SXSW festival cancels video game panels after getting ‘numerous threats of on-site violence’

Arturo Garcia

Organizers of the South by Southwest festival (SXSW) announced on Monday that they canceled two video game-related panels after receiving threats, Fusion reported.

The festival said in a statement that it “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 festival’s decision affects two panels: “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” and “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community.” One of the scheduled speakers for the “Level Up” session, Randi Lee Harper, posted the email she received from festival officials announcing that “Level Up” had been canceled.

While that message also stated that SXSW had received violent threats since the panels had been announced for its March 2016 tech festival, it also said that the festival would scuttle any sessions “that related to the GamerGate controversy,” a reference to the “protest movement” that has seen female game developers and critics been targeted for online harassment and physical threats.

However, Harper has stated that her panel dealt with “making design decisions in abuse systems,” and was not related to GamerGate.

“They weren’t clear about what the threats were, beyond their violent nature,” Harper told Re/code. “We contacted them first, saying ‘This is gonna be controversial, there’s a mob that follows us around.’ They knew exactly what they were getting into. It’s the same boilerplate warning I give any conference I speak at.”

According to Motherboard, one person who was planning to speak at a separate panel contacted organizers to say that she had been targeted by GamerGate supporters in the past, only to get a response she described as “patronizing.”

“We appreciate your thoughts and always welcome feedback from our community,” the response reportedly read. “That said, SXSW is a big tent and we strongly believe in showcasing a very diverse range of ideas and opinions, even if we as a staff don’t always agree with them. If everyone shared the same viewpoint, that would make for a pretty boring event.”

Motherboard also reported that members of the “SavePoint” panel have supported GamerGate. The group organizing that panel, the Open Gaming Society, has stated that it holds a “neutral stance” on the issue. The organization’s president, Perry Jones — who was listed as the moderator for that panel before its cancellation — released a statement saying it would hold its own discussion separate from the festival.

The festival’s report of threats comes just over a year after one prominent feminist video game critic, Anita Sarkeesian, canceled an appearance at Utah State University after school officials reported getting a threat via email of a massacre-style shooting. The state’s concealed-carry law also allowed permit holders to bring their firearms onto the campus.

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