Hogwarts Legacy and other boycott backlashes

Controversial Harry Potter video game is topping sales charts despite the J.K. Rowling controversy

Hogwarts Legacy
The new release is first open-world action game set in the Hogwarts wizarding universe
(Image credit: Manuel Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

New Harry Potter video game Hogwarts Legacy is flying off shop shelves despite calls for a boycott of the new release.

After winning global fame as the author of the hit book series, J.K. Rowling has “fallen from beloved to beleaguered” in recent years over her outspoken views on transgender women, said Newsweek. The 2020 unveiling of a Hogwarts Legacy trailer prompted debate about whether Rowling's attachment to the game would “prove to be problematic” – despite her having no direct involvement.

But despite many gamers and members of the LGBTQ+ community calling for a boycott, others argued that “choosing to play the game doesn’t automatically mean they support the author's statements”, said the BBC’s gaming reporter Steffan Powell.

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That argument appears to have won the day, with the new title – the first open-world action game set in the Hogwarts wizarding universe – topping the sales lists on Steam, Epic Store and Amazon even before its official release on Friday.

J.K. Rowling controversy

Rowling’s stance on trans people has “alienated large swaths of her fanbase” and “fanned the flames of an already red-hot debate”, said entertainment journalist Erik Kain on Forbes. But Hogwarts Legacy can be viewed as “a victory for the LGBTQ community and for progress”, Kain argued, as it features a “prominent trans character” and also “allows you to play as a trans protagonist”.

All the same, said The New Statesman, many fans have felt “unable to ignore” Rowling’s comments on trans women and her connection to the game as the creator of this wizarding world.

In January, one of the voice actors in the game, Sebastian Croft, tweeted: “I was cast in this project over three years ago, back when all Harry Potter was to me was the magical world I grew up with. This was long before I was aware of JK Rowling’s views. I believe wholeheartedly that trans women are women and trans men are men.”

Some gaming forums, such as ResetEra, have banned all mentions of Hogwarts Legacy, while some sites, such as The Game, have decided not to review the new title despite the potential resulting “revenue loss”.

Failed boycotts

The pushback against the video game is far from the first brand boycott that has failed.

Sales of Nike products jumped by 31% after the company faced criticism for appointing American football quarterback-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick as its spokesperson in 2018. Some consumers posted footage on social media showing them destroying Nike products over the choice of Kaepernick, who popularised the act of “taking a knee” at football games to protest against racial inequality.

Donald Trump joined in the online criticism, but the then president “inadvertently helped out” Nike, said NBC, by “drawing more attention” to the brand, which ultimately helped to boost sales.

Trump was also at the centre of another backlash against a company in the US in 2020. Sales of products made by Goya Foods soared by 22% after social media users called for a boycott in response to CEO Robert Unanue praising the Republican politician.

Fast-food chain Chik-fil-A has also been a target of boycotts and negative press, as a result of the anti-LGBTQ+ stance of its owners. A decision in 2011 by a Chick-fil-A outlet in Pennsylvania to donate food to a marriage seminar conducted by the Pennsylvania Family Institute, “a group known for its anti-gay advocacy, prompted a nationwide boycott of the chain”, said Vox.

But overall, the bad press and boycotts did little harm. According to latest figures, Chik-fil-A was the third-largest fast-food chain in the US by sales in 2021.

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