It’s been a wild ride for the Harry Potter franchise over the last decade or so. After the books and the initial movie series ended, fans were left waiting for new, major content until Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released in 2016, which spawned a new film series meant to continue the story of the world of Harry Potter. Theme parks and stage plays added on to the canon, while the series’ first major video game to be a part of the canon was announced in September 2020, called Hogwarts Legacy. News on the game has been sparse since its initial announcement, until a few days ago, when it was announced that players will be able to create transgender characters to play as.
The report comes from Bloomberg writer and well-vetted games journalist Jason Schreier, whose sources claim to be ‘familiar with the game’s development,’ but who also requested anonymity ‘because they weren’t authorized to speak to the press.’ Details about the implementation of the transgender options are sparse as a result, but what we do know is that, when creating their characters, players will be able to customize their voice, body type, and which dormitory they’ll stay in (divided between male and female dorms).
The news will likely surprise some, considering the recent controversy over Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s comments on the trans community — said comments having been accused of being transphobic by both members of the trans community and those who support trans rights, including Harry Potter actors such as Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.
According to the sources at Bloomberg, that controversy was the catalyst that caused a push inside of Avalanche Software for more inclusion in the game, with many devs wanting their game to be as inclusive as possible after being surprised and upset by Rowling’s comments. Management at Avalanche was apparently apprehensive to the idea, but, as of this writing, the character customization features previously listed are in the game’s current build.
It’s worth noting that there was a controversy last month surrounding Hogwarts Legacy‘s lead designer, Troy Leavitt. He previously posted videos to a YouTube channel, where he supported the misogynistic activist movement Gamergate, characterized the #MeToo movement as a ‘moral panic’ that vilified several people who, in his mind, didn’t deserve the consequences they experienced, and attacked feminism in general.
The topic of transgender character creation in games is an interesting one because, as many people likely know from their experience with character creators, it’s usually not an option. Choosing your character’s sex almost always determines their gender, sexual organs, pronouns, etc., which severely limits a player’s ability to either reflect their own identity, or to create a character with a particular identity that they’d like to inhabit for the period of the game. What makes this lack of choice worth noting, however, is that it’s often easier — or, at least, not very hard — for a game developer to allow for more choice in how your character is represented in terms of gender.
As mentioned previously, choosing your character’s sex in most games usually determines certain other traits like gender, sexual organs, pronouns, body types, etc., but these traits being connected to each other as one large choice isn’t a result of it being simpler to program character creators this way. Disconnecting these traits from each other, making them individual rather than collective, is pretty simple from a back-end perspective, especially on larger games with bigger budgets and teams. The extra U.I. elements and testing that go into making these choices available is fairly minimal, too. Even when voice acting might pose a challenge, such as when lines would need to be re-recorded for each individual pronoun (which, in all fairness, can, at times, be a fairly expensive process), such challenges can be avoided altogether if the player is given a title that they’re referred to as rather than a name, such as, I don’t know, ‘Commander Shepherd,’ ‘The Lone Survivor,’ or ‘Dovahkiin.’
In reality, making games with character creators more inclusive isn’t as difficult as one might imagine, as some games have exhibited. Saints Row 4, for example, allows the player to choose their voice, body type, and pronouns. Visual novels as a genre have a history of featuring trans characters and allowing the player to inhabit one, such as in 2064: Read Only Memories and Monster Prom. Some games have attempted to be more inclusive, such as the recently released Cyberpunk 2077, though that game’s options were still marred by certain traits like hairstyle and voice being connected to which gender is chosen. The character is never referred to by any specific pronouns in the game, instead being referred to as ‘V’ in pretty much every instance.
As of right now, Hogwarts Legacy is in the middle of development, which means that many of the choices regarding its design and narrative are still being worked on and figured out. Hopefully, the gender-inclusive character creator will stay a part of the game and be included when it eventually ships, especially since it would lay out a noteworthy precedent in Warner Bros.’ approach to the topic in the Harry Potter franchise. For now, all anyone will be able to do is wait and see what happens as development continues.
Hogwarts Legacy is scheduled for a 2022 release.
Featured Photo Courtesy of Hogwarts Legacy