The recurring practice of spoiling Harry Potter

As the release of Hogwarts Legacy approached, certain details about the game's plot became public. This has led people to share those details with those who may not necessarily wish to know those details ahead of playing the game; that is to say it led people to post spoilers.

Interestingly enough, this isn't the first time that spoiling a Harry Potter thing has become an Internet meme. Another time was over 17 years earlier, in 2005, at the point when the book Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was first released.

While these two points in time share symmetry, the context around them is quite different, and it is those differences that highlight the arc that the world took over that span of time. 17 years ago, the earliest elements of the modern Internet were just getting their start, and today we can see where they eventually arrived.

Snape kills Dumbledore

The sixth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was scheduled to release on 16th of July, 2005. By the time the series got to number six, it was already widely popular, and its author—J.K. Rowling—has already made ridiculous amounts of money off it. There were movies, video games, and assorted other stuff that comes with a popular franchise. The book release was highly anticipated. A store in Canada accidentally sold a couple of copies to some fans prior to the official release, and the buyers were subsequently prohibited by court order from even reading their copies. It was one of those releases that cause lines around the block.

The details of the plot of the book became generally known at about release time. There was enough Internet in 2005 for that knowledge to spread around to those who sought it. There was also enough Internet to link unsuspecting fans of Harry Potter to said spoilers, in the manner of a shock site (something that was already a thing by the mid-2000s).

In 2005, Facebook was still restricted to university students, and Twitter did not exist yet. Social media, in fact, was not even a term in common use. 2005 did have ways of shooting digital video, and ways of publishing that video on the Internet—YouTube launched in February of 2005, although earlier and jankier ways were available prior to that. This is how we can still watch a blurry, low-resolution, and low-framerate video of someone rolling in a car past a bunch of Harry Potter fans and yelling out "Snape kills Dumbledore".

What was also around in 2005 is 4chan—it has been around since 2003, and so predates Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. 4chan did take notice of the The Half-Blood Prince spoilers. Two years later, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows leaked despite the publisher's likewise extensive efforts to prevent that. 4chan users took it upon themselves to spoil the book to fans queuing up in physical spaces, in imitation of the driver from 2005. This is why if, today, you look for videos of Harry Potter being spoiled, you are more likely to find videos related to The Deathly Hallows, including some featuring white British lads in suits and afro wigs yelling spoilers over megaphones, a weird artifact of contemporary Internet culture.

Your teacher dies in every ending

Hogwarts Legacy is the first major video game set in the Harry Potter universe to release in years. As one of those high-budget video games long in development, broad in scope, and high in marketing spending, it has been eagerly anticipated by those fans of the series that still remain fans.

By 2023, J.K. Rowling has revealed herself to be an odious transphobe, and became a prominent voice in the so-called debate on whether transgender people should have rights—on the no side. While Rowling had no involvement in writing for the game, she did create the franchise, and so receives royalty payments from the various properties under it. Trans people, and others with decent opinions on trans people, have pointed out that purchasing the game gives money to a notorious bigot, and have asked people to refrain from doing so.

Other controversies included the fact that Troy Leavitt, the game's lead designer, used to run a YouTube channel with anti-feminist and anti–social justice content. The game's content also attracted some criticism: the plot focuses on goblins which, within the Harry Potter universe, are hook-nosed greedy bankers—an antisemitic trope in the real world.

All of this has led some of the aforementioned people with decent opinions to spoil the game for unsuspecting fans who have not yet played through it. A common copypasta for this is thus:

Your teacher, Professor Eleazar Fig, dies at the end of Hogwarts Legacy. This happens in all possible endings and can't be changed. Oh and Rookwood is the one who cursed Anne while the goblins were framed

Of course, people these days generally don't line up at a store to purchase video games on physical media, so the spoiling has been chiefly been taking place online. On the other hand, scrolling through social media timelines is a far more common practice today, so those present a ready place for the spoilers.

The arc of the Internet

The two points in time offer an interesting look into the arc that the Internet took over a span of over 17 years. In 2005, pocket computers were an esoteric gadget, and the infrastructure to comfortably operate them everywhere was not yet there. Social media was nascent, and spending a lot of time talking to people over the Internet was the domain of weird nerds, rather than a normal part of everyday life for a large portion of the population.

What existed was memes, and what existed was spaces on the Internet inhabited by the aforementioned weird nerds. 4chan is, perhaps, the most well-known of them, as it remained notable and notorious over the following decade and beyond. Looking at the artifacts of that era's Internet, we can glimpse a particular culture, which is also exemplified by the 2005 and 2007 spoiling memes.

2000's shenanigans were, notably, not particularly political. Fans of the Harry Potter franchise were not categorized as any particular political camp at the time. Rather, the efforts to ruin their day are motivated by a desire to cause mayhem for the sake of mayhem. People yelling spoilers while wearing vaguely racist costumes claim to do so for the lulz, because bullying people is amusing.

If you do not find bullying people amusing, you are, of course, excluded from the in-group. If you think that the conduct of the group is perhaps a bit too libertine, then you are a killjoy who deserves to be the group's victim. This dynamic has existed long before the Internet; it probably also existed in Internet spaces prior to the mid-2000s. It was the mid-2000s when there were the first glimpses of how that dynamic would play into the increasingly central place the Internet and social media played in people's lives.

The 2023 conflict over Hogwarts Legacy is, by contrast, quite political. The opposition to the opposition, coming from the right-wing, is the familiar kind of contrarianism that seeks to dismiss and oppose any sort of concern that the more progressive elements bring up—even if that concern is that trans people should not be subjected to genocide.

One could say the 2023 spoilers are not coming from the opposite side of the political spectrum, relative to the mid-2000s spoilers, because the mid-2000s spoilers were not coming from a political camp at all. However, it feels like the mid-2000s spoilers were coming from the modern right, because the modern right is essentially what the milieu that brought us the 2000s spoilers eventually grew into.

The arc of the world (of which the Internet is part)

Since, over the span of 2005 to 2023, the Internet has shifted from being a separate thing to being an integral part of the real world, we should examine the broader context of how things changed.

The antisemitic caricatures used for the goblins in the Harry Potter universe were Rowling's invention, long before they found their way to the latest video game. With the rise of Rowling as a prominent public bigot, people have started pointing out that her Harry Potter books have had bigoted elements in them from the start. Whether it is the lazy use of heavy-handed racial stereotypes for minority characters, or seemingly more malicious inclusion of bigoted tropes (like the goblins), it leaves a sour taste for many readers in 2023.

It would be a mistake to assume that the views we, in 2023, consider progressive or left-wing have emerged whole cloth between 2005 and now. In a lot of cases, what progress entailed was broadening of the portion of the population that hold these views to be true. The opinion that it is fine to treat queer people with disdain is less common in 2023 than it was in 2005, but even in 2005 and before, we had people who believed that it was wrong.

The Internet has a lot to do with this state of things. The Internet has provided a vector for exposing people to, and convincing people of views that may otherwise be considered radical. Radicalization does not only work in one direction, however. The culture which spawned Deathly Hallows spoiling events is what eventually evolved into one of the components of the modern Internet political right. One need look no further than the fact that the 2023 4chan is commonly considered one of the hives of that broad group.

What the arc looks like

There are two ways this can be looked at.

On one hand, we started out with some weird nerds who, freed from some of the constraints and limitations that life otherwise imposed on them, found spaces on the Internet where they could indulge in whatever they wished, with no regard for the consequences for themselves or others. As the Internet increasingly merged with the so-called real world, these consequences also increasingly became real-world themselves, which led to more pronounced opposition. The erstwhile weird nerds then became reactionaries, joining the broader reactionary currents. Trolling people for the lulz became owning the libs.

On the other hand, we started with Internet spaces inhabited by weird nerds, with misogyny, racism, and other forms of bigotry that alienate people who are not the right kind of specific weird nerd. The broadening reach of the Internet, combined with general social progress has, however, made more inclusive spaces available to a broader range of weird nerds, and other people. As even people who are capable of staying in toxic spaces often find staying in non-toxic spaces preferable, the average baseline level of toxicity has decreased. Those who do actually prefer their spaces toxic were forced to consolidate, and so became a more coherent reactionary force, but overall the Internet is a better place to be in. If you believe that you should not be subject to genocide, then the Internet can let you reach plenty of people who believe likewise.

Both of these perspectives are fundamentally true, of course. It is common to lament the world which our interconnectedness has brought us. Perhaps it is important to also acknowledge the ways in which our world is now better, if only because it shows that things can get better, which means that there is a point to it all. Knowing what is wrong, and how things got to be wrong is important, but so is believing that we can win.

So, you know, fuck the wizard game.