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SXSW cancels two gaming panels after threats of violence

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Gary Miller/FilmMagic

The SXSW Interactive festival has canceled two gaming-related panels over threats of violence, organizers announced Monday.

The panel Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games was to feature Randi Harper of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, Caroline Sinders of IBM’s Watson project, and sociologist and gaming critic Katherine Cross. The panel SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community was to feature Perry Jones of the Open Gaming Society, game developer Nick Robalik, adult film actress Mercedes Carrera, and journalist Lynn Walsh.

Although neither title mentions it by name, both panels have been viewed and discussed in the wider context of Gamergate, the controversial Internet movement ostensibly about ethics in games journalism that has led to online and real-life harassment of women in the game industry.

Harper, Sinders, and Cross have addressed issues of online harassment before, while Jones, Robalik, and Carrera have been supportive of or sympathetic to the Gamergate movement.

Harper nonetheless stressed on Twitter that the two panels “were in no way related to each other. Our panel was not about GamerGate, but instead making design decisions in abuse systems.”

Announcing the cancelations on the gathering’s website, SXSW interactive director Hugh Forrest said:

We had hoped that hosting these two discussions in March 2016 in Austin would lead to a valuable exchange of ideas on this very important topic.

However, in the seven days since announcing these two sessions, SXSW 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.

Organizers of both panels expressed disappointment at the cancelations, and desire to relocate the sessions.

Sinders wrote on Twitter, “hopefully we can take this panel discussion to another space and or conference.”

A statement published on the Open Gaming Society website said, “Though SXSW has canceled the panel, we still plan to have a panel regardless. … We will organize, fund, and host the panel ourselves.”