The Player: SXSW axes talks on diversity in gaming because of threats of violence

The gaming industry continues to struggle when it comes to playing nice.

Monday afternoon South by Southwest, a massive interactive, film and music festival in Austin, Texas, canceled two panel discussions that were to focus on diversity, harassment and the gaming community. Organizers cited threats of violence against the festival (its gaming events are set for March 17-19).

“In the seven days since announcing these two sessions, SXSW has received numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming,” read a statement attributed to SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest.

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The two discussions were titled “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games.”


Attempts to reach SXSW representatives were unsuccessful on Monday evening. It was unclear if the Austin event would find other ways to tackle the game industry’s struggles with diversity.

“SXSW prides itself on being a big tent and a marketplace of diverse people and diverse ideas,” Forrest’s statement read.

“However, preserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful,” it continued. “If people cannot 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.”

Level Up was described as 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.”

Randi Harper, one of the speakers of the Level Up panel and a founder of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, posted SXSW’s cancellation notice. The letter directly referenced last year’s “gamergate” controversy as one of the reasons for pulling the panel.

Harper stressed on Twitter that the panel was “not gamergate related.”

The gaming industry’s long and unfortunate struggles with harassment came to the fore in 2014 thanks to an Internet-driven movement dubbed gamergate.

The term gamergate is a phrase that became associated with vicious, social-media-driven comments directed at female game developers and writers, namely those who attempted to intellectualize the medium.

Gamergate appears driven by a fear that criticism or a rise in diverse, experimental games will result in a sort of politically correct makeover of the medium.

The SavePoint conversation, therefore, raised numerous eyebrows in the gaming community. Among the topics the panel was to discuss was “the journalistic integrity of gaming’s journalists,” which has long been a rallying cry of those who have taken a pro-gamergate stance.

SavePoint was organized by a group calling itself the Open Gaming Society, and it posted a response on its website Monday saying that SXSW did not “want to fuel a vicious online war between two sides.”

Threats of violence are not exactly uncommon when it comes to discussing diversity in gaming.

Last fall, Utah State University canceled an appearance from cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian after the campus received what was reported to be a rather heinous threat.

SXSW last March hosted a conversation on the difficulty of being a woman in the male-dominated video game industry.