Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ramblings: The Numbers Game

On reviews scores and ratings:
As a gamer, I share the same inclinations as others: that need to race to the bottom of a review of that highly anticipated game from your favorite site and check the score. I'm proud when a game gets the score it deserves and frustrated when a reviewer doesn't see the inherent greatness and rates a game poorly.

But now as a reviewer, I've found that I can't and won't score a game. Over these few months and in hindsight of other occurrences in the gaming hemisphere, I've come to the conclusion that applying a score, a rating, just does a disservice to the product. A game isn't a singular entity, but myriad variables working in sync to deliver an experience. How can a single number or ranking possibly represent the entire spectrum of that experience, from the wonderful highs to its frustrating lows and every aspect in between? Truth is, it can't.

When I first started this blog, I considered scoring the games I write about. But I found that once you start down that path, you're no longer considering the game in terms of the experience, but within those self-imposed boundaries. What separates a 7 from an 8, or the 9 from 10? What superficial aspect could possibly separate a 9.5 from a 9.75?

Consider games like Alpha Protocol or Fallout New Vegas, both which were riddled with technical issues upon release. In that decisive moment, how do you weigh the pros and the cons? Do the bugs and glitches tarnish the product as a whole? Do you place the narratives, those taxing moral choices, the wonderful emergent moments, above those issues? Is it really worthy of a 7,8,9,10? What are the designated context of those numbers? What constitutes an arbitrary "Average", "Great", "Masterpiece"? I feel it's better and more beneficial to the gamer to forgo the scores and ratings and just discuss the game, which is why I post impressions, not reviews.

Consider Eurogamer's "controversial" review of Uncharted 3, which rated the game an 8 out of 10. Now personally, I felt the issues discussed in the article were perfectly valid, but reading through the comments, it seemed pretty apparent that most were fixated on the score, not the actual content of the review, and on the fact that because others had rated the game a certain score, then a lower score couldn't be valid. I've seen people compare entirely different games, in entirely different genres, not because they share any similarity in gameplay or tone or story, but because they share the same score. And I recall the controversy of hard-working developers losing bonuses and even jobs because of their game's Metacritic score. By designating a rating, all that a game is - all its promise and potential, its emotional resonance, all the elements that generate the experience - is reduced to just another number.

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