Talking Around the Harry Potter Game

This is not a review of the newest game that everyone is talking about right now. I have not played the game, and have only seen a little bit of it. Today, I want to talk about literary/film theory, online discourse, social responsibility in consumerism, and why in the future, you all have my permission to separate me from my work.

Again, this is not a review of the game. At this time, if you are looking for a favorable review of the game, or one that tears it down and gives it the lowest score, all you have to do is look around. A couple of days ago, Steam was 10 out of 10, Wired was 0 out of 10, and other game reviews were somewhere in between. Without playing the game, I could probably write a review right now and it doesn’t matter what I write because it would align with someone else’s take.

How did we get here? What is so polarizing about this game in particular?

It really comes down to these two seemingly contradictory truths: 1. The Harry Potter stories left an indelible mark on the world, inspiring kids (and others) to read again and 2. The author of the Harry Potter series has some truly vile world views and is kind of an asshole sometimes.

I have seen people argue against both of those truths, and I have seen people state either truth with greater embellishment. Perhaps you think I’m overstating the value of the Harry Potter franchise? Perhaps you think I’m being too harsh or too light on J.K. Rowling with how I just described her? Opinions abound, while I’m doing my best to state facts.

For the record, I have a somewhat low opinion of J.K. Rowling. I support trans lives. Trans rights are human rights. J.K. Rowling has spent an incredible amount of money on charity, which is laudable, but she seems completely blind to the damage she’s doing with her very public and influential transphobic views.

That brings us back to the Harry Potter world and what it brings to our world.

Literary and film theory is about looking at a piece through different lenses and interpreting through those specific lens. For example, you can analyze film and literature for the subtext, and what the piece says about gender roles, specifically with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity. That’s queer theory. Or, you could examine the piece in how women are presented, and how much agency female characters are given in a piece of work. That is feminist theory. It’s where the term “male gaze” originated.

There are lots of different types of film theory and literary theory. Some are more controversial than others, like auteur theory. They all have value, as they give us different ways to examine a piece of fiction and really get into what it means.

Here’s the thing about all of this: if you can build an argument based on the contents of the art, then any theory you apply is valid. If you want to say The Matrix is about the problems of rampant capitalism, where the corporate machines themselves begin to run our lives, relegating us to just numbers to be churned and consumed, that’s valid if it is supported by evidence from the film. If you want to say The Matrix is about gender identity, where who we truly are may not be what the world around us sees, and the righteous path is to shed our dead names and embrace who we really are, that is also valid.

Just because a criticism is supported by evidence in the film does not mean it is the only interpretation. Also, just because a criticism is valid, that does not mean that criticism has to affect you in any way. Many things can be true at the same time. Other people can find different truths within a piece of art, and that’s one of the things that makes art so magical.

Finally, and this is especially true with regards to Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling, the author does not get to dictate which criticisms are true or not true. The reader’s or the viewer’s experience is what it is, regardless of the author’s intentions. When we read a story, we are active participants, bringing with us all of our own experience and perspective, and what we see in our mind and feel in our heart is valid, too. That’s reader response theory, baby.

That was a long way to go to say that all criticisms of a piece of fiction are valid, when the evidence is drawn from the art itself.

How does this apply to the most recent Harry Potter game that has the internet abuzz?

I think that if you want to boycott the game because you think buying it supports a transphobic author, that’s your prerogative. I don’t know how much money she’s going to get from this game. I know she gets money from other sources, which people are conveniently forgetting to boycott. I know she is one of the most philanthropic people alive today, giving so much money to charity that she stopped being a billionaire. When it comes to her transphobic views, she’s absolutely a villain, but it’s always more complicated than that.

I have seen criticisms about the game with regards to having only 2 endings, and how none of your choices matter because the last choice you make determines which ending you get. When I heard that, I immediately thought about the original Knights of the Old Republic, which was exactly the same way. But do you know what? Knights of the Old Republic was extremely fun, and the experience of playing it was greater than the experience of finishing it.

A lot of the criticisms I see levied against the game are through a single lens, much like literary and film theory. I actually think that’s kind of neat.

I’m probably not going to play the game, myself. But I can understand people wanting to, because the magical world of Harry Potter has always been a fun place to visit, and it ensorcelled the world for a reason. I do not begrudge anyone wanting to play it and feel like they’re transported to that world.

It would be a dream come true to create a story world so vibrant and alive that it inspires others to make games and artwork inspired by that art. I would love to leave that kind of mark on the world.

So, to that end, let it be known that should I successfully capture the heart and imagination of the world, you have my permission to think of that work without thinking of me. If it turns out I have some problematic view, please disregard me in the pursuit of enjoyment of my stories and art. If the entire world turns vegan and discovers that I ate meat, please know that I support your veganism and I do not wish my enjoyment of tasty burgers to impair your enjoyment of The Repossessed Ghost, Spin City, Synthetic Dreams, or any of my other stories.


Diving Deeper Into the Edit

I recently talked about the first editing pass I received on The Repossessed Ghost, and I described the changes as very light. I described it accurately! There were only two comments, and a bunch of in-line edits, which mostly had to do with capitalization and homonyms.

Today, I’m transferring those in-line edits into my Scrivener file, which is forcing me to really examine them. I’m learning that you’re not suppose to capitalize “the” nearly so much. For example, my home houses the Buhls, not “The Buhls.” And it is the Bible, not “The Bible.”

There are several capitalization rules I get wrong all the time, and I’m glad to receive this lesson. It’s one more thing I can look for when doing personal edits in the future.

In addition to those changes, which are easy for me to accept and change, there are a couple that I’ve actually had to stop and think about. For example, is it “archaeology” or “archeology?” I used the latter, but I have an in-line correction to the former. Apparently, this one is a little bit complicated! Using the “ae” is more common across the world, and US legislation and departments use the “ae.” However, in the US, leaving out the “a” is more common, ever since a change in the printing process dropped the “ae” diphthong. I didn’t know any of this when I wrote the story, but now I know.

I’ll go with the editor’s version because I don’t want to be difficult and this particular change doesn’t really alter the voice or content of the story in a significant way. It was a fun learning opportunity, though. Scrivener doesn’t recognize the spelling with the “a” but Scrivener isn’t the boss of me, either.

I have mentioned previously that I struggle with homonyms. I don’t usually have a problem with the common ones. I know my “their,” “there,” and “they’re.” I’m not sure how many people get “taught” and “taut” mixed up, but it’s a mistake I managed to commit a few times. The one that really gets my goat is “dowsing” versus “dousing.” It’s like my brain is searching for new and interesting ways to use wrong words. The nicest thing I can say about my struggle with homonyms is that, though I’m wrong, I’m consistent in my wrongness, making it relatively easy to correct.

What else can I talk about with regards to this edit? During one of the drafts, I went through the entire manuscript, looking for places where I used weak verbs. I wrote the first draft while I still leaned heavily on passive voice, so I had a lot to correct. I mostly tried to eliminate the word “was” when it didn’t make the sentence clumsy. I also tried to delete the word “had” and all of the places where I hid it in a contraction. I clearly cut too deep, as the editor slipped some of these missing contractions and “had” words back into the text.

If I didn’t make it clear before I started talking about this edit: I hold no ill will towards my editor, and in fact, I think they did a fantastic job. I’m not complaining about the changes. I’m marveling at how I got these things wrong in the first place. I love that after all this time sitting on this novel, I can still learn from it and make it better.

One of my tasks with the publisher is to submit another draft. I’m about half way there, I think, and I should be able to complete the task before the end of the weekend.

I’m enjoying this process. I like having an editor, and I love all of these opportunities to learn and get better at the craft of writing. I’ve heard other writers complain, and I know some of them have had bad experiences. I consider myself lucky. This whole experience just makes me that much more excited to work on The Repossessed Ghost and get it in front of people.