Internet harassment has been an immense issue for a long time. Now more than ever we see this harassment evolve into threats, and recent years have seen these ugly actions reared towards the gaming community. Female gamers are especially targeted and “not allowed” to be involved in the male-dominated community for various–and unfounded–reasons.
These threats have gamers fearing for their privacy and lives, thanks to Gamergate. For those who don’t know, Gamergate is a movement ostensibly concerned with ethics in game journalism and protecting the “gamer” identity. On one side are the independent game-makers, many who are women who strive to have a more diverse and equal inclusion in gaming. Then there is the other side, with anti-feminists, trolls and people who wish to stick to traditional gaming where the games don’t change in any positive ways.
SXSW is a set of film interactive media and music festival and conferences that happens in early-mid March. Preparations for the 2016 SXSW Interactive began in August. there were two panels that were supposed to be taking part of this. One panel–“Level up: Overcoming Harassment in Games”–was supposed to be presented by Randi Harper with IBM Watson interaction designer Caroline Sinders and gaming critic Katherine Cross. These three women would have shared stories of others who have faced harassment, threats, and intimidation over the Internet, relating back directly to the beginning of Gamergate. Many panelists like Caroline Sinders contacted SXSW for safety and security concerns. Who could blame them? Being a female in the gaming community isn’t safe when you’re trying to raise your voice and tackle big issues like violence and inequality. Unfortunately, SXSW didn’t take these panelists and their concerns very seriously.
Another panel had no such worries. “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community,” was pro-Gamergate. “SavePoint” didn’t have to think twice about their safety, unlike “Level Up.” They were there specifically to counteract the anti-Gamergate events and panel. Although they avoided using the exact word, they were clearly there to show support to the ideas of Gamergate. The “SavePoint” panel made comments to the current cultural war happening within the gaming community. They took these percussions to make sure they could get their voice heard and be involved publicly. You would think that everyone would be anti-harassment in the gaming community, but I guess not.
SXSW’s director Hugh Forrest received word that there were “numerous threats of on-site violence.” He cancelled both panels due to these possible Gamergate-related threats. SXSW claims they cancelled because of “strong community management.” How could this be true when they couldn’t lend support to concerned female panelists and instead brushed them off as if their fears were insufficient? Even huge American digital media company Vox Media and their editorial brand The Verge have decided to withdrawal their attendance to SXSW unless they take these threats seriously. I mean could you blame them?
Director Forrest went further and released a statement on their website saying, “Safety is a top priority and so is your voice.” They continue to make false promises like, “the safety of our speakers, participants and staff is always our top priority.” But where was all of this when the threats were actually taking place? SXSW ignored any comments from the female panelists and then cancelled their panel, as if that was all the safety they needed. SXSW could have let “Level Up” use this opportunity to use their voice to show and discuss a real-life example of what females in the gaming community have dealt with for years. They had a chance to show the animosity and maliciousness that makes the gaming community so unsafe. Instead, they chose to take that voice away. It’s clear with the threats that took place, and SXSW’s mismatching promises and actions, that this gamer controversy is unfortunately far from being over.