South by Southwest Panel Cancelation Starts Interesting Discussion on Gender in Gamer Culture

South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) is an annual event held in Austin, Texas that promotes new media, film and music. During the yearly gathering of thinkers and lovers of technology, many smaller events encourage the developments of interaction between attendees and participants, through music festivals, film screenings, panel discussions and more.

After a recent surge in aggressive video game culture and the popularity surrounding the degradation of women gamers, SXSW designed a paneled discussion centered on online gaming etiquette and video game culture at large.

But with violent threats from numerous sources, claiming on-site violence surrounding programming, the interactive experience publicly cancelled the discussion panels and have been subjected to much backlash for it. Both Buzzfeed and Vox Media have come forth and pulled their involvement with SXSW because of their panel cancellation.

While the event is working with law enforcement to handle the situation, SXSW has made no further comments about their status, since the news of their cancellation on October 26th.

Both cancelled panels were designed to discuss GamerGate, an online initiative dedicated to counteract the existing criticism of the sexism of gaming culture. One of the panels aimed to educate the public on harassment in game culture while the other panel catered to the GamerGate supporters. While both sides of gamer culture were to be represented, via the different panels, threats against the discussion of GamerGate and the harassment of female gamers proved too much for SXSW to handle, resulting in their cancellation.

Vox Media released a statement on the recent panel shut down. “By canceling the panels, [SXSW has] cut off an opportunity to discuss a real and urgent problem in media and technology today.”

South by Southwest Festival, 2014

After Vox and Buzzfeed released the news of their withdrawal from the event, effects rippled through the remaining of the supporters via social networking and mass media coverage. Some affected by GamerGate supporters in the past are standing by Buzzfeed and Vox for pulling their involvement with SXSW, while others stand by the event and agree that the cancellation was in its best interest.

The dialogue on whether or not SXSW should have cancelled the panels in interesting, and it tells two very different narratives. On the one hand, we have an impressive interactive event devoted to the latest and greatest of the digital media age, unwilling to adapt security protocol to enforce an education that will discontinue the hostile stigma against women gamers. On the other hand SXSW handled the threats gracefully, and proactively solved problems that could’ve very well arisen during the event in Texas.

Whether one agrees with the cancellation of the panel or not, treatment of women gamers is a gigantic issue that needs to be talked about. SXSW’s decision to cancel the panels dedicated to starting the discussion on violence and aggressiveness in gaming culture has much to do with future efforts to get the conversation going.

In order for the public gaming industry to understand the real-life implications of harassment in the game world, panels like the GamerGate panels need to be held. And while it may seem unfit for SXSW to have cancelled these panels, and believe me: it totally was, who is to say that another media conglomerate, such as Buzzfeed, can’t use their dismay at the panel cancellation to begin the discussion on their own?

In some respects, the opinions circulating the cancellation of the SXSW panels have effectively started the discussion already, which, as a female gamer, is a long-awaited, small victory. Gaming culture, now, embodies masculinity in game plots, game play as well as online game communication. For women in the gaming world, there is a lot of discrimination, more “your mom” jokes than necessary, and an entire world ready to sexually degrade our gender as a whole (because our bodies are related to the games we play in our spare time, right?).

The conversation started by SXSW’s panel cancelation shows how women are viewed from the inside of the gaming world, and how many official media companies are finding faults in their consumer base, due to sexist ideals.


The perpetuation of harassment of female gamers needs to be faced head on, something that the GamerGate Panels at SXSW could have done; however, since the cancelation, the conversations are being held over social networking platforms, a space notorious for harsh, crude and unprofessional jargon. Until another media force can forge a fruitful (and professional) discussion, the conversation stays halted and women continue to be harassed.

It is not to be insinuated that women are the only gamers being discriminated against, but online harassment is reported more by females than other genders, and thus, it must be addressed.

Nicole Heyman

Editorial Contributor, Florida State University Major: Philosophy, English: Editing, Writing & Media Her heart belongs to: Mario Sunshine, psychedelic art, writing short fiction You can find her: playing her gameboy while you talk to her

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