Review Scores and Objectivity
I like reading the comments on the reviews of bigger gaming sites. It never ceases to amaze me how uppity people get over the difference between an 8.5 and a 9.0. I remember when IGN announced it was doing away with the 100-point scale, and fans were outraged. Wait… you were outraged, because you would no longer have that cryptic 7.9 to argue about? IGN reviewers now have to decide if a game is a 7.5 or an 8.0, and that’s bad? What do you lose between 7.5 and 8.0, anyway?
Gamers are too sensitive about the scores their favorite games get, much more sensitive than moviegoers are about film ratings. In the movie industry, a five-star scale is the standard, and four out of five stars is considered pretty darn good. But four stars only equates to an 8.0! And amongst gamers, an 8.0 leaves too many variables open. An 8.0 suggests the game is only good, not great, and no gamer ever intentionally plays a “good” game. It has to be perfect. Some people even feel betrayed—not by the developer but by the reviewer—when a game they were looking forward to only garners a measly 7.5.
The worst part, though? A 7.5 isn’t bad at all. A 7.5 is still above average, assuming gamers are smart enough to know that 5 is the average of 10. Points 0.0 through 7.0 are not varying degrees of bad. This is when the anti 7.5 crowd inevitably brings up the school grades analogy. In school, 70% is a C-, and we all know that a C- is barely getting by. But games are not people, and we don’t need games to score 70% or higher in order to be functioning members of society. This isn’t education. This is entertainment.
Whatever the score ends up being, though, somebody’s bound to whine about objectivity. I hear this more than any other complaint concerning game reviews. If a big budget title didn’t get a 9.0 or higher, then clearly the reviewer failed to be objective. But objectivity doesn’t exist, or at least isn’t called for, in a review. An objective review wouldn’t be able to tell you if the game was good or not, because “good” and “bad” are subjective terms. How can I be objective and say the framerate of a game is good when 30fps may be unacceptable to other gamers? I could just list the facts, but now all I’m doing is writing a press release.
Here at 1-Up or Poison, we probably get called subjective more than anybody else (in terms of percentage of readers). People absolutely do not like to see a game they enjoy get a big, nasty POISON sticker at the end of the review. I’ll admit, the 1-up/poison system we use is a little unforgiving. Honestly, though, if reviewers can’t say with certainty whether or not they recommend a game, if they’re just going to go with a safe 7.0 or 8.0 rating for everything, they aren’t helping anybody.
At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be about the score, anyway. The 1-up/poison system is only in place to give us a gimmick. The emphasis was always meant to be the short, one paragraph reviews. Granted, we can’t be an expert on a game in one paragraph, nor should we try to be. Expert opinions don’t mean anything, because they rarely reflect how everyone else feels. In one paragraph, though, we can at least summarize how we felt about the experience and open up a dialogue to discuss any additional points. Reviewing games shouldn’t be a one-way intercom where we have the final word. Only you know what you want and like.