The SXSW International - an annual set of music, film, and interactive conferences and festivals held in Austin, Texas – has announced the cancellation of two panel discussions on game culture scheduled to take place at next year’s event due to threats of violence.
Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, said in a blog post that event organizers decided to cancel the two sessions after receiving “numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming,” in the seven days since the panels were announced.
We had hoped that hosting these two discussions in March 2016 in Austin would lead to a valuable exchange of ideas on this very important topic.
However, in the seven days since announcing these two sessions, SXSW has received numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming.
SXSW prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas.
However, 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 first panel, titled 'Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,' was to look at online harassment in gaming and geek culture and how to combat it. It was to feature talks from sociologist and Gamasutra writer Katherine Cross, Caroline Sinders from IBM’s Watson project, and Randi Harper from the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative.
The second cancelled panel, 'SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community', was to feature Perry Jones of the Open Gaming Society, game developer Nick Robalik, adult film actress Mercedes Carrera, and journalist Lynn Walsh. It was to “focus heavily on discussions regarding the current social/political landscape in the gaming community, the journalistic integrity of gaming’s journalists, and the ever-changing gaming community, video game development, and their future.”
Although neither of the listings for the panels explicitly mentions it, the topic of GamerGate was expected to come up at some point during the discussions. There have been several previous incidents where talks on the controversial internet movement have been cancelled due to threats of violence, including feminist games critic Anita Sarkeesian cancelling her talk at Utah State University after receiving an email threatening a “Montreal Massacre-style attack.”
Developer Brianna Wu, one of the central figures in GamerGate, is giving two unrelated talks at SXSW – one covering virtual reality and the other a discussion on women in technology. But so far they have been unaffected. "As far as I understand it, my panels are still going forward," she tells The Verge. "I'm disappointed that SXSW isn't going to stand with [the anti-harassment] panel. I've done a lot of public speaking this year, and to date all have provided security for my programming after receiving threats. None have ever cancelled."
Katherine Cross, one of the panelists on the ‘harassment in games’ panel, said the discussions weren’t going to specifically focus on GamerGate. “I’d also add that contrary to the assertion made by SXSW in the email they sent Caroline, our panel was not about GamerGate. It was about the wider problem of online harassment. As someone who researches this issue and advocates around it, I believe it’s important to not become too myopic in focusing on a specific case of abuse as that can obscure the larger, structural issues at work. I know Caroline and Randi share my thinking on that matter.”
Regarding the cancelled ‘A discussion on the gaming community’ panel, a statement published on the Open Gaming Society website said, “Though SXSW has canceled the panel, we still plan to have a panel regardless. […] We will organize, fund, and host the panel ourselves.”