More on review scores

I’ve been thinking lately about game reviewing — again — and despite my snarky take on the review process, I do feel assigning a score to games is the biggest problem. People obsess over that score to the point where they don’t read the review. Half the people complain about the scores, but the other half cannot function without them.

I’ve seen several people suggest that we should just abandon scoring altogether; approach games like an art reviewer, where you simply describe, discuss, and interpret the work. That, as many before me have already said, is part of the difference between game review and game critique. I’d love to write that way; I prefer to write that way. I try to in my existing work.

In other words, I’m working within the system to say what I need to say as well as what I want to say — not to mention what I think needs to be said. Honestly, I think the people who like scores are not the only ones blind to the prose that support them; I think some of the loudest people who dislike scores see a number and immediately discount everything else. Yet if I took away the big number at the end of the review, I think they’d like what they would read. And you know what? I’m okay with taking away the number. If I’m doing my job as a reviewer, you should be able to tell what I thought about the game without the number there anyway, and then figure out how it factors into your own opinions and desires.

But there is a reality here: The loudest voices also sometimes have the most restrictions. In this case, I get to write for a print magazine that gets read by hundreds of thousands of people every month, but it comes with a scoring system. OXM is not going to abandon that; the very large bulk of the readers want that scoring system, even if some of them just want to make themselves angry about it. So right now, I can’t change the system; I can work within it, or I can find a new system. And there are not many legitimate press outlets who do not use a scoring system but do have mass-market penetration and are willing to pay me actual money to cover my rent.

Now, I see things like Top Gear — a show I adore — review cars without scoring them. They give you a complete look at everything each car does right and wrong and proclaim them good or bad, even if that is followed by “but I would not buy one myself” or “and I would buy one anyway because…” I find their reviews educational, informational, human, and entertaining, yet they do not feel burdened by awarding a Ferrari a 7.5 out of 10.

I’m actively seeking the gaming equivalent of that.

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