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MassDebate avatar 4:24 PM on 04.07.2011  (server time)
Debatoid: Are scores necessary in video game reviews?

Welcome to Debatoid! We take a controversial topic, form a proposition, and set two contenders the challenge of stating their case in favor of and in opposition to the proposition. After which, users may vote to decide which contender they support.

(Rules for voting are at the bottom of the blog, but it is recommended that you read the contenders' cases before you cast your vote, as they may go some way toward forming your opinion.)

The proposition: Scores are necessary in video game reviews.

JT Murphy states his case for the proposition:

Friends, I don't need to tell you that we in this community are a rare, distinguished breed; we regular visitors of Destructoid, Kotaku, the Escapist, and other gaming websites; we who study hitboxes and dish out crit buffs, who deal DPS in MMORPGS and frag spawnkillers in FPSes; we who liek Mudkipz, unlock achievements, and have an intimate knowledge of the fraudulent properties of cake.

We read the news sites. We watch the previews. We participate, discuss, and prosletyze. We who follow the enthusiast gaming press indeed have little need for star ratings or letter grades or percentages. We know what makes games good or bad or boring or memorable. We all carry with us a wealth of gaming experiences, both good and bad, with which to draw upon when determining a game's collective merits. We're in the loop. We understand. Of course we don't need review scores. They're not for us.

I pay my bills by working in the gaming section of a local Best Buy - and at least two or three times a day, I'll hear something like the following:

"I want hockey for the Xbox."

"You mean they don't make Mario for the Playstation?”

"Just give me a game that has flying in it."

Every day, I get another reminder that the video game audience is growing. Between motion controls, iPhone apps, and even Call of Duty, video gaming as a whole is continually growing in popularity, and each new innovation brings with it a slew of new gamers who wouldn't recognize the Konami code if it bit them on the thumbs.

Like it or not, believe it or else, we are becoming marginalized. These people - the uninitiated, the uninvolved, the people with neither the time nor the inclination to search beyond “just give me something good” - will be the chief profit point of the companies who sponsor our pastime, if they aren't already. Soon, we will have our Portal 2s, our Beyond Good & Evils, our Guilty Gears and our Shadow of the Colossi only because of the rampant sales of the next Call of Duty or Madden or Wii Sports.

We're already a small portion of the market, and we're getting smaller.

How dare we, then, suggest that the enthusiast press eliminate the one thing they truly have to offer to the growing morass of casual gamers? How vain must we be to demand this kind of preferential treatment when even the most educated and respected reviewers of other media still see fit to include simple, quantifiable scores with their otherwise thoughtful and nuanced opinons? If Roger Ebert wasn't too good to give star ratings, who the hell is?

We of the community are the soul of this website, but the meat on its bones comes from all those people out there who count on that little number at the end, the silent masses who neither want nor should need to learn our language simply to join in our brand of fun.

Like the movie industry before it, the video game industry will follow the whims of the dispassionate. Game sites that abolish review scores should sell their domain names within the next breath - it will save them a lot of time.

Corduroy Turtle states his case against the proposition:

Video games are probably more complex than any other form of entertainment. More than just an amalgamation of graphics and sounds - they're fully controllable, interactive experiences. They are entire worlds, built solely for our enjoyment. They can tell incredible stories. They offer the player choices. They bestow incredible powers and present desperate situations. They often become greater than just the sum of their parts.

When a person writes a game review, they are telling you their personal story. For one person, the setting and the gameplay may have melded together in perfect harmony to create one of the best games they've ever experienced. To another, it may have felt to similar to others in the genre or not have lived up to the previous games in the series. There may have been aspects that blew them away, while others fell completely flat.

These are the important little details that are impossible to articulate with a number.

Review scores have been around as long as I can remember but I can't say they have ever felt necessary. In reality, the score a game is given really only applies to the person that gave it in the first place. While Jim Sterling may find the new Dynasty Warriors sexually euphoric and award the game a perfect "10", that doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to feel the same way.

The reactions to these scores make me question their validity even more. Hardly a review goes by that doesn't spark some sort of score-related controversy. Hardcore fans cry that the score is too low. Haters accuse the score of being too high. They all completely ignore the article itself, which consequentially is where all the actual information resides.

Summarizing the experience of playing a game into a point value makes the process seem way more scientific than it actually is.

Were the graphics really an 8.5, or were they just an 8.0? I seemed to have misplaced my results from the graphical quality litmus test. My enjoyment level readout shows that I peaked at 9.5, but dropped down to 4.5 at times. Should I take the average and go with a 7.0? The single player campaign was definitely a solid 9.0 but the developers failed to include co-op. That easily degrades the overall experience down to an 8.0.

These types of thoughts have to go through a reviewer's head when they get to the all important score at the bottom of the review. They are forced to condense everything that defines this game into a vague, meaningless score. One that eventually gets tossed into Metacritic's math machine and averaged out of existence anyway.

In the end, video game review scores are a formality that do little to convey anything but a vague idea. They ultimately mislead consumers because they fail to communicate what is the most vital aspect of a review - the experience. They exist only to serve those who are too lazy to actually read game reviews. I hardly consider that necessary.

Many thanks to JT Murphy and Corduroy Turtle for their contributions.


Voting has now concluded on "Debatoid: Are scores necessary in video game reviews?" and boy, did it make for a close call in the final figures! Much of the debate concerned the central proposition, and the importance of the qualifier "necessary", but it nonetheless proved to be a very close-run thing:

Congratulations to Corduroy Turtle on his victory, and commiserations to JT Murphy on his defeat.

The fundamental principle of scoring is to provide a measurable figure to compare the quality of one result against another. For a form of entertainment so hell bent on the importance of the number, from Friend Code to Gamerscore, and completion totals in between, it seems fitting that this is amongst the conflicting principles of the video game review.

JT Murphy's argument was that the score wasn't for us, and to combat the surging significance of the score in the modern conception of video game critique is as futile as Kanute versus the tide, but Corduroy Turtle was quick to expose the folly of measuring one form of entertainment against another in a sea of conflicting views as a fool's science.

It was well documented, however, that love or hate them, the review score is here to stay.

Here are some of the highlights from the discussion in the comments:

"I'm cool with the score being seemingly arbitrary, and I don't see a dire need to get into math or anything beyond that. If there were actual, standardized grading systems for entertainment, I'd be very worried that we weren't working for creativity's sake, but rather as craftsmen of some low sort."

The Sama
"Are scores really a problem? I mean, do they detract from review or impede it in some way? Seeing that score at the end is a nice recap of the review. Why get rid of it?"

"I'm a little surprised that nobody brought up the business end of review scores. From what I understand, most reviewers get pre-release copies if they actually give a score, which then gets amassed by places like Metacritic (where the overall scores can legitimately influence game sales and even stock trends)"

Lord Death of Murder Mountain
"I feel confident enough to judge a game simply by its review scores -- I have no qualms with following the mainstream if the mainstream has been fair in its various critiques and formulated a reasoned argument for or against any given game."

"While there's no doubt seeing a "10/10!" on a box could definitely sway a consumer, wouldn't the words "This Game Kicks Ass!" or even just "Perfect!" do pretty much the same thing?"

Zarwid Thwic
"I don't think "casuals" (hate to use that term.) look at review scores for the most part. That's why shovelware sells pretty good."

Occams electric toothbrush
"How many people out there didn't play a game because of the score? Brains fixate on scores and it stops the person from trying a new experience solely because a number they have given worth isn't high enough. The score is meaningless to me. The thoughts and opinions of the reviewer resonate with me much more than any number they give the game."

COM 01
"I think most people in the gaming community are educated buyers and will go through multiple resources to decide whether or not a game would be entertaining for them. A score is not necessary if you are aware of what the pros and cons of a game are by actually reading about it."

"I'll generally read more than one review about a game before I purchase it and the review scores allow me to easily identify who had high praise for the game and who did not like it. From there, you can read both contrasting reviews and get a better idea of what the game is like."

"I feel like a lot of people go straight for the score and never read the review itself. After said person sees the score they may go back and "skim" the article to see if there is anything that catches their eye. If there were no score more people may actually sit down and read what made the game so good, why the reviewer didn't like this or that.

In my opinion an actual score takes away so much from the review and that sucks for the reviewer who put so much time in to not only playing the game all the way through but then taking the time to put his or her thoughts on paper (or the web, you get what I mean)."

"Generally, review scores don't affect my purchase of a game. When it's a game I know I'm going to enjoy of course I'll buy it, but if it's a title I'm on the fence about I'll definitely check to see the reviews and base my decision on others experience with it. The number at the end has little to no effect on me.

I usually use scores on Metacritic, for instance, to tell others what the reception of certain games have been getting, especially if I have yet to play the title myself."

Gaming In Public
"I think scores scare players aways from games that they might actually like. Case and point for me was Earth Defense Force 2017. I think overall the game got horrible reviews, but for me the game is everything I needed. I call it "video game" the video game because it is just so cheesy it is good.

The other thing that troubles me about scores is that they are mainly done for the publishing companies. We have all heard the news of studios now blacklisting websites that don't give their games a certain score."

Wry Guy
"Numbers aren't as important as content, and the average consumer you're talking about needs a game summary more than a number score. For a person who truly is indecisive a number score will not help them. They will jump into the game on the assurance of the high rating and it does not actually affect whether or not they'll enjoy the game.

Their personal values will decide whether or not they like a game and reviewers need to learn the term "Different folks, different strokes" and learn how to write for a broad audience in itself."

Fame Designer
"I loved Corduroy Turtle's short reviews that didn't have a 'score' in them (the 'buy it' or 'avoid it' thing). A reviewer does not 'need' a score to get noticed either, despite the easy to understand number or star system. There have been plenty of times when reviews have been quoted without referring to a number.

Most problems with score systems are there because people compare current games and movies to earlier reviews. The best games out there in the 90's wouldn't be reviewed as well today, so people bitch about why X game today could be a four star when Y game back in the day got five stars. People that see review scores as a collection to be compared on a level playing field are wrong. It is more of a, "This is what score it got when the game came out on a certain date." So I would argue that scores can be confusing to certain people too."

"Now, I remember people way long ago saying that if a game was 40/40 on Famitsu, then it was pure gold. The very first was Ocarina of Time, and since then there have been just 15 in total.

Nintendogs is one of them."

"I have nothing against scores in and of themselves, but they cause unnecessary controversy. Very rarely do you read about how a movie's review average is sending fans into a frothing rage. Yet with video games, stuff like that are news headlines."

"What I personally like best is a short summary of the high and low points of the game at the end. Again, not necessary and certainly not a replacement for the review, but a nice extra."

"Think about that when someone does a numbered review. Can you honestly put a number on memories and fun?"

"I'd listen to a shared comment over a score any day of the week. If you can write a great review, much in the same way as "edutainment" blogs, then I believe there would be less aversion to the dread "no score" review. At the end of the day, it's who's writing that matters to me."

"I see no use of the number system beyond providing a standardized shortcut to critical thinking. Should I get Two Worlds II even though it only contains only 67% good?"

"A review score can be a little misleading to people who haven't read the review sometimes. Most games that GamesTM magazine give a score of 6/10 to are usually written about with a sense of disappointment; on the other hand, a recent review for Inazuma Eleven in an issue had a positive spin on the game, despite being awarded the same score.

This means that if you put a review score next to the name of a game and remove the written review part, people cannot tell the difference a beautiful but empty 6/10 game is from an ugly but fun 6/10 game, or a plain average experience of a 6/10 game."

"Our minds are free and varied from many different backgrounds living very different lives, so how could we possibly set in stone a definition of something that is based of our own opinion?"

Lots of great comments in last week's Debatoid! It's got me excited for the next one in the series, which I hope to have up tomorrow.

Now, it seems that nobody has picked up that I've been leaving clues at the end of each results blog about what the next Debatoid topic is going to be! Now, I'm not going to flesh out the theory that our readership don't have the brains to figure the clues out, so I wonder if anyone will pick up on it if I make it dead easy?

If you would like to be in a future Debatoid, send me or Debatoid a PM, or email me at captainbus AT gmail DOT com.

Debatoid will rise again!


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