Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Editorial - Fuzzy Numbers: The Review Score Game

I started writing videogame reviews for RPGamer back in 2003 when they had a ten-point rating system, and I’ll acknowledge that my early work was mediocre at best, since I basically hyped RPGs that had fallen under the gaming radar, and had little grasp on the meaning of review scores. My style would evolve and improve over time, and I continued to write reviews when the site moved to a five-point rating system, with .5 decimals eventually added. Certain circumstances would eventually make me sever my reviewing ties to the website, namely my unique opinion causing me to clash with the staff members of the site.

Many argue that review scores “don’t matter,” but even without them, the actual written logic behind the numbers is often comically and/or tragically-flawed. Being an autistic adult with unique perspective and observations that mainstream neurotypical game journalists overlook, I find that most mainline game reviews are at best unhelpful in gauging whether or not to purchase certain titles. In fact, I can name endless instances in which I’ve purchased and played through games that have gotten wonderful reviews, only for them to have serious game-breaking flaws that mainstream reviewers downplayed or outright neglected to mention in their critiques.

Conversely, I’ve played many games that have gotten average or even negative reviews that I actually felt weren’t all that bad, and I in fact enjoyed far more than mainstream videogame journalists. Over the years, I’ve constantly evolved the review score system I implemented on my personal archive wiki, at first using no scores whatsoever, but I would ultimately come to realize that such numbers are necessary in gauging the overall quality of games, and at first used a ten-point scale with .5 decimals, believing that there is sufficient-enough difference in the goodness or badness of games to justify more specific scores for them and their various aspects.

I would add .5 decimal scores for the specific aspects of the games I review, and extend to an eleven-point scale from zero to ten, so that a score of 5/10 would actually fall in the true center of the system. The average consumer would look at a 5/10 score for a game from a mainstream gaming publication and assume it was average (and with movie reviews usually using four-star systems, two out of four is indeed average in their case), but in the videogame community, a five out of ten usually means a game isn’t very good at all, which only makes sense if you consider school grading where 70% is “average” and anything below is failing.

RPGamer would move to a five-point scale with this logic in mind, although they today only use .5 decimal scores for the overall rating of games, with the rankings of the specific aspects locked to whole numbers, another reason I divorced from reviewing for the website. Yet another aspect of my personal dissidence with the site is that they rate RPGs based on “originality,” which I think is unfair, given my belief that most RPGs are unique, and in a few cases incomparable to others, and no videogame is one-hundred-percent “original.” Contemporary remakes of past videogames are inherently unoriginal, so scoring them on “originality” is at best asinine.

For most gaming review scales, moreover, one is the lowest number, although I would eventually add zero to my scale since I firmly believe there are cases in which certain aspects of games have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and considering metric collectors such as the now-defunct GameRankings, 1/10 and 1/5 scores were respectively analyzed as 10% and 20% ratings, which again mars the entire point of scoring videogames. Even with a 1/10 or 1/100 decimal-based scale, moreover, there still exists the possibility that titles most can agree are of poor quality would receive half-decent scores that could mislead the mainstream consumer.

In my opinion, a score of 5/10 or 50% means that the good and bad aspects of a game and/or its specific aspects are fifty-fifty, that half of the time it’s good, and the other half it isn’t. Before composing the text of my reviews, I’ve made it a point to outline the good and bad aspects of each area of videogames, and assign scores based on how many praises and criticisms I have for each category. However, there exist many cases among mainstream reviews where scores often don’t match what they actually say about games, for instance, pointing out serious flaws in a game or one of its various aspects but still giving high or even perfect scores, or noting many redeeming aspects but giving a low score.

There are also times when reviewers flat-out don’t get their facts straight when critiquing games, which can sometimes con mainstream consumers into investing their money, and especially their time, into games that may have glaring flaws that they should have been informed of before purchasing said titles. For example, *multiple* reviews of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor said “even if you don’t like strategy RPGs, you’ll like this game.” I don’t normally like tactical RPGs due to all-or-nothing mechanics, but *still* didn’t like the game, and what’s more, one review actually called it “a strategy RPG with the feel of a survivor-horror game,” which in my experience was a load of bull.

Game reviewers really, really need to be careful with their recommendations of games to certain consumers, and not let their personal opinions on games overwhelm their professional opinions, if they are indeed “pros” at writing. For instance, reviewers may say particular games “aren’t for everyone,” but still give high overall scores, which makes no sense whatsoever. Game journalists that enjoy games certain audiences mightn’t appreciate as much are very much obliged to help said casual players like them more instead of slobbering over them without making any intelligent, unbiased commentary, and simply making a few half-hearted blurbs about each aspect instead of explaining them in detail.

In summation, there’s a definite case for videogame review scores, especially when journalists such as myself truly consider the positives and negatives of each aspect and games overall when formulating their reviews and assigning points to each area. Lamentably, the rating systems used by most mainstream videogame publications are laughable at best, and even today, videogames remain more positively-reviewed than most other media such as books and movies. As with mainstream political news, game journalism is biased, too, and unfortunately, there’s no indicator in the near future of change or progress in the quality of reviews, and I remain the only videogame reviewer I trust.

No comments:

Post a Comment