Moosa’s Musings – Perfect scores aren't perfect

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MoosaMegan

Someone called Garth Holden reviewed some game called Skyrim. Apparently Skyrim is a big deal. I’ve not played Skyrim and probably won’t until most of the bugs are sorted, which will be the same day I buy a Call of Duty game and go on a date with Megan Fox. In any case, what makes Mr Holden and Skyrim interesting rests solely in the ‘perfect 10’ he gave the game. Pitchfork factories in local areas were soon out of business, torches suddenly existed again, as commenters raged against this awarding of a two-digit number. The question that was raised overall was: Should we give games perfect scores?

To summarise the Internet rage, the questions from commenters were: “How could a game with so many bugs, poor combat, average story, etc., get a perfect score?” This is a game where combat feels more like breakdancing while standing up, until someone falls and doesn’t get up – Bethesda have always been confused about the idea of blunt objects having an impact in the world. This is a game so broken its own patches break the game further.

A Perfect Score Doesn’t Mean a Perfect Game

I have not played Skyrim, as I’ve said. I don’t know whether it deserves a perfect score. Certainly other reviews, like Destructoid, Wired and Joystiq, indicate as much; including our colleagues from Famitsu who had not given a perfect score to a Western game before. All these gave it a perfect score.

But this isn’t about Skyrim. It’s about giving games perfect scores.

Every game reviewer in the world can give a perfect score to a game and be wrong. Would E.T. be any less crap if we all gave it 10/10? Would Duke Nukem Forever, Big Rigs and so on? Of course not. No matter how much you wish it, crap remains crap. You can’t wish away the smell and the gooeyness. What matters isn’t the score, it’s the reasons behind the score.

Giving a game a perfect score does not mean it’s a perfect game. Nor does it mean the game doesn’t suffer from problems. It also doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to disagree and do so with your own reasoning. The reviewer will have, in the review, indicated why he gave it that score. He’s given you his reasoning, it only makes sense to give yours. Using a copious number of swear-words and capital letters (indicative of someone we’re obviously going to take seriously!) is not helpful.

Reviewers don’t just swear and simply demand you accept their opinions. If you want to read that, consult YouTube comments. In the spirit of effective communication, we as readers should do the same.

Every proper review you’ll read of a game getting a perfect score will indicate problems. If the reviewers are good, as Mr Holden is, you’ll get insight into the game you usually wouldn’t and you’ll get criticism.

So (these) reviewers know about the problems, but they think the game is that amazing anyway. You can disagree about their justifications, but it doesn’t mean that the reviewers are wrong to ever give a perfect score if they deem it worthy.

Pefection

The Problems with Scoring and a (Possible) Solution

A perfect score is merely ten percent more than 90, twenty percent more than 80, etc. We often disagree with reviewers about awarding games high scores, but, for some reason, there appears to be a difference when games are awarded 100%. Again, too many assume 100% means it’s a perfect game when no one believes that. When people get upset about this and claim “How can you say this game is perfect?”, they make a Straw Man fallacy: that is, you make your opponent into a caricature or view a very weakened state of his actual position and attack him on those made-up grounds. This means you’re talking cross-purposes. You’re not going to help anyone if you keep asserting that 100% means perfect because no one who writes proper reviews really thinks that games can be perfect.

We shouldn’t think of 100% as any different to other high scores – it’s a high number but it doesn’t indicate perfection. It just means the game is so good that 95% is too low a representation for that particular reviewer (and you’ll notice other reviewers too in the case of Skyrim).

This to me highlights the main problem with scoring in general. Though it sounds like I’m about to contradict myself, I assure you I am not. I think there’s good reason to think we shouldn’t be scoring games with percentages at all. Now, you might say that here on Lazygamer we score games out of 10, but if you know anything about mathematics, you know we can convert that to percentages. It’s no different.

I think there are a number of ways to rate a game. My suggestion is that you could give it one of three ratings:

– (1) an approval,

– (2) “meh”,

– or (3) “avoid like Snooki sat on it”.

Within each, it’s up to the reviewer to convey to readers how much he liked or disliked the game.

Think about Mr Holden’s review of Skyrim. Do you really need to see that he awarded 10/10 to figure out if he really, really loved that game? Of course not.

ReviewScoreProtest

Furthermore, such a rating would encourage readers to actually read the reviews. Many of course do, but there’s little doubt many do not and will simply put their own view of what constitutes 85% or 100%. This is what happened when commenters kept assuming and raging that Mr Holden thought Skyrim was perfect (he didn’t).

The three-tiered approach might help. For example, both Skyrim and Tetris 3DS got high scoring on Lazygamer. Now let’s assume we’re using my three-tiered rating. All you would see for both Skyrim and Tetris is “Approval” or “Buy this!” or something horribly cute. But which should you buy first?

Assuming this is an actual dilemma for you, you would have to read the reviews to find out which is better. And of course, not just LG, but other sites as well. You could see what properties they all consider good or bad. A game might get an approval, but perhaps there is a niggling aspect which prevents you from buying it. I’ve not purchased Skyrim because I refuse to battle bugs (the technical ones, not the creepy-crawly ones). Many are put off by Modern Warfare 3 because it’s more of the same, yet it’s still receiving universally high scores.

These things you would learn about by reading the reviews, instead of going on high percentages. Furthermore, as consumers,
we would be making better decisions, I think. Reviews ought not to be merely expansions on the scores given at the end, but a proper conveying of the reviewer’s interpretation and enjoyment (or lack thereof) of the game.

I’m not settled on either side of the debate about scoring. But I am leaning more toward eradication and better explanation in reviews. Now I’d like to see someone make a case for using scores – because I can think of some good reasons myself, but I’ve already defended one side.

Last Updated: December 5, 2011

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