SXSW Invites GamerGate to Hold Panel, Results Predictably Terrible

GamerGaters have been up to their old tricks once again, and this time they’ve involved SXSW in the misery they spread wherever they go. Even worse, SXSW, through a combination of poor management and a fundamental misunderstanding of everything that has gone on over the past year, seems completely oblivious to the chaos they’ve helped enable.

If you want the full-length version of the whole tale, I suggest you read Arthur Chu’s write-up in The Daily Beast because he knows it all firsthand. To sum it up, though, Chu was approached by Shireen Mitchell of Digital Sistas and video game developer Brianna Wu to join them in a panel about bettering online culture. They proposed the panel to SXSW, and it was then entered into the festival’s PanelPicker website, where it could be voted and commented upon by the general public. Once GamerGaters found out about the panel, they gathered on Reddit and launched a targeted campaign to "downvote" and leave harassing comments. They also targeted an unrelated harassment-in-gaming panel and a virtual reality panel simply because Wu was a part of it, having been one of their primary targets since the phenomenon began.

How did SXSW choose to deal with this? First, by refusing to moderate the influx of rage-comments in any way since to them it represented an “open dialogue / debate between two different opinions.” They did finally close comments after a panelist, Caroline Sinders, told SXSW that GamerGate had SWATed her mom and that the whole situation was making her feel very unsafe, but comments containing links to hit pieces on the panelists, the birth names of trans people, Encyclopedia Dramatica articles and claims that the panelists were drug addicts who had sold their children for drug money remained up.

Second, GamerGaters decided to see if they could get their own panel at SXSW even though the deadline for submissions had passed. Chu and the others told SXSW what was going on since GamerGaters planned it in plain view on the sub-reddit KotakuInAction. The panelists were afraid members of a dedicated harassment campaign would now be gathered at a venue they were planning to attend. The GamerGate panel was approved anyway, and SXSW’s only response was a really patronizing letter calling the festival a “big tent” that strongly believes in “a very diverse range of ideas and opinions.”

In the end, both events were eventually canceled by SXSW because of threats of on-site violence. In an email to Randi Harper, developer of a blockbot on Twitter that shields users from dedicated GamerGate accounts, SXSW admitted the threats were mostly directed at the harassment-in-games panel and that “a civil and respectful environment seems unlikely.” SXSW’s statement on the matter treats Chu and company and GamerGate as two misbehaving parties that cannot get along.

To SXSW and any other forum, festival, conference, convention or taffy pull within hearing, please take out your earbuds because it is time for a come-to-Jesus moment. You listening?

There are not two sides to this. This is not a mutual disagreement among gamers as if we’re arguing PlayStation versus Xbox versus PC. This is not a game, and the participants are not children who cannot get along.

The people who wanted to put on panels at SXSW before GamerGaters stuck their heads in hadn’t even mentioned GamerGate. They didn’t want anything to do with GamerGate. They would be actively ecstatic if GamerGate would go away and not bother them anymore, which is fairly appropriate for a movement that started out as a horde a boyfriend sent against an ex who refused to talk to him anymore.

GamerGate has for more than a year waged mass targeted campaigns designed to silence people. The movement's members target feminists and their allies, trans people, ethnic minorities, critics who approach gaming from a social justice position and absolutely anyone who dares speak critically of them or their methods. They have done everything from threatening mass shootings to stuffing dead animals in people’s mailboxes to filling the Internet full of accusations of bestiality, pedophilia, drug abuse and other crimes regarding anyone they don't like. They dox people and SWAT them as a matter of course, and are responsible for introducing such tactics to the mainstream world.

GamerGate adherents claim this happens to them as well, tit for tat, in an effort to further entrench the idea that there are two equal sides to this debate. While I am sure that a few members of this mob have felt similar retaliation after they normalized these practices to the general public – and yes, it is a retaliation because every single person ever targeted by GamerGate was minding his or her own business doing his or her own thing when GamerGate decided the fate of gaming rested on them dogpiling someone – I do know this: No one in GamerGate is sitting with their back to the wall in a restaurant. They’re not starting at every sound outside their door. They’re not worried if some creep is peering at their kid through a fence at recess. They’re not wondering if the person behind them at a concession stand line at SXSW is the same person who tweeted their home address out to the world. Their targets, though, are.

If you make GamerGate part of your event, you will always be inviting an element of society that sees using the Internet to make people miserable and hopefully kill themselves as an amusing hobby. That’s the “balance” they bring to any discussion about gaming or harassment or diversity in gaming. For SXSW or anyone else to pretend otherwise is dangerously, and at this point willfully, ignorant. You’re not the grown-up for trying to get them to play nice. You’re the fool who thinks it’s funny to give a monkey a handgun. Keep Austin weird, indeed. 

Jef got so fed up with GamerGate and rape culture, he wrote a short story about it for his new book The Rook Circle. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner