Does Boycotting Video Games Make Sense?

The Case for Boycotting Games 4
Credit: Warner Bros.

The Case for Boycotting Games 4
Credit: Warner Bros.

As we near the release of Hogwarts Legacy, an open-world Harry Potter video game, controversy has been brewing over whether or not people should boycott the game, considering Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling's history of anti-transgender rhetoric. Regardless of your opinion of transgender folk, this has started a larger discussion on whether or not boycotting video games is effective or even morally righteous.

So, in this article, we'll explain everything you need to know about whether or not boycotting video games makes sense.

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The Case for Boycotting Games

The Case for Boycotting Games
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Credit: Warner Bros.

Put simply, video games are products that companies sell on the open market. If a particular product doesn't sell well, the company that makes the product probably won't make another version of it, because after all the goal of selling something is to profit off the selling.

However, this already gets a little more complicated. For one, you can borrow a copy of a game from a friend, spending none of your own money, or you can sign up for a subscription service where you aren't directly purchasing a game yourself, even if some of your money does make its way to the developers of games on whichever service you use.

Then, of course, while we don't recommend piracy, pirating a game for free is still a mainstream practice that just about anybody with a computer can do, avoiding contributing any money whatsoever to a cause you disagree with. But even by talking about a particular game, regardless of if you've spent money on it, you may well be helping to advertise and market such a thing.

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Ultimately, if you stand for something and you engage with someone or something that goes against your values, you inevitably risk enabling or supporting things you don't agree with. And if you think of yourself as principled or simply as someone who lives by their values, you'll definitely want to be careful about the things you support and enable.

So, if you want to see fewer games made by a particular developer, publisher, or creator, choosing not to buy or engage with those games is the best thing you can possibly do, as an individual, to stop these games from being created and becoming successful. Accordingly, boycotts can be an effective tool.

However, there is another side to the coin.

The Case Against Boycotting Games

The Case for Boycotting Games 2
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Credit: Warner Bros.

There's this mainstream idea out there that one person choosing to stand against something is just a drop of water in a metaphorical ocean. However, the mainstream response to this is that an ocean is just a series of drops together, so if enough people do the same thing as you, well, it adds up.

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So, the above would suggest that boycotting a particular game if you don't agree with what the game stands for is, actually, a good idea. However, there's actually a much stronger argument against boycotting that has nothing to do with what possible effects boycotting something can have.

Say, for example, you buy yourself a shiny, new PlayStation 5, and you really love Harry Potter and think the Hogwarts Legacy game looks cool, so you decide to try out your new console by playing Hogwarts Legacy. But, uh oh! Then, you realize that money that goes towards Hogwarts Legacy eventually ends up in J.K. Rowling's pocket, and you don't want that at all.

Accordingly, you decide you'd rather pick up a different game that doesn't support a cause you don't agree with, so you put your money where your mouth is and don't buy the game. Simple, right? You make a little sacrifice, not playing a game that looks cool to you, so you can stick with your principles and not support a person you feel is causing harm.

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Well, it's not so simple. Because that shiny, new PlayStation 5 of yours, it turns out, has a bunch of components inside of it that were made by underpaid, overworked factory workers in Asia that are forced to toil away under horrifying working conditions for next to no money at all. Fine, you think, so you return the PS5, determined to stick with your principles.

You go back to your PS4 and resume playing some old, familiar games. But then, you realize, that the situation is much the same with the PS4. And the Xbox. And your phone. And your TV. And so on and so forth. Quickly, you arrive at a crossroads where the only way to actually live by your principles is to move out to a farm where you live completely off the grid and grow everything you need yourself, hurting nobody.

This is the problem with boycotting a particular game. Ultimately, standing by a principle doesn't mean much when you only stand by that principle some of the time, but to actually stand hard and fast for something usually means making unreasonable sacrifices yourself. It's something of a rock and a hard place, putting you in an impossible situation where you have to decide to be immoral and happy or moral and miserable.

So, is it really ever worth boycotting a game if you aren't, in the end, actually standing up for a value you hold?

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When You Should Boycott Games

The Case for Boycotting Games 3
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Credit: Warner Bros.

It doesn't really make sense to just abandon all your principles because you can't effectively hold yourself to all of them all the time in the same way it doesn't make sense to ruin your own life in order to consistently stand up for a particular principle. So, what can you do?

Of course, this is a personal choice, and it's something you'll have to decide for yourself. But realistically, the best way to decide whether or not to boycott something like a game or piece of media comes down to whether or not a boycott has a real chance of actually changing the status quo and reducing harm out there in the world.

In the case of Hogwarts Legacy, well, J.K. Rowling is already a famous and influential billionaire, depending on which net worth calculation you look at, so whatever residual dollars she gets from Hogwarts Legacy using her IP probably won't make her meaningfully richer or more influential, limiting the possibility of actually reducing harm caused by Rowling if you buy the game.

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However, take NFTs for example. A relatively new thing to exist that's just now being implemented into games by various companies who're testing out whether or not it makes sense to have NFTs in their games. With enough public backlash and little profit to speak of from selling NFTs, that's an effective way of putting a stop to NFTs in mainstream games, so boycotting NFTs can make a lot of sense if you're opposed to their use in games.

So, the best way to move forward is to evaluate each game you buy on a case-by-case basis as to whether or not you think buying that particular game will have a meaningful impact on practices at large.

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