Quite often, an incident happens in game journalism that I feel compelled to write about. I live in game journalism, so I see developments both big and small, and consider the broader effects they have on me, readers, and the industry itself. Most of the time I battle these compulsions: As much as I have to say on the issues, most of them only matter in a tangible way to those who care about inside baseball. I am also aware that we work in a field very fast to paint sites or writers in extremes, and even when I disagree with an individual point of view, I am reluctant to pour gasoline that will feed the worst types of readers. And yet, I find myself writing about writing about Hogwarts Legacy.
I didn’t expect much from gaming media in this case. Still, I was surprised at how much I was disappointed. As regular readers will know, TheGamer doesn’t cover Hogwarts Legacy with a review, nor (at a much bigger loss of revenue for us) guides for the game. I know other sites will have had trouble weighing that sacrifice, or they may not have full editorial control over the games they cover. But reading the glee of the reviews, the deliciously excited tweets, the claims that they are the real victims of an intense campaign of intimidation by evil freeloaders who don’t understand how magical Harry Potter is, I don’t think it’s such a factor. important. as we suppose.
I think, as he wrote an article, which stated that the game was a GOTY contender that the writer had waited his whole life for, but wasn’t comfortable scoring, stated that people just “really want to play it.” The reviews were peppered with disclaimers alluding to JK Rowling’s words as “controversial” or “divisive”, underscoring the importance of discussing these issues, and then going without discussing them and specifically excusing them from the review. The truth is, only two disclaimers were needed. The first should have said something like “Despite JK Rowling’s controversial comments, I still want to play this game” or “Despite JK Rowling’s controversial comments, our corporate bosses really want us to play this game.” I don’t think the latter would have seen much use.
For more on TheGamer’s stance and our thoughts on JK Rowling, you can check here, here, here, and here.
There was also another phrase that peppered these reviews, one that reveals that the driving force behind these reviews is that they “really want to play.” Almost every review also mentions some variation of this being their dream game. What’s the point of your art analysis when your point boils down to feeling warm and fuzzy when you remember your Gryffindor pajamas? It’s not exclusive to Hogwarts Legacy either; when Final Fantasy 7 Remake was released, it seemed like the most valuable critical voices were those who didn’t fall in love with the original in the late ’90s.
I will avoid naming posts specifically as it seems too much like creating drama and rivalry over analysis of the language used and why I think it creates such a huge flaw in our collective name. The two exceptions will be Rock Paper Shotgun, which is hosting a Wizarding Week focused on other wizarding games rather than Hogwarts Legacy, and Games Hub, which appears to be the only outlet that has received a review code to continue writing about the important context. around the game. Whatever this test was, they passed it.
That being said, there are two pieces in particular that sum up why this game was such a defining moment for gaming journalism, and why I feel like it’s led us down the wrong path. One of the biggest sites in the world (with more money and more traffic than us, who could easily afford to take a single hit if they wanted to) had perhaps the worst disclaimer of the bunch. He began with praise about how the site has always supported human rights (the site previously publicly withdrew its support for Palestine and criticized employees for not toeing the company line) and explained why the review would not consider JK’s views. Rowling at all.
In fact, I wouldn’t take anything into consideration beyond “whether the game is fun to play or not”. The review was true to his word; criticized the combat, narrative, side quests, enemies, performance, and world building, then awarded it 9/10, which by the site’s own metric meant it was a once-in-a-generation title. Those must have been some very nice Gryffindor pajamas.
You might think you know all the controversy surrounding JK Rowling and therefore a review should only focus on what’s funny. Personally and professionally, I fundamentally disagree that the sole purpose of review is to act as a buyer’s guide, but even if it didn’t, this is a dismissive and reductionist way of looking at any game. For the site in question to use its influence to project to its readers that all that matters is how much fun a game is feels actively damaging to professional journalism in an era where a ‘don’t get down’ attitude is encouraged and the hype is available from Ya Bois’s touch on YouTube.
There’s a lot more to a video game than whether it’s ‘fun’, which is ultimately a superficial description anyway. What if it’s moving? What if it’s convincing? What about its impact, its technical power, its potential for influence and new wave of creation? Divorced from this conversation, would any of you describe The Last of Us Part 2 as “fun” and leave it at that?
If this site represents one half of the Gryffindor Pajama Problem (the inability to be objective and the need to reduce criticism to your own personal enjoyment), then the following example represents the other: the need to become a victim.
As I mentioned above, one outlet didn’t feel comfortable giving a rated review, just writing 1,000+ words about why they’d be reviewing the game, ending with a (now deleted and rephrased) statement to readers that they’d be giving it a “review” soon. phenomenal”, declaring it a must-have Game of the Year contender, and dismissing with a sarcastic “good luck” those who point out the downsides of supporting JK Rowling, because the game is just “that good”.
Hogwarts Legacy Your new character puts on the sorting hat
This is where we are. The toy is too good for us to worry about anything else. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the non-review is rather worse. In it, the writer feels that he is in a unique position in the debate because he is bisexual, cisgender and has an anti-TERF tattoo right next to his Harry Potter tattoo. They point out that, even though JK Rowling still benefits financially and in terms of publicity from this game and all the new Harry Potter media, the world of Hogwarts has been taken from her. The reason? Some fanfiction is gay.
Also, the central theme of this defense is that no one should be mean to you (read: criticize you even a little) for playing with this toy. A toy that, aside from Gryffindor pajamas, is identical to, or perhaps slightly worse than, dozens of others. Many people who consider themselves nice and nice repeat how nice and nice they are, stating over and over again that supporting JK Rowling in this way doesn’t change that. Maybe if they say it enough, they’ll start to believe it.
This then goes back to the people playing the game being the real victims here. It is not the trans people whose lives are slowly being legislated into lawlessness in the US, who are constantly the source of front-page stories in the UK, who are murdered around the world for existing, and whose most violent oppressors they see JK Rowling as an icon. Instead, it’s Harry Potter fans who no longer feel so warm and fuzzy when they think of their Gryffindor pajamas.
Do people call you all kinds of nasty shit for playing this game? Probably. You deserve it? Probably not. That still doesn’t mean you’re right. Think of it this way. Imagine that you have been waiting in line at the bank for an hour and I pass you by. So you tell me you’re going to slit my throat, the throats of my family and the throats of all the teachers I’ve ever had. I’m still a jerk for getting in line.
I don’t think it’s worth ‘going after’ other sites that often. He is rarely productive in an already hostile environment. But Hogwarts Legacy looks like, if not a turning point, then at least a line in the sand. Our readers deserve to know where we are on that line. Good luck to all who are with me. The game, apparently, is that good. Too good, it seems, for nothing else to matter.
Next: Nobody Asks You To Give Up Harry Potter