The purpose of a review is to evaluate a game by providing a critical statement that is indicative of the title’s merit or lack thereof. As much as some may try to provide an objective opinion, leaving personal feelings, interpretations and prejudices at the door, providing an unbiased opinion based merely on facts is nearly impossible. Even if it were done, it sure as hell would not be very interesting.
The preconceived opinions, attitudes or feelings that make up our prejudices influence how we think about what we perceive. It is because of this that two individuals can come to entirely different conclusions about the exact same experience. One person’s terrorist is another’s vision of a freedom fighter. Similarly, one person’s idea of a perfect game could leave another wanting.
Reviews not only contain bias in order to formulate a subjective opinion on a product, but also within the structure of a review itself. The majority of videogame reviews are rated on a scale of zero to ten. However, it seems the prejudices formulated by the academic background of reviewers and readers have influenced both the use and reception of this scale, giving rise to complications and creating grave inconsistencies in the process.
Our personal biases and life experiences certainly affect who we are and are a crucial part of formulating our opinions. The blending of the academic and critical mindset in ten point reviews does not make a lot of sense and is something that needs to change.
Academically, a student’s work is graded on a scale of failure to excellence, ranging from fifty to one hundred percent. While game reviews are typically scored on a scale of zero to ten where five is the average, years of academia have repercussions on reviewers and readers at an intrinsic level.
The academic rating scale suggests that anything graded in the southwards of seventy percent denotes a lack of quality. This way of thinking is something that is ingrained into children at a very young age, and is reinforced throughout their academic lives.
Due to differences amongst the systems, a score of seventy percent (or seven of ten) may denote an average score in an academic setting, whereas in a review it should signify a game of higher quality.
Unfortunately, the holdover from academics seems to affect how people perceive review scores. Psychologically, former students have a difficult time associating numbers below seven or eight, numbers linked with C and B grades, with quality or excellence.
This mindset leads to a variety of problems. When a game is reviewed with an academic mindset it becomes all too easy to ignore the lower half of the scoring scale. Doing so increases the range of failure, whilst compacting that of success.
While it may seem to go without saying, the average score a game can receive in a review on a scale of zero to ten is a five. So while that might seem odd considering how we associate five with failure, theoretically anything at or above a score of five should still be a decent game that is worth your time. Unfortunately, it seems all too typical for gamers to write off any title that receives a score below seven.
In a ten point scale, positive reviews theoretically would make up the upper half of the scale. This allows for reviews to rate games on an even distribution ranging from typical, average games to titles that are near perfection. Conversely, the lower half of this scale would range from titles that are merely mediocre to broken, awful games that are practically unplayable.
The more commonplace perception of review scores, the academic “anything above a C is acceptable” mindset, leaves only the upper quartile for the wide array of high quality experiences. Cramming everything that is “good” into such a small percentage is irrational when we have a larger scale to utilize than that of academics. Well received titles with similar scores have large differences in terms of quality, while poorly received titles of similar quality can have drastically different ratings. This issue has left the top quartile unbelievably crowded with virtually any and every game that is received in a positive light.
In occasions when reviewers utilize their full unbridled liberty of the ten point scale, particularly with anticipated or high profile releases, they catch a great deal of flak from their audiences. No-one really enjoys being criticized or harassed. Some individuals are actually so afraid of criticism that they will bend to the will of others in order to avoid it. After all, it is a lot easier to say something positive than it is to go against the grain and be critical.
Being critical not only means potentially disappointing an audience that has been looking forward to a game for months, perhaps years but also the title’s publisher and developer. Being brutally honest could risk straining that relationship. In the case of one Kane & Lynch reviewer it could even mean losing your job. Then there is always the rage of fanboys to worry about.
It is unfortunate that this cowardice exists in the first place, much less is supported by a system suffering from a battle between two schools of thought. Those that are afraid to give a game an honest score are camouflaged amongst a sea of individuals who review games as though they are grading papers.
It is understandable that thinking about two very similar things in incredibly different ways is difficult. Anyone that has tried to learn a foreign language can attest to that. However, if we as reviewers and readers begin to utilize the full ten point scale when thinking about games we are not only being more honest, but we are improving the quality of the system which we use to evaluate what we care about and further legitimizing it by differentiating games from other, previously established facets of our lives.