Tuesday, October 27, 2015

SXSW Cancels Video Game Panels On Harassment Due To Harassment

**EDIT (10/28/15): New information regarding the panels has been presented and will be added to the end of this article. **

South by South West, (SXSW) one of the largest film, music, and interactive festivals in the country, has already cancelled two of their 2016 March panels involving video games. The panels titled 'SavePoint:  A Discussion on the Gaming Community' and 'Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games' were created as a means for people to speak openly about verbal abuse in video games and start a dialogue on how to change the environment.

Within the week of the panels being announced and their description, SXSW received numerous threats of on-site violence, according to their website. Hugh Forest, the Interactive Director, decided to cancel those panels in order to maintain the safety of the attendees. The few threats were enough to push for cancellation.

While I understand that SXSW has a very large audience that they need to keep in mind when it comes to safety, it's also reinforcing the notion that if a handful of people complain loudly enough, we'll never see any true change in the community. Harassment won. SXSW was bullied into removing programming that promoted a positive change in gaming. And this isn't the first time this has happened. Just a year ago Intel was bullied by a small group of customers to remove their ads from Gamasutra, because the website promoted diversity in gaming, with threats to boycott Intel's products. And just a few weeks later, Utah State University along with Anita Sarkeesian cancelled a panel about diversity in gaming as part of a Gender Studies program the school offered.

It's sickening, to be honest. That we can be bullied by such a small, but very vocal, group...I'm glad that there are places like PAX that go forward with the show and do not cancel panels if threats are issued. It's pivotal for our community to grow by having discussions that push our mental and ethical limits. How can we expect our games to get better if we can't have open, meaningful dialogue?

**Having said all of that, recently it was released exactly what these panels were covering. Initially they were listed as general diversity discussions and online harassment. And the general panel descriptions would confirm this, but apparently some of the people on these panels are supporters of the #GamerGate movement. Which is the problem. There are those who say GamerGate is meant to bring integrity back to game journalism. And then there are those who use GamerGate as a platform for misogyny and racism hidden behind "integrity" to prevent games from changing with our culture. Knowing this, it gives the story a different twist. Some of the backlash were from gamers who felt these panels would promote hate, and not provide a space for safe discussion.

BuzzFeed and Vox have already decided to boycott SXSW and have pulled their staff from attending due to the panel cancellations. SXSW is working with police to verify the threats and deal with them. There's a good chance that the panels will stay cancelled in the meantime.

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