Make them Mod

The Complex Legacies of J.K. Rowling and „Hogwarts Legacy“ (2023)

Von Elizabeth SchoppelreiRSS-Newsfeed neuer Artikel von Elizabeth Schoppelrei

“Femboy?” an Omegle user asks @nikkihaleyowo. Nikki is not, and she corrects him saying, “I’m a trans person, thank you.”[1] Her TikTok is filled with interactions on Omegle, often showcasing how people respond to her as a trans person. The conversations are not always respectful. But she chooses to caption this TikTok from March 20th, 2023 with “a true ally.” Upon learning that Nikki is trans, the man on the screen responds kindly: “I respect you. I did not buy Hogwarts Legacy. I pirated that. I will continue looking for other men, because I am gay.” 

The release of the first open-world, role-playing video game in the Harry Potter franchise, Hogwarts Legacy, is inseparable from debates on how to address J.K. Rowling’s explicit and continuing transphobia. Pirating the game, choosing to buy it second-hand, or not purchasing it at all—these were some of the many ways fans signaled their allyship with trans folks, their condemnation of Rowling’s transphobia, and/or their desire to stay within the Harry Potter fandom. These seemingly individual purchasing decisions, when placed in the context of one of the most popular fantasy franchises, became a shorthand for indicating trans acceptance—so much so that, for this Omegle user, the discloser of pirating the game is a way to communicate his politics and reassure Nikki that he is not a threat.

Given the cultural moment and J.K. Rowling’s incessant transphobia, I am interested in what this video game does for queer and trans players as well as how it interacts with gender critical movements, fascism, and racism. Gender critical movements are always intertwined with xenophobic, racist, and fascist fantasies, and the reception of Hogwarts Legacy highlights this. In this essay, I analyze the language and accents in Hogwarts Legacy and the differences between the gameplay in English versus the gameplay in German. Language, word choice, and accents form a key portion of the game’s narratological dimension and inform the ludic dimension (the gameplay). I explore the intersections between these dimensions in the game as well as what the differences between gameplay in English and German might spell out for Anglophone and Germanophone worlds that are living through increasingly fascist times.

The Game

Hogwarts Legacy takes place in the late 1800s in settings familiar to fans of Harry Potter. You are a new fifth-year student at Hogwarts who can access an ancient magic that most others cannot see. However, there are those who have misused this magic, resulting in reserves of dark magic deposited around Hogwarts and neighboring villages. Ranrok, the leader of a goblin rebellion, uses this dark magic to challenge the supremacy of witches and wizards. He longs for a world where goblins have supremacy as well as access to wands. Your character fights against this oppressed group, using the ancient magic in a “good” way. Even though the goblins in Harry Potter have been continuously called out as antisemitic figures—due to certain physical traits, their control of the banking industry, their miserly attitudes, and their characterization as untrustworthy and conniving—they are still the central villains of this storyline. A questionable decision at best. 

Yet, alongside this persistent antisemitic trope, there are several attempts to diversify the game. Hogwarts Legacy includes a plethora of characters of color, most of whom your character interacts with directly. Many of these characters have accents that highlight their country of origin and migration to the U.K. In terms of gender, though everyone one must chose to be categorized as “witch” or “wizard,” players are given the freedom to decide between two body types and among five feminine voices and five masculine voices. The voices are not labeled feminine or masculine but rather “Voice One” and “Voice Two.” When selecting a body type, players choose from a variety of presets with various facial features, hair colors, skin tones, and so on. The preset you choose determines your body shape, but all other features are variable. Finally, there are no rules on how players combine body type and voice. Given this freedom, I wondered, how will the other characters address mine? How will they talk about my character? 

Instead of defaulting to she/her pronouns for those who marked “witch” and he/him for those who selected “wizard,” Hogwarts Legacy uses they/them pronouns and gender-neutral terms like “student” and “child” to refer to your character. This non-binary default is complemented by the presence of a trans character. The barkeeper of the Three Broomsticks is a trans woman named Sirona Ryan. Her transness is made evident through the lower-register voice of the trans actress Rebecca Root. Though LGBTQ fans have both criticized and praised Sirona’s character,[2] her inclusion in the game is notable, especially given Rowling’s well-known transphobia. As a trans player who uses they/them pronouns, I was glad to see an attempt at representation through Sirona, despite the less-than-ideal delivery. But, more than this, I was delighted to hear other characters refer to my character with they/them pronouns and sidestep gendering by avoiding words like “girl,” “lady,” and so on. 

As I played, I began to wonder, as a scholar of German studies, how game developers approached these aspects in the German language. When I switched to German, I found no such nonbinary possibilities. In the German language version, how others refer to you is based on whether you chose “Hexe” (witch) or “Zauberer” (wizard). Though there are some gender neutral word choices—“Neuling” (newbie), “Neuzugang” (newly arrived), “Neuankömmling” (newcomer), “mein Gast” (my guest), “Klette” (clinger), “Frischling” (rookie) “das Kind” (the child)—one cannot escape other word choices like “die junge Dame” (the young lady), “die neue Fünftklässlerin” (the new fifth year girl), and so on. In addition to the gendered language, the German dub brings important changes for the characters of color. Though the characters of color remained, there was no attempt to maintain those accents present in the English that reveal histories and flows of migration. In this way, the German dubbing of the game paves the way both for players to ignore nonbinary possibilities as well as characters with “Migrationshintergründen” (migration backgrounds).  

Whose Hogwarts?  

In recent years, J.K. Rowling has become an outspoken transphobe and a supporter of gender critical movements. The arguments of gender critical movements are incoherent, but, as Judith Butler summarizes in their 2021 piece, “its incoherence is part of its power […]. The feast of the very instability they promise to contain, and their own discourse only delivers more chaos […] they concoct a world of multiple imminent threats to make the case for authoritarian rule and censorship.” This incoherence can be felt in Holly Lawford-Smith’s monograph Gender-Critical Feminism which argues for the importance of sex. Because of this, gender critical feminism advocates for women, but it can also support and protect trans men—because of their sex assigned at birth. The confusion of the movement’s tenets only multiplies the more one seeks to understand gender critical feminism. 

Fascism and racism undergird the transphobia of the gender critical movement. To return to Butler, “[G]ender comes to stand for, or is linked with, all kinds of imagined ‘infiltrations’ of the national body – migrants, imports, the disruption of local economics through the effects of globalization.”[3] To remedy a world of gender ‘chaos,‘ Butler sees the rise of “desperate appeals to nationalism, anti-intellectualism, censorship, expulsion, and more strongly fortified borders.” In the attempt to bar nuanced understandings of gender, we see the longing to return to ‘simpler’ times. However, these times never existed to begin with. 

Alongside the gender critical movements found in the U.K. and U.S., Germany too has witnessed a rising backlash against transness and nuanced discussions of gender. Paula-Irene Villa emphasizes how these “anti-genderist articulations” in Germany manifest in a seemingly unique way via “an overall style of self-heroization.”[4] Those who are “anti-gender,” see themselves as a “marginalized voice” who must stand up for the “silenced” majority. Villa goes on to describe how anti-gender advocates position themselves as spokespersons for a majority and as representatives of “‘normal’ people’s common sense.” These moves and characterizations abound in the Reddit threads and comment sections discussing Hogwarts Legacy

In online forums from around the time of the game’s release, gender-critical and racist views come to the fore as users speak out against the game’s push for some level of diversity and inclusion. One user on Reddit wrote, “I was going to buy this game just to make the SJWs [Social Justice Warriors] angry but now I’m not sure… :(.” No longer an easy way to distance oneself from “woke” or trans communities, the implications of purchasing Hogwarts Legacy become more complex. Another writes, “Here’s an idea, let’s give the terrorists some of their demands. Surely that will make them happy.” Finally, another writes: “In dark times like this, I would like to know how to code, so I can ‘fix’ these games: [j]ust changing the body type and voice names from 1 and 2 to male and female and stop ignoring reality would be enough […]. I know that if anyone actually makes this mod and posts it, they would be crucified by the alphabet religion.” In other words, while purchasing the game should have been the path to make “SJWs angry,” these comments reveal how transphobic and right-wing users now must position themselves as the “good” heroes—fighting against the “terrorists”/ “alphabet religion” and helping people to see the “reality” of the gender binary. 

Video Game Mods: Make your own Reality

The desire to code so that one might “fix” these games is not a one-off comment from a Reddit user. In the months following the launch of Hogwarts Legacy, a number of mods [modifications] aimed at whitewashing and reinforcing normative gender binaries appeared. In a post entitled “The Cleansing of Hogwarts,” the anonymous author laments how “Hogwarts Legacy looks like I’m at the welfare office, not 1800’s [sic] Scotland.” They present their preferred reality—“ideally all diverse MODELS […] would be removed, and just leave the non diverse ones.” The anonymous author then gives a link to a collection of mods on that players can integrate into their gameplay. Though half of the mods on the Rentry page are focused on rendering the characters—who are mostly minors—nude and/or “sexy,” the other portion of the collection is telling in both its overt racism and transphobia.[5]

These mod makers fantasize about a white, cisgender Hogwarts, and their mods make these fantasies a reality. More than a few mods exist to “fix” Sirona Ryan, the trans barkeeper of the Three Broomsticks. For example, one collection of mods is entitled the “Sirona Ryan English voice bugfix (voice pitched up).” The voice of Rebecca Root labeled a “bugfix,” as if the game developers made a mistake, as if Rebecca Root is a mistake. Each mod option will “fix” her voice, making it higher and more normatively feminine, thus erasing any auditory hints at transness. In “cleansing” Hogwarts, the mods vary from “paler skin” mods to the euphemistic “more historically-accurate 1800’s Hogwarts” mod. For some players, making all the characters white does not go far enough—the facial features also need adjusting. In Hogwarts Legacy, one of the main companions is Natsai (Natty), a transfer student originally from Zimbabwe. The author of the Rentry page warns users that if you implement the “Alternate Face for Natsai” mod, you’ll still “need the NoBlakkks/More historically-accurate 1800’s Hogwarts mod to make her white.” These mods facilitate this “cleans[ed]” Hogwarts, this fantasy of a world without trans people and people of color.

Differences in the German dub render the game even less resistant to the erasure measures of these mods. Consider how Hochdeutsch (Standard High German) is used for all characters in Hogwarts Legacy, with no variation or attempts to maintain accents for characters who immigrated. If characters can be whitewashed and their facial features changed, players can erase a world where migration is a constant feature. So too for questions of gender. To choose witch or wizard is to accept sie/ihr (she/her) or er/ihm (he/him) pronouns, without too much room for ambiguity or nonbinary possibilities.[6] Though German does not have a pronoun option as popular and well-used as “they” in English, there are still options. In fact, Illi Anna Heger has been tracking the uptick in neopronouns in German film, novels, and video games.[7] These pronouns exist; they’re in use; and they deserve greater circulation.

There is no one way to engage with Hogwarts Legacy. Transphobes don’t know whether to buy the game, boycott it, or mod it. Trans persons and allies who want to play the game must grapple with Rowling’s legacy and consider how they will spend their money (on a second-hand copy) or not at all, if they pirate it. In a moment of ever-rising fascism, racism, and transphobia, I say, make them mod. Make games so diverse and wonderful, that those who would be ill at ease must go through the additional steps to code or find mods. Make video game worlds as diverse as our own. Make video game worlds better than our own—so much so that we might look around and notice the modifications our societies need to become livable places where we all can thrive. Mods work both ways. Instead of limiting, erasing, and curtailing diversity, what if we imagined something different?  

[1] @nikkihaleyowo: “a true ally.” In:, March 20, 2023. URL: [Retrieved on 15.06.2023].

[2] Franz Christian Irorita: “Explaining controversial Hogwarts Legacy character Sirona Ryan.” In:, November 13, 2023. URL: [Retrieved 15.01.2023]. 

[3] Judith Butler: “Why is the idea of ‘gender’ provoking backlash the world over?” In:, October 23, 2021. URL: [Retrieved 20.08.2023]. 

[4] Paula-Irene Villa, “‘Anti-genderismus’: German angst?” In: Roman Kuhar and David Paternotte (eds.): Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe: Mobilizing against Equality. Lanham 2018, 99-116. 

[5] For researchers interested in this website, please email me, and I can send the link. 

[6] Pronoun options, including they/them, exist in the game Starfield, and a mod was made that attempted to remove them. For more, see Samantha Riedel: “A Gamer Tried to Remove Pronouns from Starfield and It Turned Their Character Nonbinary.” In:, September 18, 2023. URL: [Retrieved 13.01.2024].

[7] Illi Anna Heger: “Xier Pronomen in Texten, Serien, Filmen und Video Games.” In:, updated consistently. URL: [Retrieved 16.08.2023].