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The Number Games

As gamers, we are often preoccupied with numbers. This makes sense considering that at one time, video games were once all about the numbers on a high score table. I am no different, indeed, I have a few issues with numbers myself, in particular, with how they are used to rate games.

One school of thought says a game review does not need a numerical score at all. Those who hold this belief subscribe to the mantra is “a complex opinion cannot be reduced to a simple value.” I disagree with that sentiment, because in real life, everybody reduces their opinion to a simple value. Its just that the simple value is not made up of numbers. Instead, it is made up of words.

When asked for an opinion on pretty much anything, most people will start with a two or three word statement that sums up their feelings. For example: “It was alright” “I hated it” “It was awesome” and so on. This is usually followed with a full explanation of why that opinion is held. We use this simple method every day, and this should apply to gaming reviews as well.

Game reviews are not paid to be brief, though, nor should they be. A critical analysis of any work should not be constrained by a word or even a time limit, but in all honesty, a reviewer’s opinion can always be reduced to one statement which can then be translated to a number. I realize that is contradictory, but it makes sense because not everyone wants to slog through paragraphs of text just to find discover that “Game X Sucks.”

Unfortunately, when numbers are used, a new issue comes up: TOO MANY NUMBERS.

Gamerankings uses a one-hundred point scale with two significant digits following the decimal (XXX.XX). This makes sense because they are an aggregator. As for everyone else, even a one-to-ten point scale is probably too granular, and nobody (including us) has any business adding a significant digit to that. Heck, if you look at the “About” page, there are twenty-one categories to pick from. IGN has sixteen. Seriously, guys, what the hell? This only serves to get the fanboys crawling out of the woodwork starting flame wars over a near-meaningless tenths of a point.

So what is the answer then? My ideal system is similar to the “four-star” system used for movies, but I would add a fifth category:

One: Bad

Two: Average

Three: Good

Four: Great

Five: Game-Changer

At the bottom, we have the “Bad” rating: This is the only category for awful games because once you drop off beyond a certain point there really isn’t much point to saying “OMG WORST GAME EVAR” except for the sake of spectacle. If it sucks, it sucks.

Next up are the “Average” games. Admittedly, most games will fall into this bucket, and that’s fine. These are the ones that usually get prefixed with “If you are a fan of genre/series/character then you will love this!” The game served to burn a few hours of time, was just tolerable enough to see through to the end, but only fans of the subject matter will truly enjoy it.

“Good” games are ones that the player enjoyed, just not 100% from start-to-finish, but they had enough moments to make the player want to see it through. These will have some minor flaws, maybe even a big one, but nothing bad enough to ruin the experience as a whole.

A “Great” game is one that was a blast to play form from start-to-finish with no glaring flaws. To borrow a phrase: they roxxored the proverbial boxerz. These are the ones that either get bought on release day or end up on the stack of “Great Games That Nobody Played.”

“Game-Changers” are the ones that set the world on fire. A Game-Chanrger is a “Great” game that also bought something new to the table, like a Mario 64 or even a Halo (whether Halo changed the gaming world for better or for worse, I’ll leave up to the reader to decide). A reviewer should strongly hesitate before giving out a five.

In case you are wondering what the difference between the last two categories is, here is an example: “Toy Story” was a “Game-Changer,” it put Pixar on the map and single-handedly created a new genre. Toy Story 2 is “Great” because by the time it came around, the novelty of CG had worn off, but it was still a wonderful film.

Under this system, most games would get at least two stars, and very few would get five. By lumping all the bad games into one category, the emphasis is placed instead on how good a game is. Insofar as buying advice goes, it gives a more clear answer to the question of what a game is “worth.” Is it worth dropping $60 on launch day, waiting for a price drop, just worth a rent, or something you borrow from a friend?

Finally, I can’t stand those asinine people that believe that the highest score should never be given out. They cry: “There is no such thing as a perfect game!” Well, thank you, Captain Obvious, but what you don’t get is that a top score does not mean a game is “perfect.” A top score means that a game is a good as its going to get. This is a cop-out of the highest order and I have trouble taking anyone who believes that load of hash seriously.

Game reviews aren’t perfect, and I am willing to concede that my proposed 5 point system is probably not the perfect answer either. How the games we play are examined from a critical point of view is something that I think is worth discussing, for if we want others to take games seriously, we must take them seriously ourselves.

- Eduardo

article id: 1384 | poster: OG

Latest Comments
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A great and intelligent write up that succinctly explains one of the biggest unknown problems of the reviewing business.

I myself think that 5 point scale with Game Changer at the top may be the way to go for the future.

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