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Hogwarts Legacy Just Can't Escape Video Game Journalists
Neither could Troy Leavitt.
Leavitt was written about in numerous gaming publications after his old YouTube channel was discovered by YouTuber and game journalist, Liam Robertson, revealing that several years ago he had posted . . . rather mild videos about Anita Sarkeesian, GamerGate and—horror of horrors—a critique of The Last Jedi.
(Mr. Robertson has blocked me on Twitter, seemingly for the horrifying sin of . . . covering this story from an angle that is not the same as Robertson’s. Granted, I’ve admitted to being a force of evil—perhaps even chaotic evil. You can hardly blame someone for being afraid to have an open an honest debate with such diabolical scum as your humble narrator).
Publication after publication quickly jumped on the anti-Leavitt bandwagon after Kotaku picked up the story and ran with it, some posting fairly straightforward takes about the situation; many making outrageous and unverifiable claims.
This bizarre dogpiling of Leavitt was likely not because of his actual videos—it was clear from the start that almost nobody who wrote about him actually watched the videos themselves. Rather, the attacks on the Hogwarts Legacy developer served as something of a proxy war against Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling who has been in the crosshairs of the trans-activist community for the past few years for her views on trans people and women’s rights.
That’s a (complicated, perilous) subject we’ll dive into later. For now, the important thing to understand is that Rowling and all of her projects—including Hogwarts Legacy which she is barely involved with—have become targets.
Leavitt just found himself in the crosshairs.
(Rowling is a great example of fans having a difficult time separating the art from the artist, I should note. That’s probably worthy of a separate discussion).
Leavitt has since announced his departure from Warner Bros. and will no longer be attached to Hogwarts Legacy after today—though he says he is “very pleased” with his relationship with both Warner and Avalanche Software. Indeed, he pushes back against the notion that he was cancelled at all, tweeting:
Of course, Leavitt resigning from his position as lead designer on Hogwarts Legacy has not slaked his detractors’ bloodlust. Not by a long shot.
Let’s begin with this piece from Vulture, published the day before Leavitt announced his resignation, if only because it sets the tone for what comes next. After a summary of Rowling’s various sins and the tricky situation Warner Bros. finds itself in managing “damage control” (aka constant backlash from the social justice crowd) we finally come to Leavitt.
“Scroll through the channel’s catalogue,” writes Luke Winkie, “and you’ll see that Leavitt has uploaded videos with titles like “The Injustice of Social Justice” and “In Praise of Cultural Appropriation,” which rage against the tyranny of progressives who wish to highlight the gaming industry’s diversity shortcomings. (There is literally a video called “It’s Okay to Be a Gamer.”) More suspiciously, a 2018 video resurfaced wherein Leavitt mentions that he disclosed the existence of his YouTube channel to Warner Bros. during his hiring process. Apparently, none of that mattered to the company.”
My goodness, how dare someone defend the diabolical act of “being a gamer?” The very notion!
And the sheer audacity of Warner Bros. not caring that one of their developers had political views which differed from Mr. Winkie is very suspicious, indeed. Very suspicious.
The word “rage” is also somewhat curious, as anyone who has actually watched a single video posted by Mr. Leavitt will certainly understand. “Rage” implies anger and volume, some fist pounding, some seething. Maybe some spittle. If there is any rage in these videos I must have missed it. Rage, we shall soon find out, can quickly morph into hate.
Winkie does bring up a salient point: After this fake controversy broke, Avalanche announced that there would be a trans-inclusive character creator in Hogwarts Legacy. This does seem to be an effort on Warner Bros.’ part to counter the controversies surrounding both Leavitt and Rowling, and it feels a bit cowardly—the company making a change not because it’s the right thing, but because they’re caving to pressure, trying to stave off critics who will never be satisfied and doing their level best to throw Rowling under the bus while pretending not to.
Winkie concludes his piece with dire portents, noting that Warner Bros and Avalanche are “producing a strained, controversy-dogged test-case in what it means to be part of the Harry Potter brand in 2021. It might still sell a lot of copies, but at what cost?”
As far as I can tell, other than the game’s budget itself, the cost is just having to read endless scolding blog posts like this one. Perhaps a biased cadre of game reviewers when it finally releases (though I hope we’re better than that).
Moving along, we come to the coverage of Leavitt after his announced departure from Hogwarts Legacy.
Over at PvP Live we get this juicy headline: “Anti-Feminist Hogwarts Legacy Designer Quits Project After Backlash.”
The piece opens with this rather scathing line:
“Harry Potter: Hogwarts Legacy’s lead designer, Troy Leavitt, has departed from Avalanche Software and from the project in general after receiving backlash over his YouTube channel, which contained hateful videos and a lot of anti-social justice messages.” [Emphasis added].
Two points: First, “hateful” is an awfully strong word, especially when it’s clear that the writer hasn’t watched the videos in questions. Second, we once again find ourselves with a journalist simply taking for granted that “anti-social justice” is de facto wicked and deplorable, as though every social justice cause is de facto pure and noble. There is no room for disagreement or debate. If you are “anti” social justice than you are deplorable and irredeemable.
Thomas McNulty of ScreenRant hops on the bandwagon with his own super unique take on the situation.
“The videos on Leavitt's channel range from problematic to downright hateful,” writes McNulty, “promoting such ideas as ignoring sexual assault claims and placing armed National Guard soldiers in schools.”
One can almost picture McNulty furiously pounding away at his keyboard, a sheen of self-righteous sweat on his brow, as he takes Leavitt—a man he’s never met and knows nothing about—to task. Nothing feels better than using one’s pen as a sword (and they said it was mightier). Outrage feels good, after all. Cancelling someone is a blood sport.
McNulty argues that Leavitt wants us to ignore sexual assault claims—a puzzling accusation he doesn’t care to back up with evidence—and that advocating use of the National Guard in schools is problematic. Or is it hateful? McNulty says Leavitt’s views range from “problematic to downright hateful” but I’m not sure which is which.
Then again, some game journalists were outraged about GameSpot’s National Guard ads and all in a tizzy over an Overwatch character getting a police skin, so nothing really surprises me anymore. Outrage is social currency no matter how ludicrous.
I think it’s worth pointing out that media—and gaming media in particular—has largely adopted the stance that social justice is the one and only acceptable belief system and anyone who chafes at this must not only be wrong, but also the enemy.
“As social justice culture has ruthlessly and seemingly effortlessly colonized media culture,” writes Freddie, “too many in the media have adopted one of social justice’s most destructive tendencies: the notion that the righteous have no responsibility to try and convince the other side. In fact such outreach efforts are frequently seen as out-and-out malign. After all, when you’ve declared that most of the country are white supremacists, and white supremacists are definitionally people that don’t deserve to be educated or convinced, who is left to reach out to? I suspect that the average journalist or writer has little interest in proving their value to the distrustful. Relatedly, I’m not sure if the average journalist or writer knows or cares that their industry is in a crisis.”
And so we come to Troy Leavitt, the mild-mannered “anti-social justice” game developer whose videos nobody watched but whose opinions qualify him as “far-right” and therefore not only unworthy of conversation or convincing, but actually a threat to decent people everywhere. Lock your doors. Shutter your windows. He’s coming for your children.
Why should such a person even have a job in the first place? People with views we don’t like shouldn’t be debated, they should be crushed. Certainly they shouldn’t be allowed to speak at college campuses because free speech (that we disagree with) is dangerous. Such deplorables as these deserve only scorn and, ultimately, poverty.
Though according to Kirk McKeand, Editor-in-Chief at The Gamer, Leavitt won’t have to worry about not having a job.
Reacting to Leavitt’s statement that he’ll soon put out a video explaining his side of the story, McKeand writes:
“That second point is where everyone should start stroking their chins. It’s classic grifter tactics. Leavitt will release a video claiming he’s left to save the project - a selfless act to defend the developers there. You see, he aims to become a martyr in the eyes of his supporters. The video will likely demonise games journalists as the root cause of his problems, rather than being used for introspection or to admit that his actions had consequences.
“Once he does this, the views on his channel will skyrocket, thanks to both his supporters and people who are morbidly curious. The algorithm will reward him for it and he’ll get back to putting out videos about why he hates Brie Larson or some other asinine shit. Along with people like Shapiro, he will become another cog in the hate machine on YouTube, his videos revolving around the algorithm and reinforcing the beliefs of people who already watch similar tosh. Either that or he’ll go the crowdfunding route and promise to lead development on a game “free of politics”, and the suckers will eat it up. If he was being assigned to a Hogwarts house, it would be Griftindor.”
This whole thing, it turns out, is all part of Leavitt’s nefarious plan. You see, even though Leavitt hasn’t made a video in three years and even though it was the gaming press that dug up his channel and dogpiled him until he resigned, this was all part of Leavitt’s master plan. To get YouTube clicks. A Patreon.
And live large. A big house. Five cars, You're in charge. Comin' up in the world.
Leavitt, you see, wanted to lose his job at a AAA studio so that he could ride high on Patreon and YouTube, the true marker of success, all the while pushing his “hateful” views.
Jokes on us, my dear droogies. Jokes on us. We have been punked. Leavitt, you dirty rotten scoundrel. Always one step ahead!
Here’s my question: If all this time game journalists and Twitter activists wanted to get Leavitt fired (perhaps as part of a larger proxy war against Rowling and all things Harry Potter) than how can they also claim that he’s grifting everyone the moment they get their way?
It makes no sense.
Have you succeeded in cancelling Leavitt or has he gotten away with some masterful con?
What’s hilarious, of course, is that whatever just took place, nothing of any value has actually occurred. Leavitt is out of a job, sure, but in what sense does this actually further the cause of social justice? How does this change the systemic wrongs that afflict our society? Is the gaming community better off? Are women? If Leavitt does go on to become a prominent anti-social justice YouTuber, will that somehow help further the causes these people claim to advocate? Does making more enemies really lead us down the righteous path? Or is making enemies the point?
As Freddie notes in an excellent piece on the powerlessness of cancel culture:
“Indeed: based on the terms of success used by the cancelers themselves, canceling can’t work. The best thing about social justice politics is its insistence on the systemic or structural nature of social problems. For example, racism is now widely understood to be structural; this is likely the reason for the rise of “white supremacy” as an umbrella term for all manner of racist behavior. Racism in this telling is not a matter of a few bad eggs but a systemic aspect of society that favors the interests of white people at the expense of people of color. I’m glad this perspective has become common because it’s correct. But why are so many people who believe this such passionate defenders of canceling? If problems are structural they can’t be fixed with the removal of individuals. That’s literally the bedrock idea behind saying problems are structural or systemic. If all men have male privilege then any given man that you get fired from a prominent role will inevitably give way to other men who enjoy the exact same privilege. If racism is an endemic aspect of white America then any individual white person you get rid of can always be replaced by any old white racist, in a country that is ~65% white. You simply cannot simultaneously say that problems are structural and also that they can be affected by canceling. It doesn’t make any sense.”
And now, dear readers, I think we’ve gone on long enough. Thanks for reading and sticking with me here at diabolical. There’s plenty more to say about all of this, and I’m afraid things will get worse before they get better. In the meantime, be excellent to each other. Wicked is as wicked does, or so they say.
Update: Troy Leavitt has been a Senior Producer on Hogwarts Legacy since 2019, not lead designer.