Transphobia and propaganda are a few of the latest search terms to be associated with a campaign against the video games “Hogwarts Legacy” and “Atomic Heart.” But do these two games really deserve to be canceled?
The situation is complicated, but at the end of the day, despite well-meaning activism, the movement to boycott these games does more harm than good. It is fair to reconsider a purchase, but for those who are already playing, the controversy shouldn’t interrupt gameplay.
“Hogwarts Legacy” is the 18th “Harry Potter” game in the franchise and by far the most successful in immersion, gameplay and sales. There is nothing substantially wrong with the game itself, but its greatest sin is its intellectual property owner, J.K. Rowling. For the past few years, Rowling has been under criticism for a series of transphobic tweets and op-eds, leaving fans angry at a franchise that once comforted them. Some fans have called other fans to boycott the game, arguing that support of “Hogwarts Legacy” gives more power to Rowling, which at first was a reasonable demand. What escalated the issue, however, is when boycotters demanded that we cancel streamers who play the game.
“Atomic Heart,” meanwhile, is a Soviet Union themed game heavily inspired by “Bioshock,” made by a company formerly based in Russia. Before the game’s release, which fell around the anniversary of the Russian-Ukrainian war, “Atomic Heart” was accused of data mining by Ukraine, claims it has denied. The company also hasn’t been transparent on financing from an ex-subsidiary of Russia’s largest energy company, Gazprom, and hasn’t communicated a clear stance on the war despite vaguely claiming to be anti-war. Its plot involves Russia invading a foreign country, causing critics to label it as propaganda. For these ethical reasons, players and critics alike are boycotting the game.
It is important to note that these political issues aren’t present in the content of either game. “Hogwarts Legacy” doesn’t support anything political Rowling has said over the years and stays true to the magic of the franchise. In fact, the characters are more diverse than they’ve ever been. The game even includes a transgender character, a clear indication that the developers are actively supportive of LGBT fans, unlike Rowling. The plot of “Atomic Heart” does involve Russian invasion, but it centers on stopping the Russians from the inside and highlights the failures of the Soviet Union. Additionally, it is true that the developers refuse to publicly support Ukraine, which has led to its ban in Ukraine. But those developers could still have families in Russia, who the government could easily target. And if the Kremlin were silencing outspoken voices in your family’s neighborhood, you’d be quiet too.
So, if the problem isn’t found in a video game itself, but rather the politics that surround it, should that matter when playing the game?
What Rowling has said is terrible, just like the war in Ukraine, but the atmosphere around “Atomic Heart” is based more in fear than reason. The controversy shouldn’t stop players from enjoying the game or put a target on streamers’ backs. Patronizing the developers of this games will not give a platform to malicious agents like Rowling or Russia.
The next question is, if you have not already bought these games, should you buy them given the controversies? You could boycott them and avoid an immoral purchase, but many have tried and failed. In the initial push to boycott “Hogwarts Legacy,” the primary concern was that purchase or streaming of the game would give more power to Rowling. While purchasing “Hogwarts Legacy” will provide royalties to Rowling, fueling her nearly $1 billion net worth, it doesn’t empower her. Attention does.
Most fans know to ignore and even alienate Rowling from the wizarding world, and the game itself ignores and strays away from her statements. “Hogwarts Legacy” is primarily a creative achievement for the developers and world building. Buying the game at this point wouldn’t give any more of a platform to Rowling than deciding to not buy the game in order to end transphobia. Almost the same can be said for purchasing “Atomic Heart,” which probably won’t change the war efforts in Europe or brainwash young minds into communism.
Individuals passionate about change should take direct action instead of boycotts. Consider confronting oppressors at the source or supporting nonprofits for those affected by war and prejudice, like the American Ukrainian Aid Foundation or GLESN.
In reality, the outcry to cancel these games has actually generated more interest in them. This is what people like Rowling want, because when it comes to publicity, all press is good press. “Hogwarts Legacy” was not expected to be one of the most sucessful video game launches in history, and yet, it saw a record 12 million sales in only two weeks. Outside the internet drooling over hyper-sexualized characters, “Atomic Heart” could have been a missed game with mediocre reviews as a “Bioshock” knock-off.
Ultimately, I can’t tell you what to do with your money. However, the purchase of these games will not righteously spite oppressive political figures. At the end of the day, the politics of others shouldn’t determine your enjoyment of a game, and if you plan to target a problematic person, target the real problems. Not the developers.