Games Media, Callout Culture and Gamers: an Interview With Ian Miles Cheong

John has a interesting discussion with Ian Miles Cheong, EiC and writer for Gameranx, about Games Media, Games, and Callout Culture.

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First of all introduce yourself and let us know a little bit about what you do.

Hi, my name is Ian Miles Cheong and I’m the Editor-in-Chief at I han­dle var­i­ous as­pects of the web­site, in­clud­ing man­ag­ing so­cial me­dia, gath­er­ing ex­clu­sives, di­rect­ing the news cov­er­age, and pen­ning op-eds.

How did you first get into games writing? When did you think “this is what I want to do professionally?”

I first got into games writ­ing well over a decade ago on small­er gam­ing web­sites. I did it as a hob­by, as video games have al­ways been my passion.

It wasn’t un­til around 2008 that I found­ed my own gam­ing news web­site with a fo­cus on Blizzard ti­tles. It was mod­est­ly suc­cess­ful and I even­tu­al­ly moved on to Gameranx a few years lat­er, where I’ve been ever since.

With the rise of YouTube and unpaid user content does the traditional gaming press still have a large enough impact to be relevant?

Ian side 1I think that the tra­di­tion­al gam­ing press can co­ex­ist along­side new me­dia like YouTube, pro­vid­ed that tra­di­tion­al games writ­ers know how to cater to their au­di­ence in­stead of alien­at­ing them with words dis­re­spect­ful of their hob­by. Can you imag­ine what it would be like if a movie web­site at­tacked movie­go­ers? It’s ridicu­lous to think about, and yet there are gam­ing web­sites whose writ­ers and ed­i­tors at­tack the very peo­ple who share their hob­by — gamers.

When you’re on your morn­ing com­mute, you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to be check­ing your fa­vorite gam­ing web­sites in­stead of brows­ing YouTube. Despite the fact that user-made con­tent on sites like Reddit are more pop­u­lar than ever, I be­lieve that there are still many read­ers who pre­fer to have their con­tent cu­rat­ed and de­liv­ered to them pro­fes­sion­al­ly. It’s all a mat­ter of whether the tra­di­tion­al me­dia is ca­pa­ble of giv­ing them what they want.

In recent weeks you’ve become more open in saying what you think both on social media and in your writing. Some of your previous comments seem completely at odds with your current stance. I have to ask, what brought on this change?

There were a lot of things I wished to say while I was a part of the so­cial jus­tice move­ment that I couldn’t, be­cause of “sol­i­dar­i­ty” and all sorts of oth­er rea­sons. Dissent isn’t tol­er­at­ed in the move­ment and step­ping out of line will earn you whis­pers be­hind your back to os­tra­cize you both so­cial­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly. There’s al­ways a sense that your po­si­tion in the move­ment is pre­car­i­ous and that un­less you stand in front of the charge, you’re go­ing to be shut out and treat­ed like a fair­weath­er ally in spite of every­thing you’ve ever done to sup­port the move­ment. It’s for this rea­son that you see peo­ple falling over each oth­er to see who can vil­i­fy their tar­gets the most.

At some point, the tar­gets that get picked are guilty of noth­ing more than mak­ing a joke, or say­ing some­thing that could po­ten­tial­ly be in­ter­pret­ed as prob­lem­at­ic, but isn’t ac­tu­al­ly problematic.

I did not ex­pe­ri­ence a sud­den epiphany that changed my views overnight. It was grad­ual, and my stance slow­ly changed as I opened up to friends who weren’t bought into the pre­vail­ing nar­ra­tive, who saw how deep I was and reached out to pull my head out of the water.

How have your readers and people in general reacted to you since you began speaking your mind more openly?

Positively. My read­ers, more than ever, have voiced their ap­pre­ci­a­tion and re­spect for my work. I feel thank­ful for hav­ing an au­di­ence that likes my work, with whom I can in­ter­act on Twitter.

Do you think commercial gaming websites need to include practices like advertorial and affiliate links to survive in the modern media landscape?

I think it de­pends on the size of the web­site and how well they’re paid in terms of their ad­ver­tise­ments. I don’t see a prob­lem with af­fil­i­ate links and ad­ver­to­ri­als pro­vid­ed that the ed­i­tors make it ex­treme­ly clear to read­ers the na­ture of these ar­ti­cles. It’s no dif­fer­ent from how some of the most promi­nent YouTubers lend their voic­es to paid videos. It’s not some­thing any­one should have a prob­lem with pro­vid­ed they do not en­gage in deception.

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What article or story are you most proud of publishing in your career as a games journalist?

I cov­er the news on a day to day ba­sis, so I tend not to fix­ate on hav­ing pub­lished one amaz­ing sto­ry once upon a time that the rest of the things I pub­lish have to live up to. I feel it’s bet­ter to be consistent.

But if I had to name a re­cent piece, I’d go with my piece crit­i­cal of Rockstar’s consumer-unfriendly prac­tice of re­mov­ing con­tent from its games.

What are your thoughts on “call out culture” and how it permeates online activism and social media?

Outrage cul­ture is in­cred­i­bly un­healthy and un­pro­duc­tive. It’s gen­er­al­ly bet­ter to “call in” be­fore you “call out”, es­pe­cial­ly if you care about hav­ing a dis­cus­sion with some­one with whom you dis­agree. Calling some­one out pub­licly doesn’t do much to cre­ate dis­course be­cause its goal, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, is to si­lence dis­sent — at least from a so­cial jus­tice stand­point. Beyond that, you get a cer­tain rush from ex­press­ing your self-righteous in­dig­na­tion in an ex­plo­sive man­ner and it’s the sort of feel­ing that can dri­ve a per­son to mak­ing their whole life about it.

I’ve been guilty of it, even late­ly, and I’m try­ing to cut back on gen­er­al­ly ex­press­ing my out­rage be­fore I suf­fer a stroke.

Do you think the subscription model of media will continue to make a comeback or are people just to reticent to pay for online news/ editorial?

I think it de­pends. Some sites, no­tably Giant Bomb, have achieved mod­est suc­cess with sub­scrip­tions. I don’t see it hap­pen­ing on a wider scale, though, be­cause most web­sites just don’t have that kind of fan­base. Most web­sites earn their traf­fic through Google News.

Ian side 2You recently announced Gameranx would have an ethics policy. What spurred on that decision and do you think an ethics policy is something all gaming sites should have?

We’ve had an ethics pol­i­cy for awhile now, but it wasn’t un­til re­cent­ly that we de­cid­ed to make it public.

I think that earn­ing the trust of our read­ers is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant, and pub­lish­ing a pub­lic ethics pol­i­cy is a good way to­wards that. It sur­pris­es me that more web­sites don’t have them, and I be­lieve it’s im­por­tant that me­dia pub­li­ca­tions (not just games web­sites) should have them, be­cause it rep­re­sents a stan­dard for jour­nal­ists to ad­here to.

You spoke recently about the trend of “dehumanizing Gamers” in reference to the “Gamers are dead” articles. Why do you think those articles happened in the first place and what did they hope to achieve?

I be­lieve that the ar­ti­cles were writ­ten with the in­tent of blam­ing gam­ing cul­ture for sex­ism, misog­y­ny and ha­rass­ment in the games in­dus­try. They were writ­ten as a re­sponse to the Zoepost and the ha­rass­ment against Zoe Quinn that fol­lowed its publication.

The ar­ti­cles should have ad­dressed the ha­rass­ment she was fac­ing di­rect­ly in­stead of at­tack­ing games cul­ture as a whole, be­cause in do­ing so, they smeared a lot of in­no­cent peo­ple who are guilty of noth­ing more than en­joy­ing video games.

The writ­ers, my­self in­clud­ed, got ahead of them­selves in at­tempt­ing to ex­plain why the ha­rass­ment was hap­pen­ing and found an easy tar­get to blame all of it on. I don’t think most of the pieces were writ­ten with ill in­tent, but they were cer­tain­ly mis­guid­ed. I know I was.

You’ve been the subject of some controversy in the past, questions around your Reddit moderation and some comments you made on forums in your earlier years. I see these brought up time after time whenever you are mentioned, is there anything you would like to say to clear the air on these instances?
Very much so. I wrote some very stu­pid, very thought­less, very of­fen­sive things when I was younger and par­tic­i­pat­ing on the RPG Codex fo­rum. When con­front­ed, I blamed “tox­ic gamer cul­ture” on my be­hav­ior in­stead of own­ing up to it as I should have. No one made me make those posts or say those things, though I def­i­nite­ly nev­er es­poused the views I ex­pressed in those posts. I’m sor­ry for hurt­ing any­one with the com­ments I made.
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Concerning red­dit, while I served as a mod­er­a­tor on front­page sub­red­dits, I sub­mit­ted and pro­mot­ed ar­ti­cles for var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions for pay. It was very un­eth­i­cal of me to do so and I’d like to apol­o­gize again to Hueypriest (if he should ever read this) and the rest of the site’s mod­er­a­tors that I worked with for be­tray­ing their trust in me, and I’m sor­ry to any­one who looked up to me as a pow­er user on reddit.
With that said, I have to com­mis­er­ate with all the hard-working mod­er­a­tors who work tire­less­ly to keep their com­mu­ni­ties in shape, and it re­al­ly fuck­ing sucks to see them thrown un­der the bus by peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand red­dit or how it works, es­pe­cial­ly late­ly with the re­cent events and the media’s un­fair coverage.
Do you feel these were mistakes you learned from and grew from or do you stand by your past actions and comments?
Yes, these were ab­solute­ly mis­takes and I’m thank­ful to have friends and sup­port­ers who have steered me right. I owe it to them to be a bet­ter per­son than who I was.
Where do you see a site like “Gameranx” and games media in general being in five years’ time?
Gamers didn’t have much in the way of op­tions ten years ago when it came to get­ting in­for­ma­tion about their fa­vorite games, but giv­en the rise of YouTubers and Twitch stream­ers, and PR peo­ple wak­ing up to their promi­nence, gamers have a much broad­er range of op­tions than ever before.
The tra­di­tion­al games me­dia can go with the tide or drown be­neath it.
Beyond that, the tra­di­tion­al games me­dia needs to know not to de­mo­nize the very au­di­ence that keeps it alive. I don’t see sites that con­stant­ly be­lit­tle their read­ers last­ing for very much longer.
I’m struck by the glut of editorials, like this one from Polygon, saying games are promoting real-world violence and discrimination. What’s your opinion on the resurgence of the idea that Videogames further violence, racism and sexism?
It‘s tripe. We fought against this anti-game nar­ra­tive when it was cham­pi­oned by Tipper Gore and Jack Thompson. The fact that we now have to fight it from with­in seems ab­solute­ly ridicu­lous, es­pe­cial­ly since the ar­gu­ments be­ing made against video games have no ground­ing what­so­ev­er in re­al­i­ty and re­main pure­ly in the realm of con­jec­ture, dri­ven by agenda.
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With central and eastern European developers like CD Projekt RED and Warhorse Studios coming under fire, do you think there is enough effort made to understand games from cultures outside of the USA?
I don’t think enough ef­fort is be­ing made to un­der­stand games cre­at­ed out­side of US cul­ture. There’s are un­fair ex­pec­ta­tions placed on these games to com­ply with cul­tur­al norms es­tab­lished in the United States, that serve only to erase and ho­mog­e­nize the cul­tures in which these games were made.
While it’s ar­guable that games like The Witcher 3 serve a glob­al au­di­ence rather than a Polish one, what ever hap­pened to sim­ply let­ting cre­ators tell the sto­ries they want to tell? Why does every­thing have to be turned into a bat­tle­ground about race and gender?
As someone who’s been in the middle of this debate and subject to some harsh words from both ‘sides’ how can we heal the deepening rift between some sections of the development community/ press and gaming enthusiasts? Is this sense of animosity a permanent state of affairs?
I think that we have to es­tab­lish re­spect for one an­oth­er as peo­ple and stop treat­ing each oth­er like garbage. Members of the press, for ex­am­ple, need to stop hu­mil­i­at­ing their au­di­ence over every lit­tle thing, and out­spo­ken gamers should have some re­spect for re­view­ers who give Arkham Knight a 7 out of 10 in­stead of call­ing for their res­ig­na­tion, es­pe­cial­ly if they prop­er­ly ex­plain why they dis­liked the game.
This isn’t to say that read­ers shouldn’t hold a re­view­er ac­count­able when they fail to dis­close con­flicts of in­ter­est or are un­able to re­main ob­jec­tive and in­ject too much per­son­al pol­i­tics into the re­view. But if a re­view­er has a bad time with a game, they cer­tain­ly have the right to say so and they shouldn’t be spat on for shar­ing an hon­est review.
Really, it all comes down to re­spect and giv­ing oth­ers the ben­e­fit of the doubt. I’m cer­tain­ly guilty of giv­ing peo­ple shit for their opin­ions, but I’m try­ing my best not to be that way.
The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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