Video Game Review Scores Are Garbage

You can’t miss them – video game review scores, that is. If you play video games, you’ve probably read reviews followed by a reviewer’s score. One reviewer states the game play is average but the graphics are damn-wow amazing. The game is an 8 out of 10. Another agrees the game play is average but graphics were so last years. A 7.5 is appropriate. He nods and cocks his head. “And that’s being generous,” he says. Others claim the game lacks fluidity. 7.2. These numbers–8, 7.5, and 7.2–seem to lend authority to the reviewer’s final judgement and summarize the measure of the games appeal. As a gamer, the score implies accuracy in value. But do the values really mean anything? Those numbers don’t mean a damn thing.

When I first played video games – old games, as in we drove around in Fred Flinstone cars type of old games, like Space Invaders –  game reviews were scarce. When I did read one, the reviewer stated they did or didn’t like the game and why. Later, game reviews became a thumbs up or down matter and several reviewers might say “yea” or “nay.”  Three out of five reviewers said they couldn’t stop playing even though their wives scowled over their shoulders and the dog begged to be taken out for a pee-pee. That was enough to satisfy my interest and run out to the nearest Babbages. (To all you whippersnappers, that’s GameStop.)

As games became bigger money, more games got made, more gamers got their play on, and game journalists created more interesting schemes to get you to read their reviews. The reviews evolved into complex analysis, scrutinizing a games story, graphics, playable responsiveness, and anything else that can or could be labeled and categorized. Now, each element is assigned a numerical score and then an average final score is assigned followed by heated debates in gamer forums about those average final scores that were assigned. This review process might seem reasonable, except, it’s not.

Some of you might be throwing down your controller, bluntly telling me I don’t understand crap about game reviews, noob. Or, you’ll shake your head, look at me with pity, and tell me that scores serve a purpose: “They assign a meaning to how good the game is, how fluid the play will be, and how damn-wow amazing the experience was.” Okay. So what does that numerical score measure or quantify?

If I assign a 1 to a bad game, a 5 to an average game, and a 10 to a great game (Dark Souls, anyone?), you have a feel for my opinion – based on my emotions – about that game. But my opinion cannot truly be quantified. I could have assigned a F, C, and A Freakin’ Plus and accomplished the same result – I did or didn’t like the game to a lesser or greater degree of like. I can even average the grades and give you an arbitrary total score of B.  The scores haven’t truly measured anything or with any accuracy and you might disagree with my opinion, anyway.

Sure, games have a technical aspect, and the technical foundations can be measured and quantified. You can measure frames per second and everyone can agree to that value. This number means something in terms of computing and in a more physical sense. If I tell you that I really don’t like thirty-five frames per second and give it a 6, you might cough up your energy drink because of how absurd that really sounds.

Numbers only mean something when measuring physical quantities or applied in mathematics. Opinions are abstractions with no measurable values. I’ll explain in an anecdote. A man takes his date to the local park where there is a carousel ride. The carousel turns ten revolutions per minute, a measurable and quantifiable value. While his date thinks the ride is wonderful fun, he secretly thinks it’s a bore. (He wants to impress his date, so he doesn’t share this opinion.)  Years later, the couple is married and they revisit the park with their five year old. The little girl screams in terror, saying the horsies are moving too fast. The little girl would rate the carousel as a terrible thing and demand ice cream to get over her horrible experience. Yet, that carousel keeps rotating ten revolutions per minute, little girl or no little girl.

In the anecdote, each person had a different opinion of the ride; only the carousels rotations per minute would be agreed on. Each opinion about the ride could be assigned an arbitrary value but the value wouldn’t mean anything because it doesn’t measure anything. They might even squabble over the assignment of arbitrary values. Or, the man, woman, and little girl could simply state they did – or didn’t – like the ride followed by a walk over to the ice cream cart for three scoops of chocolate.

So, I consider video game review scores to be meaningless garbage. The process isn’t reasonable, at least. The scores certainly aren’t worth someone’s debate efforts in forums because the reviewer could have cut out all the number crunching and said they did or didn’t like the game – yea or nay – and you, the gamer, can choose to agree or disagree with that opinion but not need to discuss the score.  Besides, your opinion is what really counts when you play the game because it’s your experience. Writing this post was my experience, and I give the result a 9.2.

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