South by Southwest cancels gaming culture panels over threats of violence

Musk sxswKevin Smith/Business InsiderA panel at South by Southwest 2014 featuring Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Austin, Texas-based annual music, art, tech, and film festival South by Southwest (SXSW) announced Monday that it canceled two panels tied to the world of video game culture amid “numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming.”

The announcement came from Hugh Forrest, the director of South by Southwest’s “Interactive” leg, which is dedicated to the world of interactive art (namely: video games). Forrest explained the decision to cancel the panels as a safety concern for attendees of the greater event:

Preserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful. If people can not agree, disagree and embrace new ways of thinking in a safe and secure place that is free of online and offline harassment, then this marketplace of ideas is inevitably compromised.

The panels were meant to discuss the gaming community and harassment in games, two flashpoint issues in the gaming world in the wake of last year’s “GamerGate” kerfuffle. Forrest said he hoped the panels would “lead to a valuable exchange of ideas on this very important topic,” but instead his group has received ongoing threats of violence.

SXSW takes place in March of 2016.

“GamerGate” is a point of contention in the gaming community: some characterise it as a discussion about ethics in game writing, and some characterise as a concerted effort to push back on progressive ideas in the world of games. Many others simply try not to take a side.

One panel was named “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community,” and its organisers posted their own note of explanation on Monday evening. “SXSW’s team has had to bear the brunt of the backlash,” wrote Open Gaming Society founder and president Perry Jones. “They received countless emails, phone calls, tweets, and messages across all social media both praising and condemning them for #SavePoint and the Level Up panel organised by Randi Harper.”

The other panel was named “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” and featured a trio of female speakers:

  • Caroline Sinders, IBM Watson
  • Katherine Cross, CUNY Graduate Center/Writer for Gamustra
  • Randi Harper, Online Abuse Prevention Initiative

Its description on the SXSW Interactive 2016 page says, “A panel from [sic] experts on online harassment in gaming and geek culture, how to combat it, how to design against it, and how to create online communities that are moving away from harassment. The panel will dive into data around abuse in larger gaming communities.” It’s likely that this panel wasn’t speaking positively about the GamerGate movement, which some see as a community built around harassment.

Unfortunately, despite SXSW’s intent to bring an open discussion to both sides of this debate, it looks like the controversy surrounding the discussion is still too heated for public events.

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