Games Media, Callout Culture and Gamers: an Interview With Ian Miles Cheong
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 Gameranx.com. 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?
I 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.
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.
You 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?
Do you feel these were mistakes you learned from and grew from or do you stand by your past actions and comments?
Where do you see a site like “Gameranx” and games media in general being in five years’ time?
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?
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?
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?
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