What’s the Score?
January 25, 2012 22 Comments
I’m currently writing an FAQ for this site, and one of my answers ran so long I figured I would just break it off into its own editorial. The most common question I get is, well, actually it’s “Are you really a girl?” The answer is yes. At least it was the last time I checked. Hang on, I need to consult a diagram.
Now then, the second most common question I get is “why aren’t there any review scores here?” I get this one daily and it comes in a wide range of variations. “How come there’s no score?” “These aren’t really reviews. Reviews have scores.” “I can’t tell how good a game is because you didn’t give it a score!” I even get the occasional developer asking me to make an exception and assign their game a score. I usually respond with “fine, it’s a 2 out of 10” regardless of the game’s quality because that number is every bit as meaningless to me as an 8 would be.
When I play a video game, my brain does a lot of things. It thinks about how the graphics look, how the game controls, whether the overall execution is good, and most importantly, whether or not I’m having fun. The one thing it doesn’t do is spit out some arbitrary number that is the sum of all those thoughts. Simply put, I think review scores are total bullshit. I don’t think any game can be broken down into a simple number. Many sites try to do this and the results are usually baffling to me. A reviewer can spend pages upon pages ripping a game a new asshole and then close the review by giving a game a 4 out of 5, or a 9 out of 10, or seven thumbs up, or 11 gold stars.
I think people tend to skip through reviews on professional sites and go straight to the final score. I know this is probably true because I’ve been guilty of it from time to time. But the result is writers all become interchangeable and devoid of any real personality. The only way my site can grow in readership is if my writing is good enough to leave an impression on the readers. If they’re skipping what I write and going straight to a meaningless number, I can’t do that. When you read one of my reviews, you actually get to learn about the game and maybe decide for yourself whether you want to play it. If you care about my opinion on a game, it’s usually not too hard to decipher how I felt about it. A number would actually help nobody, because it doesn’t explain how I felt about a game, or why I felt the way I did.
And really, aren’t scores just flame baiting? Affirmation that your favorite game is exactly as good as you think it is? The way gamers act about scores, you would think they were handed down unto the people on stone tablets from Mount Sinai. It’s just a fucking number, people. When Uncharted 3 was reviewed by IGN, it immediately resulted in two warring factions of dweebs taking turns shouting “I told you so!” or “What a bunch of bullshit!” at each other for days. Mind you, the fucking game hadn’t even come out yet. Not one person involved in this desecration of the human species had played it themselves. Yet within seconds of the review going live, before anyone could have possibly had the time to actually read the damn thing, the fighting was on. The Sony fanboys were rubbing it in the faces of Microsoft fanboys, who were decrying it as IGN’s official jump-the-shark moment. Not one person involved actually knew anything about the game or how the writer came to that conclusion, and they probably never will.
Sure, fanboyism played a part in that, but that situation wouldn’t have happened if IGN had the balls to shit-can the whole fucking rating system and just let people figure out for themselves whether the writer actually liked the game or not. So where are the benefits? Consumers become less likely to know if there are aspects of the game that cater to their tastes or not. Developers are less likely to learn what could be improved about their game. I suppose it might in some way benefit me. I could get listed on Metacritic or get the arbitrary number posted on a developer’s website. You know, assuming it’s a good number.
By the way, this isn’t exclusive to the world of video games. Just read any reviews of TV shows on IGN. Even if an episode is a stinker that the writer clearly didn’t like at all, it usually still gets some kind of highish-sounding number. Here’s an example. Read the review carefully. It sure as hell to me sounds like Ramsey Isler thought the episode completely sucked. Yet he gave it a 5.5 out of a possible 10. I actually read through it trying to figure out where those 5.5 points came from. Going off his writing, I couldn’t find them anywhere. Maybe one or two points tops, but 5.5 points came out of someone who wrote that? What the fuck?
Doesn’t that make him kind of lose his credibility a bit? To spend all that time writing about something only to then throw out a seemingly random number is kind of silly. But he did it, and so do lots of critics. Well I don’t really want to do that. At best, a score would leave most people with a vague understanding of how I felt about a game. I could give something a 10 out of 10, but maybe the reasons I got that number are things you wouldn’t like about the game. Or maybe a game I give a 1 out of 10 to had aspects I hated that you normally love. If you look at a number, you don’t get that information. So in a nutshell, that’s why I don’t have scores.
Oh, and because I shamelessly ripoff Yahtzee.