment and targeted attack on completely innocent people who have done absolutely nothing to deserve it; and even if they had, pettiness, blind hatred and vigilante justice are not the answer. Hogwarts Legacy has already sold over 12 million copies; if the so-called arbiters of righteousness and morality trying to ruin the livelihoods and careers of other people for playing this game are to be believed, each and every one of those 12 million people is engaging in something truly sickening and reprehensible, which is absolutely crazy to me; the lengths to which people will go in order to rationalize that which they’ve already chosen to believe are great indeed, especially if they’ve only chosen to believe in it because it’s the collective belief of the winning team. They’re one of the good guys; how could they possibly be wrong?

Being a writer, I’m sure you can guess that I’m firmly against this type of censorship. To boycott a game is one thing, but then to go on and intimidate the people around you into never discussing it or even acknowledging its existence is a whole nother matter altogether. That’s what really grinds my gears about this whole thing; the fear tactics, the blackmail and intimidation. Dare to say anything different, and someone will find something about you they can use to make you either convert to their way of thinking, or be condemned. Ultimately, that’s the other primary reason why I’m strongly considering trying to share my work with others on some sort-of public forum; I’m tired of just giving into it, living in fear of those intent on meting out their twisted justice upon the “evildoers”, refusing to back down from their extreme stances and have a genuine conversation. And really, it’s not like I have anything ridiculously controversial that I want to share; I’m just a dude reviewing anime, trying to pursue his creative passions and help other people to be happy. It’s a matter of perspective; what doesn’t seem controversial to me is probably more than enough for another person to make what they consider to be a deserved attack upon my character. Having a very moderate political stance in-and-of itself is grounds for punishment these days, even when all it really amounts to is a reasonable consideration of all arguments on all sides of the political battlefield. Don’t get me wrong, I love to hear opinions that differ from my own when they’re made civilly, constructively and they’re carefully considered, but I’d rather not engage with a detractor motivated solely by their desire to see me fail.

This whole situation has slowly become more and more personal over the course of time. I mean for god’s sake, the vast majority of my coworkers are playing this game, people who I know and respect; this is a completely baseless attack on the character of those people, the character of countless others, and—most importantly of all to me personally—the character of my best friend, which is something that I simply cannot abide. Quick tip for anybody interested in making a case to me for their political viewpoint: don’t do it by asserting that my closest, most trusted friends are inherently evil people, then trying to take something away that’s precious to them on top of that. Yet somehow, this ridiculous controversy has gone beyond even that, letting me as a critic and writer trying his best to be honest with readers watch as every last professional video game “journalist” on the planet has a full-on mental breakdown over the well-deserved push-back they are experiencing for being disingenuous, greedy and disgusting hacks. Probably the most obvious article I can cite as an example of this doubling down by major media outlets on their political stances would be one from GamesHub titled “Hogwarts Legacy does not deserve to be reviewed on its own merits” which actually made me genuinely upset when I first saw it recommended to me a few weeks ago or so. If you, as a self-professed critic and journalist, can say anything like that and truly mean it, you’re unfit for the position; please go do literally anything else and kindly stop embarrassing yourself from the cold comfort of your soapbox.

Wired had what was somehow an even more overtly unhinged take on the game, publishing a review in which they rated it at 1 out of 10, outright lying to readers about the game’s graphical quality and adherence to existing lore material while offering no real criticism whatsoever; and no, trying to falsely allege that the game’s story and characters are inherently anti-Semitic and bad because of J.K Rowling is not a real criticism, she didn’t even write this game for god’s sake! I could go on and on forever about all of the absolutely terrible journalistic material that was written and released by numerous major media outlets regarding this game, all of which are plastered with warnings and disclaimers for readers about the controversy surrounding it. Wired’s terrible review does a fantastic job of demonstrating just how badly these media outlets wanted Hogwarts Legacy to fail; I won’t say this is true of every single outlet or every single professional journalist out there of course (IGN was actually one of the less terrible ones this time funnily enough), but a vast majority of outlets and individual writers here wanted their negative coverage of the game to be vindicated and substantiated by its poor quality, in numerous cases not even realizing themselves the inherent bias against it they truly held. So when the game was good, they had a dilemma; do we be honest about the game’s quality and piss off the Twitter guys, do we double down and try to say the game is bad, lying to people and therefore exposing our complete lack of journalistic integrity, or do we try to toe the line between saying the game is good and dismissing its worth anyways because of its connection to J.K Rowling? It’s not hard to see why this happened; these “writers” are not doing this because of their passion for critique or journalism, or because of any responsibility they have to the readers they are writing for. In fact, they aren’t writing for readers at all; they’re writing for money and absolutely nothing else… well, maybe aside from hearing themselves talk. They don’t give a shit whether or not they’re operating with journalistic integrity or serving the interests of the public, they only care about serving the interests of their corporate overlords; corporate overlords who, I might add, were only doing all this because they wanted to make a show out of standing in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and win easy brownie points, a classic and extremely obvious case of meaningless moral grandstanding. Other outlets didn’t even cover the game at all, simply pretending that it doesn’t exist and moving on, with still others writing articles overtly trying to convince people not to play the game and suggesting alternatives to it; let me tell you right now, I’m pretty sure the last thing I’d want to do is play a so-called “alternative to Hogwarts Legacy” any of these fucking sites are trying to recommend me.

Look, critique is very inherently opinionated, I understand that better than most. But this is a simple lack of honesty; if you refuse to acknowledge that you have a bias against the game, you’re doing your readers a disservice! You do them a disservice by lying to them, by refusing to discuss the game purely because of your political bent or at the whim of a corporation trying to morally grandstand, by insisting that the game cannot be judged independently of the controversy surrounding it, by refusing to speak positively on the game while portraying only its flaws in an attempt to manipulate and mislead, by using your media outlet to actively protect those viciously attacking any who play this game publicly and make excuses for their behavior, by going so far in doing so that you shamelessly spread misinformation to the public, and by allowing your work to become utterly corrupted by the ulterior motives of financial gain and adherence to the will of a platform as opposed to the dictates of your conscience. And for the record since it has become so common these days, these are not “alleged” statements; when I say that these people are lying, I mean it. Even aside from that, there is an actual article out there from TheGamer called “Games Media Has Failed The Hogwarts Legacy Test” that was personally recommended to me a while back in which the author, honest-to-god, tries to make an argument justifying death threats made against anyone playing this game. That’s not an exaggeration.

If you’re still questioning whether or not there was any genuine attempt made by any of these platforms to do the right thing from the start—regardless of how misguided they were in their attempts to do so—consider for a moment that no other game has ever really seen this kind-of treatment. Can any of us even begin to fathom how long the list of video games connected to controversial people or that are controversial in-and-of themselves actually is? Videogamedunkey has a fantastic video on that very subject called “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Game” in which, by trying to avoid any sort-of controversy, he ends up forced into playing weirder and weirder games without ever being able to find anything that’s completely clean. How do we as players know that one of the developers for any of the games we play isn’t secretly a sexual predator, or a domestic abuser, or whatever else? We can’t know, yet we continue to play all the cool games coming out every year anyways because it doesn’t fucking matter. It shouldn’t matter in this case either; the only reason why now all-of-a-sudden these media outlets are so concerned about covering this particular game is because they see it as an opportunity to gain something, to paint themselves as being the good guys in the eyes of the public. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t play out the way they expected it to, and now they’re paying the price for it. Already media outlets covering Atomic Hearts are scrambling to try and explain why covering that controversial game was okay, but covering Hogwarts Legacy wasn’t (if you’re curious by the way, it’s my contention that the Atomic Hearts controversy was utter fucking garbage and those devs didn’t deserve any of the harassment they received).

This kind-of lacking journalistic integrity has always been one of the primary reasons why I had no interest in trying to do what I do in any sort-of professional or public capacity. But please do not take any of this to mean that critique cannot be worthwhile if the critic is making money by doing it. Excellent critics like AngryJoe and The Act Man are making money doing what they do, but still prioritizing their audiences and maintaining their integrity, they do awesome work. Truthfully, I’m at the point now where the more I understand about how deeply biased and uncaring mass media coverage of pretty much everything truly is—video game related or not—the more I feel like my own opinion has value to a broader audience. Not because I’m necessarily the best at what I do, or because that opinion is any better than the honest opinion of anyone else, but because there are so few people out there with wide reach or influence willing to truly express their honest opinions on anything. And I’m not condemning people for that, either; anybody in that position of influence has good reason to be afraid about the potential damage it might do to their livelihood if they express their unfiltered beliefs on anything without careful consideration of what exactly the reputational impact of those beliefs might end up being.

This whole thing has been exhausting since the moment it started, and I’m tired of it all. I still have to try and navigate around the ridiculously radical and downright deluded viewpoints of a few acquaintances of mine who I am on the verge of simply telling off because, god forbid, I had the audacity to play a video game. On top of that, it’s difficult to avoid your perception of the entire LGBTQ+ movement all this harassment is supposed to represent being spoiled by it. It’s a pretty strong reminder of the fact that no online community in existence stands in complete solidarity on anything and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is a blind fool, hence the reason why I don’t allow myself to become invested in those self-proclaimed “tight-knit” communities in the first place; choose your friends carefully ladies and gentlemen. Despite how difficult it may be, remember that this insane campaign of hatred and vigilante justice does not represent all transgender individuals. I myself am friendly with several trans people who are good and fun to hang out with, all politics aside; if you know me or have any familiarity with my work, you know that my overall philosophy towards life is a generally humanistic one. All that aside, I gotta take a breather to grab something to eat, play some more Hogwarts Legacy and ruminate a bit on everything that I’ve just written about, stay epic as always my fellow members of the Hufflepuff nation, truly this opinion piece is a Hufflepuff moment.

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