South By South West (SXSW) has cancelled two panels on video gaming following threats of violence to the participants. One panel was about women in gaming; the other was a pro-“Gamergate” panel, The Verge reports.
The women in gaming panel, hosted by programmer Randi Harper, was called “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games.” It was due to discuss the way women in gaming are frequently threatened with violence by male gamers. In a tweet, Harper claimed the panel was shuttered due to a high level of threats from those associated with GamerGate, the online movement that has criticised various prominent women in game development.
The second panel, hosted by the Open Gaming Society, was titled, “A Discussion on the Gaming Community.” While it wasn’t specifically promoted as a GamerGate-related it featured speakers affiliated with the movement, according to The Verge. Topics included “the importance of journalistic integrity in video [game] media.”
The GamerGate movement began as an accusation that one video game maker, Zoe Quinn, had an affair with a video game journalist. It has since snowballed into a large, loose community of gamers who believe the media treats them unfairly. However, GamerGate’s reputation has been tarnished by the fact that women who criticise video games, even in the mildest terms, are frequently subjected to death threats and rape threats by its members.
Hugh Forrest, the interactive director for SXSW, posted a statement that explained the decision to remove the panels:
[P]reserving 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.
The Open Gaming Society also released a statement that said the situation “grew out of control very quickly and was more intense than anything that [we] have had to deal with.” The group plans to hold the panel elsewhere.
Throughout the day, anger on Twitter swelled over the handling of the issue by SXSW.
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 find a way to do what those other targets of harassment do every day to carry on important conversations in the face of harassment.