A new Harry Potter video game is ostensibly trying to distance itself from J.K. Rowling and her string of transphobic comments with the introduction of the series’ first trans character — and many fans are calling it a cynical way to make up for the creator’s rhetoric.
Over the weekend, the first reviews of Hogwarts Legacy — a new open-world game set in the 1890s, well before the events of the main Harry Potter series — began to pore in, and many noted the inclusion of a non-playable character (NPC) named Sirona Ryan. Ryan is a witch that runs the Three Broomsticks, an inn and pub in Hogsmeade Village, that the player interacts with during a mission involving a goblin.
Though Sirona doesn’t say outright that she’s trans, the inference is pretty clear from her dialogue. When speaking about the aforementioned goblin, Lodgok, she says, “Hadn’t seen him in years when he came in a few months ago. But, he recognized me instantly. Which is more than I can say for some of my own classmates. Took them a second to realize I was actually a witch, not a wizard.”
The inclusion of Sirona certainly seems pointed as Harry Potter fans hurt by Rowling comments have been gearing up for the game’s release and debating whether or not to boycott it. But this stab at broadening representation hasn’t exactly gone over well — not necessarily with Rowling’s defenders, but rather Potter fans who have raised questions and criticisms over the intent behind the character’s inclusion and her incredibly minor role in the game.
One prominent video game commentator and journalist, Stephanie Sterling, claimed she heard from someone who worked on Hogwarts Legacy that “they added a token trans NPC to pivot the conversation away from JKR.” Liam Robertson, who works for the YouTube show Did You Know Gaming?, said he heard basically the same thing, adding, “There was apparently some trans representation added after some of the initial controversy. I don’t know how it appears in the final product but one of the sources I talked to described it as ‘performative bullshit.’”
Representatives for Warner Bros. Games did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment. (It also should be noted that Rowling was not directly involved in the development of Hogwarts Legacy, a fact Warner Bros. Games seemed compelled to include in a FAQ page for the game. Of course, as the creator of the HP franchise, she will benefit from the game.)
Another thing Harry Potter fans have noted about Sirona? Her name. “Sirona” is a traditional Celtic name, but some people have zeroed in on the choice to give a trans woman a name that starts with “Sir.” It even seems oddly inline with Rowling’s own habit of giving some characters comically stereotypical names like Cho Chang, Seamus Finnigan, or Anthony Goldstein.
As Juniper, a co-host of the podcast Western Kabuki, put it, “I think the trans community can accept the first trans character in Harry Potter being named Sirona Ryan if they introduce the first TERF character and name her Dee Vorced.”