Upcoming Harry Potter game Hogwarts Legacy will feature some customisation options related to gender, according to a report by Bloomberg. It’s a step toward trans inclusion in a game mired in controversy, even if it still shows the limitations of video games’ handling of trans people.
Hogwarts Legacy players will reportedly be able to choose a “masculine” or “feminine” voice regardless of their character’s body type. They can also select “witch” or “wizard” for their character, which will affect their Hogwarts dorm and how other characters address them.
Hogwarts Legacy has faced controversy since its announcement in September 2020, largely due to Harry Potter’s creator J.K. Rowling. Rowling has expressed transphobic views, which led publisher Warner Bros to announce that she is not involved in the game. Recently, an anti-social justice YouTube channel run by a lead designer on the game came to light, reigniting fans’ worries about the game’s politics.
“Some members of the Hogwarts Legacy development team have fought to make the game as inclusive as possible, pushing for the character customisation and even for a transgender character to be added,” Bloomberg wrote. “There was resistance from management at first, the people familiar with the project said, but currently the character customisation is included in the game.”
Hogwarts Legacy is aiming for a 2022 release, so the customisation options, along with the rest of the game, are subject to change and further iteration.
The possible customisation options are similar to those used by Cyberpunk 2077, which linked player characters’ pronouns to their voice while allowing for a range of body options. It’s an approach that makes sense for the limitations of video game character creators, but it’s also a retrograde one. A “mismatch” between someone’s voice and their appearance has long been played for transphobic laughs against trans women in movies and television, relying on a tired, offensive stereotype of a feminine-appearing woman with a deep voice as a way to convey transness.
Games’ recent explorations into expanding gender identities seem to rely on contrasts as a model for transness before funelling trans characters back into a binary view of gender in the game’s world. In this instance, the game sorts players back into binary gendered dorms. These design choices can make transness meaningless and leave out non-binary players. They feel like a nod to the existence of trans people, without fully exploring what it means for a character to actually be trans (something having an actual trans character, as Bloomberg reports the Hogwarts Legacy team pushing for, could address).
Speaking as a trans man, my voice and body “match” due to hormones, making gender options like this functionally useless in creating a trans male character. (In this regard, Cyberpunk was able to bring in another layer by adding genitals into the mix, something I would certainly not expect a video game about teenagers to do.) I don’t think of my gender as a bunch of pick-and-choose options — my body is a trans body. My voice is a trans voice. A video game character creator could make space for me by just letting me click a box that says “trans guy” from a range of gender options. That’s not necessarily the answer — a scrolling list of genders would be unwieldy and inherently limiting, for starters — but these options continue to remind me of all the ways many video games haven’t yet figured out how to fully imagine trans people. I don’t personally need them to, and I’m in no way a Harry Potter fan eager to play this game. But I can’t help sigh a bit, even as I admire these steps forward.
I appreciate video games trying new things to acknowledge trans players, especially Hogwarts Legacy, a game whose source material means a lot to the fans who’ve fought to hold on to it. It’s heartening to hear that members of the Hogwarts Legacy team are fighting to take the project in a more inclusive direction. Decoupling players’ voices from their bodies isn’t the best answer, but it’s a start.