SXSW pulled two gaming panels because of threats. Here’s what happened next.

In a twist of what many might call irony, two panels dealing with sexism and harassment in gaming culture were just pulled from the SXSW media festival, which will take place from March 11-20, 2016 in Austin, Texas. The reason? The festival’s organizers said the panels – which were slated to discuss opposing views related to these issues and, perhaps indirectly, the effects of the controversial Gamergate “movement” that blew up the Internet last summer – were receiving “numerous threats of on-site violence.”

“Preserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful,” wrote SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest of the cancellations in a statement on the event’s website. “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 pulled, titled “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community,” included panelists from a group called the Open Gaming Society, who are known supporters of Gamergate; their agenda was to cover “The current social-political climate within the gaming community, the importance of journalistic integrity in video game’s media, and the future of both the gaming community and the games industry.”

The other panel – “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” – was scheduled to include three women discussing the overall problems with “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.”

For those who need a refresher, Gamergate was a sequence of events in August of 2014 that began with a woman – Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic – being threatened with violence to the point where she was driven out of her own home for publicly stating her opinions on misogyny in video games and the gaming community. Sarkeesian’s incident was followed by that of game developer Zoë Quinn, who was also victim of violent threats.

Following these incidents, some began arguing against the idea of bringing light to the issues of sexism in gaming through the guise of a movement titled “Gamergate,” citing journalistic integrity and the future of the gaming industry as the reason for their opinions, and consequently seeming to ignore or otherwise trivialize women’s struggles to feel safe in the gaming community.

Given this information, SXSW’s decision is really baffling many, even if festival representatives do claim safety as their priority. For one: Randi Lee Harper, one of the panelists who was scheduled to appear on the “Level Up” panel and who founded the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative after enduring online harassment of her own, took to Twitter to express her disapproval of SXSW’s decision.

Another panelist who was scheduled to appear with Harper – Caroline Sinders, an interaction designer at IBM Watson – also chimed in.

Alongside Harper and Sinders, the Internet is currently ablaze with other people questioning why threats of violence would cause panels whose purpose is to generate an important discussion about violent threats to be pulled – like Sarkeesian and Joan Walsh, National Affairs Correspondent for The Nation and MSNBC political analyst.

But perhaps most notably, BuzzFeed has threatened to pull all their involvement from the festival if the two pulled panels aren’t reinstated, sending a letter to Forrest stating the following, among other things:

“BuzzFeed has participated deeply in SXSW for years, and our staffers are scheduled to speak on or moderate a half-dozen panels at SXSW 2016. We will feel compelled to withdraw them if the conference can’t find a way to do what those other targets of harassment do every day — to carry on important conversations in the face of harassment. We hope you can support the principle of free speech and engage a vital issue facing us and other constituents on the event.”

We hope SXSW can find a way between now and March to ensure the safety of its participants while still being able to generate these important discussions about the future of equality in gaming and the gaming community. Because, really, isn’t that the entire point?

(Image via Shutterstock)


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