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Hogwarts Legacy and the Audacity of Journalists

Hogwarts Legacy and the Audacity of Journalists - Article

by Lee 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. 

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.

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?

Conclusion

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.


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16 Comments
LurkerJ (on 11 April 2021)

From the Verge article; The resurfaced Leavitt videos pushed popular forum ResetEra to ban threads about Hogwarts Legacy. “This is a uniquely awful situation where both the creator of the IP and a senior producer on the game have unrepentant bigoted views,” wrote an administrator. “There will be no threads for trailers or official announcements, no hype threads, no fluff pieces about its features.”

:-D

What's an echo chamber?

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TallSilhouette (on 11 April 2021)

This feels more like a political Op Ed than an article on the gaming industry. You post a lot of links but don't put much concrete detail into the article itself and it kinda goes all over the place.

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TallSilhouette coolbeans (on 12 April 2021)

You tend to rapidly jump from one point to the next without properly supporting your argument. Quotes and summaries from the people and pieces you reference would make things much more coherent than simple links. The frequent use of the first person and very loaded, even hostile language feels more akin to a blog than an editorial. I don't mean to be hostile myself, but if you want some constructive criticism, there it is.

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Jaicee (on 13 April 2021)

I'm late to respond, I know. It took me a while to piece together what this episode that apparently took place last month was actually about owing to insufficient specifics being included in the article itself. Consequently, I was forced to scour over each individual link contained therein for the missing information. (The author assumes too much knowledge of this situation on the part of some of his readers.) Anyway, I feel almost as though this article was intended to get a response from me, so I figured why not "educate myself" and indulge the anticipation?

Well, the bottom line is that I think I at least fundamentally agree with Lee's perspective that some games journalists overreacted to just this dude having some politically incorrect opinions, but with lots of nuances. Those nuances include, but are not limited to, my disagreement with the following things:

-The defense of the Gamergate movement, including the part minimizing of the very real harassment and social cancellation that several game developers received, the jab at at least one of its victims for subsequently pursuing an unrelated career, and the implication that there might have might have been a legitimate cause behind the movement or something. This I find particularly egregious considering that the entire point of this article is to critique cancel culture around the medium of gaming. I feel that the author's right wing worldview prevents him from recognizing that conservatives can also participate in what we might call cancel culture themselves.

-The needless insertion of the Nolan Bushnell issue. This is an issue I'm conflicted about, personally. While I understand that the kind of highly sexualized corporate culture in question very much indeed reflected the times in which it took place and that the women involved were not put off by it, it's worth pointing out that that kind of culture is no longer wanted by most women in today's workplace (including me!), but the influence and legacy of the Bushnell culture has persisted such that what was once wanted still too often occurs though it is no longer wanted. I agree with Cecilia D'Anastasio's take on this matter because it revolves around a recognition of this complexity and don't understand why the OP takes her article thereon as a dipshit hit piece.

-The deft implication that J.K. Rowling is anti-male even though almost all of her literature centers male characters (including the franchise we are discussing).

Other nuances include my personal disagreement with much of Troy Leavitt's worldview, and in particular his entire commentary on Andrea Dworkin, whom he claims advocated "kill-all-men feminism". I've been involved in the women's movement for quite some time now and I've never heard of that school before. That's because it only exists in hyperbole!

I also object to the OP not including a name pun. I mean come on, this guy's name is Leavitt and he left it! I think such negligence is objectionable.

Despite all these things, no, I don't think someone like Troy Leavitt deserves to lose his career over his political opinions, however often I may disagree with them. While no one should be thought of as above criticism, people also have a right, in my opinion, to hold and to voice their opinions. Any opinions, period. As in without "consequence" for their employment, for example. I would also say that Mr. Leavitt is hardly the most incendiary voice I've run across before and just add that point. And indeed in the end, WB supported his right to hold, and to even advance, opinions they as an institution disagreed with. That's how I feel it should be.

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Jaicee coolbeans (on 15 April 2021)

Thanks for all the compliments! I appreciate your response too. It was helpful in clarifying a lot. The most important thing is that we respect each other's rights, including the right to speak freely and honestly without facing harassment, threats, or forfeiture of one's employment and livelihood simply for doing so.

To me, this whole episode involving calls for the termination of Troy Leavitt comes off as the liberal press feeling in need of regaining some feminist street cred that has been lost over their ceaseless accosting of J.K. Rowling, and everyone even vaguely with her works, because of her position on sex-based rights. To accomplish this feat, there is a visceral need, it seems, to recast Rowling's SUPPORTERS as the real anti-feminists here somehow, despite the obvious. The ploy here is to try and discredit gender critical feminists (as yours truly) who are J.K. Rowling's principle defenders by associating us with this guy who's been vaguely and indirectly associated with her work who championed the Gamergate movement. See? SEE?! GC feminsts = Gamergate! NOW whose the misogynist?! See? It all makes sense! (/sarcasm + eye roll) ...That's how it comes off to me anyway.

I have to push back on Gamergate though. That's a no-compromise area for me.

My take on Gamergate is substantially influenced by the fact that I had to get a new Facebook account over it. No, I really don't think it was "actually about corruption in games journalism". I think that's a PR phrase. To hear the GG activists describe their aims, you'd think they were about calling out stuff like that one time I think it was Ubisoft execs who gave out free phones to the gaming press "not" as bribes for good reviews of their games for example. In reality, by contrast, they seemed to expend essentially all of their energies accosting small-time indie developers of games like Depression Quest, Revolution 60, Gone Home, and Fez. Talk about fighting the power! Talk about taking on the corrupt gaming establishment! Yeah, they were real champions of the little guy alright. I have no complimentary words to offer that wave of mass hysteria. If it wasn't a hate movement, then it may be worth noting that places like Return of Kings -- a men's rights activist association opposing the right of women to vote (among many other things) -- and the neo-Nazi site Storm Front both offered GG their resounding, official endorsement, so...I mean if...people...like that could find enough in common between their goals and that of Gamergate to formally endorse it, I really do feel that that says a lot.

You can gripe about the occasional, disingenuous 'Everyone is Gamer Now'-themed PR articles (as though there were no polling data clearly distinguishing casual players from people who identify with the term "gamer") that appeared in some of the gaming press after particularly dramatic moments associated with Gamergate activism, but the fact is that those were PR articles that were written to defend the industry amidst a moment of embarrassment and larger negative press, kind of like how the Entertainment Software Association annually generates data on female "gamers" that doubles our actual share of the gaming population so that the industry it represents looks better, more inclusive, and more inviting to the wider public than the culture surrounding it actually is.

For a time amidst Gamergate, many feminist gamers, including me, debated whether the term "gamer" was now so toxic, misogynistic, and antithetical to the kinds of things we were about that maybe we should just abandon it to these reactionaries. Eventually, it struck me that that was the whole aim of the aforementioned movement though; to drive people like me away. So I decided to keep identifying as a gamer and not let them have that victory. But such was the difficulty in reconciling ourselves to gaming culture thereafter is my point.

Anyway, moving on...you've never heard of Andrea Dworkin? Wow, you really ARE from a different generation! I thought everyone had. She was like the most controversial American feminist back when I was making zines in the riot grrl scene in my teen years because of her anti-pornography activism. Certainly well-known though. To her critics, she discredited the women's movement for a generation and ended the second feminist wave with her "puritanical, extreme" ideas. To me, it was more like that the American women's movement has become much less serious and principled in her absence. But that would be my controversial opinion about a controversial activist and author who I feel spoke more truth more passionately than the society of her times, or of ours, was/is ready for. That passion came from the strength that the women's movement had given her to finally leave an abusive marriage. (She died in 2005.) She's been an easy target for critics of the women's movement because of her weight and so forth and has been perhaps the single most demonized women's right activist of modern times. I'm inclined to push back on attempts to further massacre her legacy, to that end.

Also, the title's fine, I'm just saying one could've found a way to integrate a name pun somewhere in the article. ;-)

Okay, that's all. I think I responded to everything. Thanks for your time and consideration!

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Walbert (on 12 April 2021)

Not read anything from a mainstream games urnalists in years, got sick to the back teeth of politics in everything.

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Alistair (on 11 April 2021)

It's not really about Troy for me, it is the entire over the top anti Harry Potter nonsense everywhere. I don't visit The Verge anymore, let's not pretend it is a gaming or electronics site anymore. It is a political website, and that is all.

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Shaunodon (on 11 April 2021)

Never realised he resigned shortly after. Really enjoyed this piece but I fear with modern journalism it's merely shouting into the wind. Like you say, the idealogue sharks are only interested in finding their next source of internet chum, reason and innocence be damned.

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mjk45 Shaunodon (on 13 April 2021)

It's worse than shouting into the wind more akin to pissing into the wind.

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