Threats Cause SXSW 2016 To Cancel Two Gaming Panels

SXSW Interactive, citing “numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming,” has canceled a pair of sessions about gaming planned for its March 2016 event in Austin.

“SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” was to have included several pro-Gamergate participants.

Nick Robalik and Perry Jones, both pro-Gamergate game developers, Mercedes Carrera, an adult film star who has become a vocal Gamergate supporter, and Lynn Walsh, an NBC producer and the president-elect for the Society of Professional Journalists, who appeared at a previous Gamergate gathering which organizers claimed had to be cancelled midway through the event due to bomb threats.

And “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” was to have fielded experts on online harassment in gaming and geek culture: Caroline Sinders of IBM Watson, Gamasutra writer Katherine Cross, and Randi Harper of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative.

Both panels were first announced seven days ago.

In an October 26 statement event management said —

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.

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.

Randi Harper told Jezebel

that all the panelists are familiar with receiving threats and had been working with SXSW staff on safety. “We had been participating in an email discussion with SXSW about safety for our panelists. They seemed unconcerned at the time, so this was surprising.”

Meanwhile, The Open Gaming Society, the group behind “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community,” has announced they will go ahead and run their session independently.

A lot has happened since we submitted the panel, and we’ve been overwhelmed with both support and disdain. However, SXSW’s team has had to bear the brunt of the backlash. They received countless emails, phone calls, tweets, and messages across all social media both praising and condemning them for #SavePoint and the Level Up panel organized by Randi Harper. SXSW explained to us that they are a very neutral organization and wanted to provide a platform for both sides to speak on and have their voices heard. “We wanted to do something interesting that hadn’t really been done before” one SXSW official said in our phone conversation earlier today. SXSW feels that both the organization and its staff have been under siege from all sides and from all parties since they announced the panels early this month. They want to encourage open discussions, but they don’t want to fuel a vicious online war between two sides who are extremely opposed to one another. We’re all very passionate about this medium and sometimes we let that passion get the best of us – and that’s on both sides of the table. This entire thing grew out of control very quickly and was more intense than anything that they have had to deal with – and they hosted a panel on Snowden just a few years prior. Once the SXSW director got involved it was a done deal. The SXSW Interactive and their Gaming teams came together and made the decision to cancel both panels.

While this is disheartening news there is a silver lining. The Open Gaming Society believes in open discussions and would like to announce our “Plan B.” We formed this plan almost immediately after we submitted the panel to SXSW. Though SXSW has cancelled the panel, we still plan to have a panel regardless. This has been a backup plan from square one and now we are forced to act on it. We will organize, fund, and host the panel ourselves. We plan to do so around the same time as SXSW to allow for the largest possible audience.

73 thoughts on “Threats Cause SXSW 2016 To Cancel Two Gaming Panels

  1. I wish people would not cling to the fiction of there being two balanced, equally culpable sides.

    It’s pretty clear from the source material who is honest and who is not.

    While I appreciate the passion with which Breitbart fans attack their news, the fact that none of the inflammatory stories cited have been picked up by *reputable* news sources says a lot.

    When you can being up news stories about people GamerGaters have targeted printed in reputable news sources, I will pay attention.

    For example, I found the highly regarded John Oliver’s news item on online harassment and GamerGate to be the sort of honest, clear journalism one would like to see more of:

    If the *only* sources of your stories are hate blogs like Breitbart, well, I’m not interested, thank you.

  2. Breitbart…Breitbart…that rings a bell.

    Wait–isn’t that the site that destroyed ACORN for helping provide homes for poor people? And ran that doctored hit piece where they spliced in studio-shot footage to a Planned Parenthood interview to make it look like PP was helping pimps?

    Randi Harper appears to be Good People–or at least she’s in good company. Maybe I should go see what she has to say.

    Thanks for the tip.

  3. Gamergate is basically the gaming division of the white supremacy movement, anyone who reads wehuntedthemammoth will already know this, the amount of anti-semitic and racist commentary within the GG movement is quite shocking.

  4. I am looking forward to when EPH is ratified and the GamerGate crowd moves on from the Hugos to some other group to annoy.

    I don’t expect you meant it this way, but my brain immediately translated it as:

    “Do what you want to the girls, but leave me alone!”

    George Carlin voice and everything…

  5. Every school in Los Angeles beyond elementary level gets bomb threats every semester during finals week. They are ignored. No bombs have ever been connected to any of these threats.
    Bomb threats are made by inadequate creeps. They aren’t competent enough to make actual bombs. If they were, they would probably blow up something. They would do rather than threaten.
    Concoms should ignore bomb threats and not t report them to the outside world. When you publicize a threat you are validating the inadequate creep who made the threat.

  6. @Milt Stevens – You should still report the threats to authorities, though I agree about not alerting the media for non-credible threats.

    If the creeps are to get attention, let it be from Law Enforcement.

  7. This jumped out at me:

    they don’t want to fuel a vicious online war between two sides who are extremely opposed to one another.

    There really aren’t two sides in this. There’s gamergate, a small but focused misogynist bullying and harassment campaign directed against women and feminists in gaming. And then there’s various shades of literally everyone else in the world.

    SXSW is acting like the principle who comes across a kid getting beaten up in the parking lot and says “I don’t care who was minding their own business when they started getting punched in the face, I’m still expelling both of you for fighting.”

  8. Thank you for your explanation on gadfly.

    Not a problem. I find the media folks that identify with GG that didn’t game or follow the game matters before hand are the worst of the lot. Events like this make me leave the Box* and go do things in reality with real objects amongst real people. There’s winter and spring storm prep work that needs to be done and projects to explore.

    * The Box refers to personal entertainment at home, either passive or active. Basically checking out of reality. See Johns Barnes’ Thousand Cultures series for a good read.

  9. Regardless of anything else, it served to get GG the attention they so desperately crave. Their social media metrics had pretty much flatlined. So thanks SXSW for keeping that nonsense on life support.

  10. I don’t expect you meant it this way, but my brain immediately translated it as …

    I’ll stop you right there.

    I’m not interested in gaming. I am interested in SF. GamerGate is moronic and bigoted, so I’ll be glad when it’s no longer the subject of posts on File 770.

    That’s all my comment means.

    Am I indifferent to the abuse they’re doling out on women in gaming? Of course not. But I don’t follow that field. Literally the only game developers I can name are Notch from Minecraft — because I wrote a book on the game — and prominent female GamerGate targets such as Anita Sarkeesian.

  11. I’ll stop you right there.

    I’m not interested in gaming. I am interested in SF. GamerGate is moronic and bigoted, so I’ll be glad when it’s no longer the subject of posts on File 770.

    That’s all my comment means.

    Yeah, and wasn’t it Pastor Niemoller who wrote a poem about that?

    But honestly, I mentioned it because suddenly hearing Carlin in my head was amusing to me, so I shared. The fact that your statements boil down to “I’m not indifferent to them, I just don’t want to hear about it, so I’ll be glad when they move on to abusing people I don’t hear about” is pretty solidly indifferent, but I’m not trying to talk you out of it.

    I just thought the line was funny.

  12. @rcade

    I’m not interested in gaming. I am interested in SF.

    The two “realms” aren’t mutually exclusive. They have influenced each other for the last several decades. The best mix of the two is IF, Interactive Fiction.

  13. Apparently Buzzfeed and Vox Media are threatening to pull out of SXSW if the cancelled panels are not reinstated.


    Edit to add: And… the story’s already on File770. Sorry for the redundancy!

  14. SXSW has always struck me as being extremely dudebro; this just confirms it.

    I don’t know what makes you think that. I know a lot of people in tech who have gone over the years. I would not describe them as dudebro. Austin’s a liberal bastion in Texas and SXSW comes from that community.

  15. @Matt Y, (also Aaron)

    From past discussion here, Chris Nelson’s spouse is a very accomplished woman. When we were talking gun control, and he was wringing his hands about gun violence and then offering straw man rebuttals to every possible solutions, his spouse taught firearms classes to women for self-defense. Now, when we’re talking gamergate and he’s wringing his hands about how awful it is, and aren’t those women just as bad as the people harassing them, his spouse is a gamer and developer.

    Curious, no? I suspect we’ll see this about every subject he expresses his “concern” about.

  16. @Milt Stevens

    Not quite. The IRA made extensive use of bomb threats and they were entirely capable of producing actual bombs when they wanted to. The threats in the mean time were just an easy and cheap way of wasting everyone’s time and scaring people in between the bombs – because no-one knew which ones were real.


    It isn’t terribly unlikely that Chris Nelson will share interests with his wife. Lets not go there unless there start to be contradictions, hmm?

  17. @rrcade: What makes me think that is all the massive amount of dudebro-iness that has come out of it over the years. (Liberals can be dudebros too.) Tech is getting increasingly bro, and music has always been so.

  18. @Meredith

    What I was noticing is that Chris Nelson has a certain pattern; when group x is mentioned as benefiting from a policy, a policy like gun control or a strong harassment policy, his spouse is always part of group x who thinks that’s silly. As we are discussing Gamergate, it’s tactics, and its trolls, and its people who will make its arguments while disavowing membership, I think that’s relevant.

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