When playing around with the relaunched Xbox Design Lab, to create the colorful Xbox Series controller of my dreams, I was delighted to notice I could add a little 16 character engraving on the front to really make it my own. But then realized my ideal choice was deemed “not a valid engraving” according to The Man. Dashed were my dreams of a controller boasting the words, “Lovely Bumhole”. So I decided to see what else Microsoft forbids.
First of all, they seem very ashamed of body parts. If you were hoping to see an Xbox Wireless Controller sporting the word “penis”, “vagina”, or even simply “ass”, then you’re S out of L. But they haven’t stopped there. Incredibly, Microsoft even blushes at internal parts of your front bottom, including the word “urethra”. In fact, if you were especially proud of your “uterus”, “clitoris”, “scrotum” or “fallopian tube”, you’re not welcome. Yet, peculiarly, “ovary”, “cervix” and “vas deferens” are all just fine. They banned “fallopian tube”! (Yet “fallopian” and “tube” are fine on their own.) And like Batman, your Xbox will not engage in “oral sex” or “cunnilingus”. In fact, joining Twitch, it even outright bans the word “lick”.
It’s extraordinarily complicated in some areas, and woefully over-simplified in others. As I experimented, I became increasingly sure human intervention was a large part of how this list was compiled, deliberately banning very particular word combinations where each word alone was acceptable.
“Kill” is an allowed word, but then will get banned in particular pairings. “Kill Penguins” is fine, but “Kill Women”, unsurprisingly, is not. Yet, and well, hmmm, “Kill Men” is apparently all good. (“Kill All Men” bad though.)
Switch out to “murder”—another accepted word—and now you can’t “Murder Children” but you can “Murder Women”. Oh, and babies too. Microsoft officially on record saying you can murder babies.
Meanwhile, the Beast Of Redmond is absolutely not down with a controller suggesting “Kill Americans”, but takes no issue with “Kill The English”, “Kill Belgians” or “Kill Russians”. However, in a curveball, it does take issue with “I Hate England” and “I Hate Russians”, but allows “I Hate Belgians”.
Getting more imaginative, I wondered if I might be allowed to “Nuke America”, but I was not. Yet apparently it’s all good to unleash the bombs on “England”, “Egypt” and once more, poor old “Belgium”. Nuking Israel or Palestine is unacceptable, as is nuking “Africa”, but pick an individual African country and bombs away. You can’t “Nuke Japan”, but you can “Nuke China”!
How about religions? You may not “Kill Christians”, “Jews”, “Hindus” nor “Muslims”, but apparently we’re fine to “Kill Sikhs” and “Buddhists”. “Kill Jesus” isn’t accepted, but “Kill Christ” is. And, incredibly/worryingly, “Mohammed”/”Muhammad” is fair game.
Oh, and just to be absolutely clear, don’t think of asking it to write “Kill Microsoft”, and “Kill Nintendo” is out, but you’re just dandy to purchase “Kill Sony” or “Sega”. Huh. (“Microsoft Sucks” is also banned, but the rest of the console makers are fair game.)
Moving away from murder, this does tip over into some unfortunate prejudice. If you wanted to boast your “queer pride”, sorry, nope, that’s no good. But if you want to “punch queers”, they’ve got your back. Whatever system they’ve got running there that bans “queer” but allows “queers”, seems… problematic. Equally awful, you cannot threaten “trans” but you can threaten “trans women”.
They’re very pro-feminism, I’m pleased to report. If you want to control your games while reading “Feminism is cool”, you’re good. But if you were to disagree and think “Feminism is bad”, then no slogan for you. At this point I got a little obsessed with trying to fathom the algorithm or whatever is going on here, because somehow something as nonsensical and specific as “Feminism is rude” is banned, but you can be unequivocal and declare that “Feminism is fine”. It’s actually kind of incredible. You’re allowed to write “Misogyny”, but it jumps in to stop something as peculiar as “Misogyny wins”. Yet “Misogyny rules” is A-OK.
Microsoft has clearly some personal preferences when it comes to the time of the month. You may not discuss your “tampon” on your controller, but you may bring up your “sanitary towel”. And if you were wondering, no, Xbox doesn’t like to use a “condom”.
The system clutches its pearls at pretty much all curse words, even including “Damn”, which is a damned shame since that looks damned cool on an Xbox Controller. Obviously you may not “fuck”, but equally you cannot “feck”. Yet there are some weird oversights, like it being completely cool with “Bugger”.
“Infanticide” is not an appropriate thing to write on a controller. I mean, in general, I’m just telling you that. But Microsoft agrees. However, where we divert is on “Matricide”, with which they’re cool. Yet if you’re after a more general approach to the matter, unfortunately “Genocide” is not going to get printed.
If you were hoping to commemorate the last year and a half, I’m sorry to tell you that “Coronavirus”, “Covid-19” and all its variants aren’t acceptable. But then at the same time, you’re also not allowed to get a controller with “Smallpox” written on it. “Chicken pox” is good though, as is “Rabies”. Yes, I reached the point of trying “Rabies”.
A bespoke design shouting “YOUR MOM” is not available. Nor indeed could you get “Yo momma so fat”. And if you’re hurting after a break-up, you’re good if “Men Are Trash”, but out if “Women Are Trash”.
This is literally my day now. There is such a fantastic lack of internal logic to this system that it becomes infinitely fascinating. You can’t have “Muffler”, which I presumed was due to its containing “Muff”, but nope, “Mufflers” is fine. You may use “Butt”, but you may not require it “Kiss my butt”. (Yet you can, and I so very well might, get “Kiss My Bottom”.)
If there’s a serious point to be found here, it’s that such design tools open up extremely complicated issues for companies, as they create the situation where they’re selling officially licensed products that might well contain some problematic wording. Banned word lists are usually easily evaded with misspellings or creative approaches, but Microsoft really seems to have gone out of its way to try to prevent some extremely specific instances of this here. While at the same time leaving some very troubling gaps. That you can, right now, buy an official controller from Microsoft right now that reads “Kill trans women” is a big problem. It becomes a farcical one when you equally cannot buy one that says, “Damn”.
There is no elegant solution. If you reverse the process and allow customers to choose from a list of acceptable words, by necessity that prevents positive statements like, say, “Gay and proud” in order to prevent “gay” being misused elsewhere.
Then again, right now with the current system you absolutely cannot get “Gay and proud” written on your Xbox controller, while “gay” is not a banned word. So clearly something has gone extremely wrong.