I fell down an odd rabbit hole this week – one that involved two words I never thought I’d end up writing in the same sentence: Xbox and Karen.
This journey began earlier this week when I was playing Wasteland 3, inXile’s recently-released (and very good) classic role-playing game. I’m nearly 100 hours into this game, starting and stopping multiple second playthroughs as I struggle to nail down my created characters. The RPG curse, I know.
Anyway, I’d kept an eye on the Wasteland subreddit – as any good video game reporter should – to get character build tips. There I saw something… odd.
Wasteland 3 players were reporting they could not create a character called Karen.
Surely this had to be a mistake? I thought I’d test it out, to be sure. So I started Wasteland 3 from Steam, started a new game and created a brand new character. Karen was fine. No problem on PC.
Perhaps it was some console-specific quirk, I wondered? So I booted up Wasteland 3 on PlayStation 4, started a new game and created a brand new character. Again, Karen was fine. No problem on PlayStation either.
Last but not least, Xbox. I booted up Wasteland 3 on my Xbox One, started a new game and created a brand new character, and boom. No Karen allowed.
What was going on?
In order to try to get to the bottom of this very important news, I asked inXile boss Brian Fargo for an explanation. In his reply he sounded as surprised as I was:
“That’s interesting,” he said, “the console’s manage their own filters for input of names so we don’t have control over that. Though I hope they don’t preclude entering the name Polly.”
(The mention of Polly is a reference to a foul-mouthed bird who can join your party in Wasteland 3. Trust me, you want Polly on your side.)
The plot suitably thickened, I thought I’d ask Xbox if they knew what was going on. In the meantime I had a think about why Karen might have been banned by someone at some point. Well, I thought, it might have something to do with the Karen meme. I’m sure you’ve seen this meme on the internet – it’s pretty popular.
Perhaps, I wondered, someone at Xbox thought the word Karen should now be considered offensive? Karen (Tik-Tok is packed with viral Karen clips) is commonly used to refer to a middle-class white woman who talks down to people of colour, usually in serving-staff positions. As Vox described it in February 2020, Karen is “the anti-vaxxer soccer mom with speak-to-the-manager hair”. “Increasingly,” Vox continued, “Karen in particular has emerged as the frontrunner for the average ‘basic white person name’ – a pejorative catchall label for a wide range of behaviours thought to have connections to white privilege.”
Venturing online, I had a look to see if anyone else – apart from Wasteland 3 players – had discovered Karen was blocked by Xbox for character creation. It turns out this has been a thing for about a year.
I found a year old GameFAQs post in which a user called Amesang discovered Karen was banned from Xbox capture titles after uploading some footage of SoulCalibur 6 “involving my cutesy devil girl character, Karen Akamu”.
“I didn’t have that issue months ago,” Amesang explained, “but even on the Xbox Console Companion I’m getting the message, ‘Let’s keep it clean – pick another name and try again.’
“No issues with renaming her ‘Karin,’ mind you, but I’m wondering if the infamous ‘Karen’ meme ticked off the wrong person at Microsoft?”
And, more recently, redditor Vole182 took to the Xbox sub to complain about not being able to change their Call of Duty: Modern Warfare clan tag to Karen. (Vole182 had wanted to create a funny video where they would ask to see people’s managers when they died). Anal, by the way, was allowed as a clan tag.
Clearly, this wasn’t a Wasteland 3 issue. It was an Xbox issue. And it was a puzzling one! Eventually a lovely person at Xbox replied to my query to say that my request had gone through a lot of channels at the company, but no-one was really sure why or how Karen ended up being blocked. This wasn’t an Xbox policy, I was told, but, as of yesterday morning, Karen is officially available.
So, there we have it. I have somehow managed to get Xbox to let people name their characters (and Call of Duty clan tags) Karen again. You’re welcome.
As for why Karen was banned in the first place, only someone somewhere deep within the bowels of Xbox knows.