AUSTIN -- South by Southwest Interactive staff promise promoters are "evaluating several programming solutions" after canceling a pair of gaming-related panel discussions over violent threats targeting the March 2016 event.
The incident stems from one of the Internet's most explosive controversies. The discussion surrounding "GamerGate" touches important issues, but has come to symbolize the internet at its worst: Ignorant, immature and dangerous.
The GamerGate controversy stems in part from an allegation that games and gamers promote a culture hostile to women and minorities. Those who identify as "pro-GamerGate" counter that the allegation is part of a political agenda in collusion with industry media aimed at sanitizing games of anything not deemed "politically correct."
"One side claims that the other side -- being GamerGate -- is keeping people like women and minorities out of gaming and out of tech and out of game development in general, when that doesn't appear to be true," said Open Gaming Society founder and president Perry Jones.
"I've interacted with the gaming community for awhile," said Jones. "I've interacted with GamerGate and I've seen a very diverse and dedicated community of people. I've been to some of these meetups and it's people of all walks of life. They love gaming and they just want to play their games and be left alone."
Jones organized a panel discussion at South by Southwest Interactive to talk about political agendas in gaming and journalistic integrity, both key issues for GamerGate supporters. It was canceled along with a separate panel discussing harassment in games, which is a major issue discussed by GamerGate opponents.
In a statement announcing the cancelations, SXSW Interactive cited "numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming." The statement further read, "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."
Jones told KVUE he was notified of the decision Monday, and spoke with SXSW Interactive staff over the phone. "It got to be too much and they felt that they needed to step away, take their hands off of it and not have the good name of South by Southwest sort of dragged through the mud," said Jones.
The controversy has become defined by stalking, harassment and threats. Cathy Young has written extensively on the controversy for Reason Magazine. She spoke with KVUE over Skype along with Washington Examiner writer Ashe Schow and everyjoe.com political editor Brandon Morse.
"GamerGate is basically a sort of online conflict story, and in any online conflict you usually have trolls and people who just get their jollies by creating trouble gloming onto it," said Young. "There's a lot of evidence that there is a kind of troll nest that hangs around this story and kind of follows people on both sides."
"All of that is terrible. It has occurred to people on both sides of the movement," said Schow, who herself was recently scheduled to participate in a GamerGate debate in Miami that was disbanded after bomb threat. "It seems that this happens way too often," added Morse. "Apparently these little talks, these debates are never going to occur. Which is a shame."
Both Morse and Schow told KVUE they felt SXSW Interactive staff may have overreacted to the threat. While disappointed, Jones said he respects the decision. In the meantime, he urged those on both sides to relax and refrain from invective against the promoter or panelists.
"I think the reaction to the panels is proof that this discussion needs to happen," said Jones. After KVUE aired the story, SXSW Interactive released a new statement Tuesday evening:
"We want the SXSW community to know that we hear and understand your frustrations and concerns about the recent cancelation of two SXSW Gaming panels.
The safety of our speakers, participants and staff is always our top priority. We are working with local law enforcement to assess the various threats received regarding these sessions.
Moving forward, we are also evaluating several programming solutions as we continue to plan for an event that will be safe, meaningful and enjoyable for all involved.
We will provide more information soon."