A Review of Video Game Reviews

reviewstars.jpgSykil from the Infendo Forums shares his review of video game reviews:

The Wii is quite the case study. More than any system before it, people are conflicted by how to approach reviews of its games. Games that are fun to play either get wildly mixed or universally moderate reviews based on elements that are specific to Wii hardware. I think these problems have been present in our review system for ages; the Wii has just brought them to our attention.

Part of the problem with numbered review systems is that reviewers sometimes use it to prioritize all gamer interest rather than to objectively quantify the quality of a game with respect to its genre and outstanding limitations. A ten is more worthy of your money than a seven, and RPG-centric and “hardcore” games tend to operate on the higher end of the scale (so long as they don’t screw anything up) than equally well-produced games of “lower-class” genres, such as sports, kart racing, and brain games.

There’s the snag; not everyone enjoys RPGs or RPG-centric games. Zelda’s courtesy ten means nothing to gamers who play sports games exclusively, and there are many gamers to whom that applies. As a result, that gamer feels shafted by the gaming media, who usually limit sports games to the 7.5-8.5 range regardless of their merits as sports games. The idea of a courtesy score isn’t limited to the 9.5-10 for Final Fantasy or Zelda: it extends to the “lower-class” genres that seem stymied in lukewarm water. Most reviewers obviously don’t care for them, but they throw those fans a bone anyway by choosing a moderate review score.

People know what games interest them, so they get huffy when their new favorite game is only high for that genre and not high for that scale. Games without definite genres fall victim to the same condition. A recent and vivid example is Elebits. What is it? … Exactly. There’s no basis for comparison, so reviewers assign it a lukewarm, generic, nondescript 7.5. Many have raved about the game, complaining that it deserves an 8.0+. Supposing the game did receive an 8.0+, a set of “hardcore” gamers would complain about it encroaching upon the territory of vastly superior games that adhere to classical gaming traditions. In this case, numerical systems of reviewing can’t win for losing.

What, then, is the solution? If gamers are perfectly capable of prioritizing their own interest, how should reviewers assess games? Show them what they need to know: who is it for, and is it worth buying? Genres are not good enough when it comes to telling who a game is for, so these things to convey themselves within the review. Now we arrive at the fault of review readers: most of the time, they don’t read the review, but that’s often because they’re distracted by the score itself. Without a score, and with a more concise review, I think there would be a much better response to gaming journalism.

This is palpable in the blogging trend, and I think most people have a positive opinion of gaming blogs as compared to professional gaming media. There are various reasons for this, but one of them, I think, is that blog items are usually conveyed in blurbs. It’s more personable, and their assessments of games seem more honest, conveying the merits and misses of the game without imposing a score upon it.

Some sites have used a similar system to review Virtual Console releases because a numerical value would inevitably be compared to their reviews of current games despite the fact that they’re obviously reviewed according to very different criteria. Time is a big enemy of the numerical system because scores don’t seem to mean as much after the game’s been out for ten years, or perhaps the game has taken on a new perception. That’s what people want to know when they prepare to throw some cash at a VC game: is it still fun (was it ever fun?), and is it still worth my money? I don’t see why it can’t be the same for new releases.

Now, we know what a game is. We also know that all games are different (more or less). Let’s make a parallel. We know what a car is. We also know that all cars are different (more or less): a Toyota Prius, a Ford F-350, and a Dodge Caravan. Would it make sense to simply assign numerical values to these vehicles? The Prius is a 9, say, because it’s got some sense of style, looks modern, and has nice features. The F-350 is an 8 because it’s an okay-looking workhorse. The Caravan is a 7 because it’s dead-beat ugly and cheap.

No, it makes no sense it all. They’re very different vehicles for very different people. Of course, these scores would be accompanied by an article explaining all of these things, but the score is still operating across all fronts, suggesting that we should all be driving Priuses. Why, then, is this system of reviewing so ubiquitous in our reviews of all entertainment mediums?

I give this system of reviewing a 2/10.*

* Kidding.