Two gaming-related panels for the upcoming South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas have been unexpectedly cancelled because of “numerous threats of on-site violence.”
In the week since both panels were confirmed for SXSW, they’ve been widely discussed in the context of GamerGate, as one was publicly supportive of it.
Word began to circulate on Twitter this afternoon that South By Southwest had cancelled two gaming panels, one “regarding the current social/political landscape in the gaming community,” the other on “online harassment in gaming and geek culture.” Though it didn’t respond to Kotaku’s requests for comment, SXSW interactive director Hugh Forrest published a statement.
In it, Forrest said that SXSW hoped “hosting these two discussions in March 2016 in Austin would lead to a valuable exchange of ideas on this very important topic,” but the alleged threats prompted them to reconsider:
“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.
Over the years, we are proud of the healthy community of digital innovators that has formed around SXSW. On occasions such as this one, this community necessitates strong management to survive. Maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session.”
Forrest did not detail the threats, but panelist Randi Harper quoted a letter she received from SXSW on Twitter, which described it as “received numerous threats of violence” for panels that “focused on the GamerGate controversy.”
It’s tough to look up what these panels were about anymore, but I can help.
One of the sessions was called “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.” While it didn’t mention GamerGate by name, it focused on the amorphous group’s often-cited values, including ethics in games journalism. The official page is now offline, but you can view a cached version over here:
We are attempting to organize a panel that we’d like to hold at SXSW 2016’s Interactive (Gaming) conference. The panel will 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. We will encourage honest critique and open dialogue between panelists and audience members, and will attempt to create a space where we can all speak on the social-political issues.
It would have featured journalist Lynn Walsh of the Society of Professional Journalists, Mercedes Carrera (activist) and Perry Jones (founder) of The Open Gaming Society, and Pixel Metal head of development Nick Robalik.
The Open Gaming Society and Robalik have openly discussed their support of GamerGate in the past.
The other session, “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” was to focus on the harassment that exists in gaming culture. It also did not cite GamerGate. Again, the session’s page is now offline, but the cached version lives on here:
A panel from 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. One of our panelists will talk about about ways to actually develop the social aspects of games - including UI decisions and how they can
influence accuracy and usage of reporting abuse. Another will dive into UX design choices to stymy harassment in social media spaces.
It would have featured IBM Waston interactive designer Caroline Sinders, sociologist and gaming critic Katherine Cross, and Online Abuse Prevention Initiative founder Randi Harper. Harper is also known for @ggautoblocker, a “tool to filter mob harassment.”
Panelists from both sessions have expressed disappointment over the news, and are apparently reaching out to SXSW to see if it’s possible to change things.
It’s unclear if SXSW would reconsider, but for now, the panels are off.