Number games: the heated debate over review scores

Mass Effect 3  - 1101011

We didn’t always live in a world of convenience. As the video game industry has grown, so have the options available to us. Today, we can’t visit our favorite websites or even check our email without running headlong into a sea of news, reviews, previews, teasers, trailers, walkthroughs, gameplay videos, promotional images, and interviews — even merchandise and culture, like t-shirts and cosplay. Everyone has an opinion. Free access to blogs encourage those without a voice in the medium to speak out. So why do we feel the need to criticize others when they share something as trivial as a review score? Since when do numbers, which vary so greatly in their implications, trump the weight and power of words?

Part of the problem stems from aggregate sites like Metacritic — in many ways, the Rotten Tomatoes of the gaming world. There, people can glance at a collection of scores to determine whether a game is “good” or not, without even reading the justification for those scores: ie., the review behind the number.

When we skip immediately to a score and rely on a number rather than reason, we do ourselves and the video games we seek to play a disservice. Scores matter most to companies who need positive press to return profits, but gamers are not bound to every slight difference in digit. While the system for review scores is basically universal (10/10, 100/100, and an “A” all signify that a game is as good as it gets), the logic behind it can differ dramatically. Not to mention that a technical breakdown — by gameplay, concept/narrative, graphics, etc. — fails to reflect that a game is more than the sum of its parts. That’s why people can enjoy games that aren’t, by critics’ standards, very good, or write a review that speaks more praise than their score does.

Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II: Whether review scores mean much is arguable, but players use them as weapons against video game companies. Could the obsession over a game's numerical value stem from this attitude?

Personal taste factors into the equation all too often, as well. Minor hindrances, like whether a reviewer has played previous games in a series or is starting fresh, can impact the overall evaluation of a title. It’s not clear which method is better: A good game should welcome new players, but it should also appeal to veterans of a series who are looking for an innovative experience. And take HD collections, for instance. Should we rely on past acclaim when determining their “remastered” worth, or should production value, such as whether the re-release contains glitches or offers extra content, make or break a score?

Reviews and their scores are flawed by nature. Even the system that a publication puts in place to distinguish 10-star games from 1-star games and every ranking in between do not follow an official guideline. There is not an ESRB of reviews.

So what it comes down to is opinion. Reviews should be intelligently crafted, and their accompanying numerical scores should mirror that viewpoint appropriately, but “right” and “wrong” ultimately play no part in what a person says about a game.

Since our current technological age is one ruled by social media, community, and the fair expression of thought, we would expect gamers to band together and foster a difference in opinion. We can only gain from a variety of analyses. The more content that is available to us, the better informed we’ll be about all aspects of any product.

 

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3: Another game that reflects a stark divide between critic and user scores on Metacritic. If fans are willing to ignore a game's technical accomplishments to satisfy passionate emotions, does this mean that non-journalists view scores as a tool of power rather than an unbiased determinant of quality?

But the often heated discussions that rage in forums and comment sections tell us otherwise. Behind the wall of the Internet, we say things we might think twice about in face-to-face conversation. We struggle to appreciate someone else’s perspective, even when it can enrich our own.

From the opinions of others, we can build a stronger offense and defense and better understand our own feelings. When we see fans like us who are upset over the ending of Mass Effect 3 enough to rally against it, we can take up arms together. When we read a slew of reviews that condemn a game one of us loves, we can gather the materials to form an effective counter-argument. When it seems that everyone on Earth loves Angry Birds but us, we can be the first to cut apart the chain of popular opinion. We can be different. We can be unique.

Attacking the opinions of others means refusing them the right to speak freely about a mutually passionate subject and present insight that might have gone overlooked. But more importantly, when we refuse to accept and learn from someone else’s ideas, we suffer for it — especially when we’re busy prattling over review scores and not the reviews themselves.

Follow @wita on Twitter for tales of superheroes, plumbers in overalls, and literary adventures.

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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