SXSW Pressured After Pulling Sessions On Gaming Culture

Oct 27, 2015
Originally published on October 28, 2015 10:24 am

South by Southwest — the music and interactive media conference that takes place in Austin, Texas, each year — has a controversy on its hands.

On Monday, the organization announced it had canceled two sessions about sexism in video gaming culture because of threats of violence. Internet news companies BuzzFeed and Vox Media have said they will pull out unless SXSW reverses its decision.

Now, to meet those demands, the conference is considering adding a full-day event, according to tech news site Re/code (owned by Vox).

The world of online gaming often invents alternative universes for gamers to play in — and you couldn't get more starkly differing realities than the ones that triggered this virtual fracas.

There had been two panel discussions planned: one about addressing the harassment many women say they face in gaming culture; the other about Gamergate, a movement at the center of debates about misogyny in gaming and ethics in video game journalism.

"We've received threats, and we have been for a very, very long time," says Randi Harper, a former computer engineer and the founder of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative. "There are a lot of people who are angry that women are invading their online spaces and, you know, demanding that the threats stop."

Harper says gamers want to deflect public discussion of those topics — or make them impossible.

"It was unfortunate to see South by Southwest give in to those demands," she says.

Two months ago, the Society of Professional Journalists staged a related event in Miami. A discussion about gaming and the media went from lively to contentious. Watch a clip of the discussion:

A few minutes later, the event was evacuated due to a bomb threat.

Despite widespread belief that these threats come from hard-core gaming defenders, some Gamergaters say they are crafty efforts by critics to make the industry look bad.

Yet another argument in which each side talks past the other. Again: alternate realities.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The organizers of the annual South by Southwest festival made a controversial decision today. They canceled two panel discussions about video game culture after receiving threats targeting the March festival. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The world of online gaming often invents alternative universes for gamers to play in. And you couldn't get more starkly differing realities than the ones that triggered this virtual fracas. There were two panel discussions planned - one about addressing the harassment many women say they face in gaming culture, the other about Gamergate, a movement that argues that gamers are under siege from feminists and their sympathizers in the media. Randi Harper is a former computer engineer and the founder of the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative.

JAKE HARPER, BYLINE: We receive threats, and we have been for a very, very long time because the idea of harassment - there are a lot of people who are angry that women are invading their online spaces and, you know, demanding that the threats stop.

FOLKENFLIK: Harper says gamers want to deflect public discussion of those topics or make them impossible.

HARPER: It was unfortunate to see South by Southwest give in to those demands. I think we've seen other conferences handle it much better.

FOLKENFLIK: Top executives at BuzzFeed said they would pull their journalists out of the myriad South by Southwest events in which they were scheduled to take part unless the festival reversed its decision. Two months ago, the Society of Professional Journalists staged a related event in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Gamers don't trust the gaming media - period.

FOLKENFLIK: The discussion went from lively to contentious.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We're not talking about the gaming media, though. We're going to talk about mainstream media.

MILO YIANNOPOULOS: They don't trust you either...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah, well, if I can...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Well, I was going to say that actually...

YIANNOPOULOS: ...With every reason - with every justification not to trust the mainstream media because they have been burned over and over.

FOLKENFLIK: That last remark from Milo Yiannopoulos of the conservative site Breitbart News. A few minutes later, the event was evacuated due to a bomb threat. Despite much believed that these threats come from hard-core gaming defenders, some gamergaters say they're crafty efforts by critics to make the industry look bad. Yet another argument in which each side talks past the other. Again, alternate realities. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.