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There's no such thing as a perfect game: why 10/10 shouldn't mean "flawless"

3:39 PM on 04.17.2008 // Anthony Burch


So, I'm reading Topher's Ikaruga review and the comments resulting from it. Other than the usual half-ironic cries of "biased!" and "Anthony would have given this a 4!", I saw many repetitions of one particular sentiment that I feel deserves further discussion: namely, that the 10/10 score should only be reserved for "perfect" games.

Now, I wrote the original articles which eventually formed much of the basis for Destructoid's current review system, and many of the comments in the Ikaruga review more or less echoed my thoughts on the 10/10 score back in 2007. 

It's now 2008, however, and I've come to understand that I was dead wrong. A 10/10 score should not mean perfect, because there's no such thing as a perfect game. As tiresome as I'm sure it is to have one of the reviewers bitch to the world through a frontpage post everytime someone misunderstands their review, an explanation of 10/10 nonetheless feels necessary to me.

Disagree? Hit the jump, and I'll try to convince you.  

No Country for Old Men: The scene with Ed Tom at the hotel at night is shot in a confusing, inefficient way that makes the whole moment far more esoteric and distancing than it was originally intended to be (the other character is supposed to be in the room across from the one Ed Tom is in).

Blade Runner: The romantic subplot doesn't quite feel legitimate, and the shot of Roy releasing the dove at the very end is incredibly contrived and contradicts the story's promise that all natural animals are pretty much extinct.

The Godfather: When Sonny is beating the crap out of Carlo, James Caan throws a really, really, really fake-looking punch that misses Carlo's face by at least three inches and the viewer is totally taken out of the experience.

Now, those are three of my favorite movies of all time. I think those films are some of the most brilliant, subtle, emotional works of art I've ever experienced, and I will defend their quality to the death against all comers.

But they are not perfect. They're the best examples of cinematic achivement I've yet witnessed, but all of them have numerous and readily-identifiable flaws. Does that make them any less wonderful? Does that mean The Godfather doesn't deserve a 10/10 score? Of course not.

Everything is flawed. Nothing is perfect. If The Godfather isn't a 10/10, what is? 

Now, extrapolate this way of thinking to videogames. Every single videogame you will ever play -- ever -- will be riddled with flaws of some sort or another. Fallout's skill system is totally unintuitive. Shadow of the Colossus had a crappy camera system. The main ship in Ikaruga is twice as big as its hit box.

None of us have ever or will ever play a truly perfect game, and anyone who says otherwise is simply ignoring a few flaws they don't find to be terribly relevant. Perfection is an ideal, never to be practically reached by any art form at any time. That's just the way it works.

With that in mind, why would you waste an entire point on the 1-10 grading scale by devoting it to something that can, by definition, never truly exist? Instead of calling 10/10 "perfect," why not just call it "will cure cancer"? They're both equally likely to happen within our lifetimes. To hold the 10/10 score back as an ideal for the perfect game, just in case it ever exists, is to degrade the entire 1-10 system into a 1-9.9 scale. 

Really, what good does it do a reader to see that a game rated 9.85/10, just because the camera isn't perfect? Are we truly improving the grading scale just by avoiding that elusive 10.0 at all costs, or are we just jerking off as we fantasize about an imaginary game which might one day come into existence and blow us all out of the water?* Who honestly cares about the difference between a 9.8 and a 9.9, especially when time and genre and context make it more or less impossible to reliable compare review scores against one another? 

This isn't to suggest that the 10/10 should be thrown around willy-nilly, of course. I still don't agree with Dan Hsu's 10 score for Gears of War based on his text, and I've only awarded a single 10/10 out of the dozens of games I've reviewed. A 10 should still stand for a game which is, as the Dtoid official guide says, "Incredible. As close to perfection as we've yet seen in in the genre or gaming on the whole. A polished, unparalleled experience."

It's something that should be given out relatively rarely, and only to those games which are truly deserving. It shouldn't be given out everytime the developer throws money at us, or just because it's part of a franchise that has previous garnered high scores. Yet it should also not be tucked away like some sort of emergency score, only to be used in case of the videogame equivalent of the Second Coming.

*If so desired, the reader may mentally drop the words "out of the water" and get a thematically identical sentence. 

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