The arts and interactive media festival, held annually in Austin, had announced the twin panels -- titled "SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games" -- just last week. But organizers say SxSW has already suffered from "numerous threats of on-site violence related to this programming."
A blog post published Monday night by interactive director Hugh Forrest said while the festival hoped the panels would spark meaningful conversation on the issue, "maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session."
The decision has already drawn harsh criticism from those who say that the festival is caving to the exact type of harassment it was meant to address. Culture critic Roxane Gay called the decision "horrible" and writer and podcaster Aminatou Sow called the decision communication "to us that harassment has won."
The situation is reminiscent of last year's Gamergate scandal, where media critic Anita Sarkeesian became the target of brutal harassment following comments she made about the role of women in video games. For months, she received death and rape threats from anonymous sources, including some warning of mass acts of violence.
The Los Angeles Times notes threats of violence are not uncommon when people challenge the level of diversity in gaming and cite a community "driven by fear that criticism or a rise in diverse, experimental games" would result in an unsavory makeover of the genre.
SxSW's Forrest issued a warning to gamers in his statement about the panels' cancellation.
"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," he said.
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