[Trigger Warning for Abusive Language, Threats, Sexual Assault]
SXSW, a huge music, film, and tech/gaming conference, recently ruffled some feathers by announcing the cancellation of two scheduled panels due to violent threats: one on diversity in gaming and one created “in secret” (aka out in the open on the subreddit KotakuInAction) by GamerGate supporters. Of course, SXSW should take all the steps it find necessary to protect attendees and panelists. However, the statement the conference released regarding the incident demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the issues at play here.
On Monday, October 26, SXSW Interactive made the call to cancel two sessions for the 2016 event: “SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” and “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games.” 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.
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.
I bolded that last bit because therein lies the rub.
These two panels were not “in dialogue” with one another. These were not two panels about the pros and cons of a single issue. The diversity in gaming panel wasn’t even about GamerGate. Believe it or not, issue surrounding representation and the prevention of genderd, raced, and sexualized abuse online existed before anyone had ever heard of Anita Sarkeesian or Zoe Quinn!
In fact, the “let’s have a respectful dialogue” and the “both sides just need to calm down” style rhetoric is a tool in the harasser’s arsenal.
Let’s run down a scenario via a One Act Play:
Troll #1: You feminist cunt! I am going to rape you to death!
Troll #2: Yea keep your politics out of games or we will come to your house and murder your family (posts picture of target’s home address)
Target Who Has Been Enduring This Crap on Repeat All Week: What the fuck is wrong with you and your misogynist friends? Fuck off and get a life. *Blocks Trolls #1 and #2*
Troll #3 Posing as the Rational Outside Observer: Oh dear! What we have here is a breakdown of communication between two equally radical and rage-filled hate groups! Tisk, such a shame. Really both sides of this argument should keep a level head.
Trolls 1, 2, and 3 all high-five each other.
A similar logic operates in the labeling (by GamerGate supporters of course) of their opponents as “anti-GG.”
There is no such thing as “anti-GG.”
Well, I’m sure that there are the oft-invoked Third Party Trolls (TM) out there who target GG and individuals who are so incensed over the whole fiasco that they have made trolling the trolls into their #1 hobby.
But there is no organized group of rabid ideologues planning raids in IRC channels in order to better eliminate “ethics from games journalism” (a phrase that will always exist in sarcastic quotation marks in my mind now that it has been so thoroughly drained of meaning).
There is no organized “movement” against GG. There are simply people who think harassment and threats are an acceptable way to get what you want and people who think that those in the first group are assholes.
This is not a “dialogue” with two meaningful sides. Portraying it as such isn’t taking a neutral objective stance. It is providing cover for abusive jerks.
Edited to add:
From Arthur Chu’s excellent write up of the whole debacle:
The “anti-GamerGate panels” came together because of preexisting relationships among the panelists. They were only defined as “anti-GamerGate panels” because the random person who posted the attack thread on r/KiA identified them as such. Hilariously, he picked on a random panel where Brianna Wu would be talking about VR tech and apparently just didn’t notice her panel about “Women and Tech,” a topic far more in GamerGate’s harassment bailiwick.
Similarly, Chris Kluwe, who’s crossed swords with GamerGate numerous times, also has a panel about harassment in gaming, one whose description actually mentions “GamerGate idiocy” by name. And GamerGate is, in fact, upset about it—they just didn’t notice it until a few days ago.
So it’s just sheer, dumb, bad luck that it was Level Up that got targeted and not Kluwe’s “The Art of the Own” when a GamerGater was searching PanelPicker for someone to harass back in August. Had history gone slightly differently it would’ve been Chris Kluwe, Lana Berry, and “PFT Commenter” offered up as a sacrifice to appease GamerGaters and protect the “big tent” rather than Randi Harper, Katherine Cross, and Caroline Sinders.
I posit that it isn’t actually bad luck. The systematic targeting of women was almost certainly a factor.
Edited to add: