Hogwarts Legacy and the Audacity of Journalists - ArticleLee Mehr , posted on 11 April 2021 / 4,707 Views
“Journalism is organized gossip.” – Edward Eggleston (American historian & novelist).
Who knew the vacuum seal on century-old quotes could be so reliable? It’s strange to think back on enthusiast press actually enthused about new titles and picking an artist’s brain without the opportune outrage-porn against provocative figures; from shielding against legal busybodies pinning societal ills on games to crafting their own daggers to backstab whenever it seems justified. This figurative “autopsy” focuses on the decomposed corpse of former Hogwarts Legacy senior producer Troy Leavitt. Though the breaking news and the responses are quite old by internet standards, I think there's value to be gained in assessing what amounts to yellow journalism and contemplating its potential consequences.
To those unfamiliar with the goings-on: Avalanche Studios' upcoming Hogwarts Legacy has a few warts the gaming press are fond of bringing up. The Wizarding World's creator J.K. Rowling may as well have transmogrified into You-Know-Who thanks to recent controversy, which has created an outrage-magnet for those involved with the IP. This is where Mr. Leavitt's YouTube channel comes into focus. Shortly before amicably resigning from Avalanche Games, his infamy skyrocketed after Liam Robertson (Did You Know Gaming?) Tweeted about Leavitt’s own uniquely controversial views.
I know this is just shocking but the lead designer of Hogwarts Legacy is Troy Leavitt, a far right YouTuber who used to make anti-fem and pro GG vids: https://t.co/kDNm9ri9zH pic.twitter.com/w3dDy0YXe4— Liam Robertson (@Doctor_Cupcakes) February 20, 2021
Multiple outlets smelled the internet chum in no time.
Due to the timing of these articles and Leavitt's subsequent announcement, "cancel culture" was guaranteed to be bandied around. I was unsure – but curious – if this was another example too. After watching his response video, the YouTube hype-mongers who assumed so for clicks were unequivocally wrong; however, that doesn’t dismiss how these sycophantic ideologues would’ve been content if he lost his job during this tumultuous time with his family - and during a fucking pandemic to boot. Given its potency, this special clerisy never wants to let any charge of moral disapprobation go to waste. Call that presumption “hyperbolic” all you’d like, but I can only find scant contradictory evidence.
It's sad that I even have to hesitate to say things like this, but, clearly, stating opinions like this is dangerous in the industry I'm a part of. But I feel it's worth saying:— Philip (@P_Trah) March 13, 2021
It is an utter embarrassment what games journalism at large tried to do to @Troylus_true. https://t.co/3SNQVZnjBv
One of the most reused mental shortcuts to vindicate any underhanded behavior can be summarized from a Rarely... *cough*... Kinda Funny Games Daily episode: free speech doesn't mean you avoid consequences. Granted, that's a truism lost on too many people on the internet. Yet for all the years I've heard this line… that’s where the logical extent usually ends. They’ll then rely on the most basic hyperboles and not make any considerations for nuanced boundaries or potential overreach. It’s like the living embodiment of that Tuxedo Mask meme: contribute nothing and pretend the discussion has been settled.
Considering how much catastrophizing has gone into this, their limits don't seem to have many boundaries. Editorial filters didn’t even care to correct his actual role in the company! I say this without hesitation: I have not seen this level of slanted reportage against a developer in quite some time. Anyone who unrepentantly pushed that narrative is less reliable than a cabbie with a neck brace. The whiplash from initially seeing these responses (across Twitter and various sites) to his actual words feels so surprising in large part by how I can still be shocked by these tactics.
This overview of my early thoughts is coming from someone who's not committed to call myself a fan of Mr. Leavitt's channel overall; that said, his videos provided enough mental stimulation to investigate the work not mired by artificial controversy. For all the hype of a far-right/alt-right misogynist, I found the level-headed tone of an anti-SJW classical liberal (before the term was butchered!) with some boomer humor sprinkled on top. From me facetiously thinking he was based when an "anti-feminist" charge was leveled, to his views aligning more with Christiana Hoff Summers, these disparities in actual character kept cropping up. You're free to dismiss some of his intellectual inspirations, but these don’t map with the incredibly damning accusations. Not being a progressive slacktivist doesn’t mean he’s a Richard Spencer acolyte subtly incorporating an ethno-nationalist treatise into your wands-and-wizards game.
Then perhaps it's his actions, rather than attitude, which warrant harsh judgment; after all, that's what defines you. Despite press outlets being "more correct" in describing some of Leavitt's past videos here, the lack of nuance heavily implies they did no earnest research before issuing judgment. Noah Bushnell didn’t deserve to be raked through the coals, especially after most (or all?) of his closest female coworkers defended him in kind. It also shouldn't be reprehensible to say John Lasseter’s bad actions may warrant a path to redemption, whereas that path is permanently shut for the likes of Harvey Weinstein. Although I still find Leavitt’s defense too rosy & charitable in the animation icon’s favor, I follow him in wishing Lasseter’s humanity will never foment such uncomfortable situations again.
The most recycled grievance came back to gaming's biggest quagmire: Gamergate. Firstly, I don't have the knowledge nor patience to provide an expansive overview of a topic I rarely engaged with directly. Most of the free time I spent on it was through ghosting The Escapist forums. Secondly, I'm not going to pretend to be an objective source after pro-GG pseudo-journalist William Usher (One Angry Gamer) used my words for a glorified hatchet job against a site I've volunteered with for years. Unsavory people I see, or know, on both sides kill my interest in sidling up to them.
With this background in mind, Leavitt's slanted descriptions of Quinn's jilted ex and the anti-social justice angles don't translate to "I'm happy with targeted harassment." He never denied the existence of harassers; only that it didn’t describe the whole. Considering the FBI provided no real-life effigies to legally pursue and a developer's unsuccessful political run that would've resulted in more wasted taxpayer money on it, bottling the movement as a magical igniter for all the bad things doesn't hold water. Sure, Leavitt's holes like arguing that its primary purpose was cultural versus purportedly being about “ethics in games journalism” is another blind spot worth challenging. You can already tell how many separate narratives such an amorphous movement is trying to maintain. None of this amounts to much more than debating his views.
Of all the sites I initially assessed (The Verge, Polygon, & CBR.com), the end result is incredibly tame compared to those SEO-driven headlines. If in a country with stricter speech laws, Mr. Leavitt could consider libel lawsuits if he had a rekindled interest in rejoining the game industry. The resultant social stigma if the worst charges were taken seriously would leave him with a permanent employment disadvantage.
If this industry’s entitled epistemic elite is still baying for blood, I’d also appeal to Hogwarts Legacy for this special consideration. One of the later Harry Potter books reveals a powerful spell prevents boys from reaching the girls' dormitories. Considering the unequal status where girls are allowed in boys dorms, it's an interesting nugget of lore that could inform J.K. Rowling's viewpoint today. With its recent announcement about a gender-agnostic character creator, Avalanche Studios – the same studio allegedly helmed by a far-right bigot – has effectively rebuked the book series' previous-held dichotomy through gameplay. Whatever intrinsic political baggage Leavitt & co. incorporated into Legacy puts these amped-up charges in a different light.
Let's say you independently consider my assessment, or any of Leavitt's material, lacking crucial facts and/or context. I think this wall of waffle should then ignite another thought: what ought to be the cost if I or he did? When looking at the nanny-state authoritarians and PC mobs ranging from good-ole Tipper Gore to country fans angry at The Dixie Chicks' anti-Iraq War stance (*gasp!*), I figured those historical moments – whether ensuing legislatively or culturally – would be treated as valuable lessons for improving communication instead of augmenting cancellation. Ironically, I was practically trained into this for gaming controversies after VGChartz previously hosted The Bearded Gamer and his under-researched assessment of N4G’s “racism” against HipHopGamer; the real story turned out to be centered around plagiarism. The fix should be pretty simple: do the investigative work before leveling such serious accusations. How has it gotten to this point that I feel as though I'm reprimanding adult children here?
This specific example doesn't semantically fit the 'canceling' definition, but that’s thanks to Leavitt’s personal circumstances and Avalanche’s moxie versus journalists’ measured approach. It's strange to finish this “autopsy report" without a dead body to examine. The outrage has subsided and Troy Leavitt made a response video wishing Avalanche well, with GameSpot and IGN among the few willing to share it. Yet there's still something so aggravating about this event because I can't imagine myself being a pusillanimous pissant who thinks like this: "for simply not seeing things my way I look forward to your walk to the unemployment line." Tie this along with unabashed smearing to reach that outcome and you create an unjustified chilling effect for everyone else. All the while, those who get to hurriedly claim "consequence culture” get to continue never worrying about it themselves.
Despite being one of newest writers on VGChartz, Lee has been a part of the community for over a decade. His gaming history spans several console generations: N64 & NES at home while enjoying some Playstation, SEGA, and PC titles elsewhere. Being an Independent Contractor by trade (electric, plumbing, etc.) affords him more gaming luxuries today though. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.