Sunday, October 23, 2011

Game Ratings - Objective or Subjective? Facts or Opinions?

  ImageSourrce Steve-H
(Game ratings are like shades of colors during a sunset. It's not right to say one particular color rules over the rest or that only one game rating is correct)

One of the biggest dilemmas facing most gaming sites is how to provide their readers with proper game reviews. A good game review is essential at the end of the day and lets people know which games should be played and which are not worth their time.

The biggest question always lies on the game's score though. How do you pick it and how can you get most people to agree with the number you picked? What method did you use to determine the game's score and is that method correct?

Do games even have one unique score they deserve or is a game's score mostly based on opinion? Then if you get into Philosophy you can scratch even deeper by asking if a game even has an Objective score at all or if all game ratings are Subjective.

Objectivity v.s Subjectivity

First off, on our quest to answer some of these questions, I want to define what I mean when a game's score is Objective or Subjective; either it being based off of fact or opinion. The best way to do this is to use an example.

If a knife's edge is truly sharp, it doesn't matter how much I disagree with that statement of fact because at the end of the day my opinion of its sharp edge doesn't take anything away from the fact it's a sharp knife. I can call the knife dull or soft all I want but it's still going to be a sharp knife. That characteristic or attribute of the knife being sharp, regardless of my opinions, would be its objective sharpness.

The same can be said about the color of an object. Even if 100 people decide an object is orange but it's really blue, their opinions would not affect the color of the object and the object itself would have its own color regardless of what we feel.

Something Subjective though would be an opinion on which knife is the best or what your favorite color is. These types of questions have no factual right answer and cannot be said to be within the knife or object themselves. There are no right or wrong answers and because so many variable are at play, subjective questions can have many answers all equally being valid.

Applying these concepts to Games

So when it comes to a game, is its score solely based on opinion, or does it have an intrinsic rating that game reviewers should try to find and evaluate through a certain method? Or is it a slight mixture of the two somehow or something different altogether?

It really depends how you look at games and evaluate them. By evaluating them correctly, I argue, that you come to the right conclusion.

One opinion or evaluation of games is that they are like movies. Just as movies and actors get similarly agreed upon ratings and scores, so too games need scores that are similar to one another, even if not exactly the same.

Certain metrics can be used to analyze and evaluate an actors performance or a movies success at telling a story. Those same methods, some would argue, should be used to analyze games and get "fair" ratings for games so gamers aren't disappointed when buying a game.

Just by looking at how the argument is presented you might be convinced with the above statements and then push for game sites to try to harmonize their ratings more closely and work towards a proper method of rating games.

The counter argument though is much more compelling in my opinion and helps explains a lot of gaming culture and the grayness of the world we live in. It's nice to want things to be black and white but I think the following gray conclusion helps explain a lot about game ratings and why they'll always vary widely between game reviewers, magazines, companies, and gaming networks.

Interactivity plays into Human Nature & Tastes

I think the faulty logic of the previous argument, that games should be reviewed like movies and acting, lies in the fact that gaming is not a lazy occupation.

Gaming by its very nature is interactive. This interactivity throws a monkey wrench into a number of issues that would not be found in movies or books which are much more passive and don't factor in as many variables.

The moment you get an interactive art form or medium, you have to make room for human nature. Some people hate interacting with objects in a certain way.

Take sports for instance. People rarely all agree on their favorite sports. Some people actually have a hatred of certain sports and refuse to play them altogether. On the other hand we have people who can tolerate a sport but would rather not play it because they don't find it as fun.

It's the same for gaming. We like different types of games. Not everyone is a Basketball fan. So when you tell them to play Basketball, naturally, they won't enjoy themselves even if they have the best court, team mates, shoes, and coach.

Take hobbies as well. We all have different hobbies and some of us can't stand to do certain activities for long spans of time. As most of my readers know, I love writing, and while I may be happy to sit down and write for hours on end, it could drive other people mad or insane.

That doesn't say anything about writing itself, only that human nature is different and we have different likes and dislikes. Everyone is different. The world would be horribly boring if we were all the same, so it's good we have differences. It's interesting and creates funny situations throughout life.

But we can't forget those differences. We can't blame others for rating a game low or high because they might honestly hate or love that type of gameplay. Both game ratings have a hint of truth and neither are inherently wrong.

Game Ratings are 70% Subjective and 30% Objective

Taking into consideration that a game affects people differently because we interact with it, gamers should understand that some people don't like interacting with games in a certain way and others love that type of interaction.

That makes game ratings mostly subjective. Not everyone likes the same types of sports, hobbies, or past times as everyone else, and similarly the same game will be experienced significantly differently by millions of people from around the globe.

Trying to say a game DESERVES one particular rating for all people is wrong. Some people hate EA sports games like Fifa. Telling them it's an 8 or 9 out of 10, regardless of the fact that some people don't like those games, is misleading and wrong.

But to say a game's rating is completely opinionated is wrong as well. Certain things such as graphical quality, number of bugs, smoothness of the game, and story elements can all be agreed upon to a certain extent by most gamers. That's where the 30% of objectivity comes in. Someone rating a game  a 3, even though it has excellent graphics, a great story, and has high production value, is doing an injustice to the game itself.

All the effort and polishing it took to make the game would give the game at the very minimum a 5 out of 10. 

But beyond the 30% of  a game we can all evaluate easily and agree upon, the other 70% is really up to the gamers likes and dislikes. It's sad but true and explains why some gamers can never agree upon a rating for a game. Some people just really loved it while others would rather not play it.

 Some people do not enjoy Strategy games, or RPG's, or FPS games. To force them to play one of the best FPS games ever made, doesn't mean they'll enjoy it, if they dislike the FPS genre. To force people to play Starcraft, when they dislike Strategy games, is a similar problem.

But if 70% of a game is subjective how can we get a proper rating? Should we give up on that endeavor altogether? In my next part I want solve this problem and keep alive the dream of game ratings. Even with all these issues we can still have ratings and proper reviews for games.

What Game Reviews/Ratings should look like

1. It should immediately label it's target audience by saying: "This game is for people that like" and list different genres of gaming such as  "FPS games" "RTS games" "Adventure Games" "RPG games" or "Sports games".

From the beginning it's defining its audience. That way anyone who hates a particular genre of gaming can avoid them. If people hate strategy games, they would know right away, this rating does not apply to them.

2. Then it should move onto the rating itself. I've been rating games this whole article on a 10 point system but to be honest 10 points is too wide with too many digits to properly inform a gamer. The rating of a game becomes ambiguous to say it's a 7.5 or an 8. It's hard for our mind to process quickly how different that is from a 7 or an 8.5.

A lot of review sites, for that exact reason, have moved or are using a 5 point rating system which I propose we all adopt. This comes with one extra rule that decimals cannot be used. Games are either 3's or 4's. They are not 3.5's or 4.5's. In both cases we are copping out from a whole number. Saying a game is a 4 instead of a 3.5 is much easier for a gamer to understand.

Also a 4 out of 5 is a much more recommended game then a 3.5 or a 3 out of 5. Decimals make rating games very difficult and we should focus on whole numbers to help gamers understand exactly how good the game is they're thinking of buying.

We also shouldn't shy away from rating a game a 5 if a game is that amazing and game of the year material. There is no such thing as perfection in this world, but that doesn't mean we have to shy away from using perfect scores to signify "Amazing/High Level" quality. There's nothing wrong with that and gaming companies should be rewarded with perfect marks if they made near perfect games; which are the best we can hope for in an imperfect world.

Final Thoughts

So even though games may be more opinionated then factual, that doesn't mean a game's score is fully based on a person's opinion. As mentioned before, in the gray world we live in, it seems games are 70% based on our likes and dislikes and 30% based on the measurable qualities of the game itself.

Together these items should be taken into account and used to form a proper 1 out of 5 point game score that does not use decimals. The games should also be labeled for a certain audience of gamer so that people who are attracted to that type of interaction and experience know to play the game and others whom don't enjoy that experience do not buy it and are not forced to play something they won't like.

An example of a proper review as defined above would be:

Red Dead Redemption:
(Action/Adventure/Free Roam/Story Driven)
5/5 - Possible game of the year contender

It's simple to understand, quick to glance, defines its target audience, and lets the gamer know EXACTLY what to expect, so as not to be fooled into buying a game that's not of their tastes or liking.

Game ratings are essential and important to people looking to know which games are worth their hard earned money. The dark ages before these reviews is a time no one wants to go back to. But doing these reviews properly and with everyone's tastes in mind is the future of where game reviewers should be going. We should move in a more positive light making ratings less confusing.

With that in mind, the 10 point rating system is one object that should be retired because it inherently causes confusion having too many digits and being less sensitive than a 5 point alternative. Lets be honest, a game rated a 6 or a 7, is very close to the same. 

Where as a game rated a 3, 4, or 5, are all significant digits and range from 3= Average, to 4=Great, to 5=Amazing. This clarifies and clears up a rating so that anyone reading it immediately knows the quality of the game they are thinking of buying. 

Also please, again, for the love of God, don't ruin this system by adding decimal scores like 3.5's, or 4.5's, because you're introducing unnecessary digits and making the whole process confusing again. Take a stand, grow a spine, and either give the game a 3 or a 4. Is it closer to an average game or closer to a great one? If it's game of the year material, consider a 5. Our lives are complicated enough, we don't need more problems to deal with. :D

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gaming Culture: You haven't played all the best games of the past ten years. Are you ever going to?

ImageSource IanD Creative Commons License use
 (Never playing the best games of the last 10 years means you'll miss out on some of the best games made of all time. Invest time in past blockbusters because they're probably better than the new release you just bought.)

A problem in the gaming community has been getting increasingly worse and as a result gamers have trouble identifying some of the greatest games of the past ten years. The problem is that we always anticipate new games and invest time in playing them rather than going back and playing the proven amazing games of the past that we never got a chance to try.

Very few people can make the statement that they've played all the great games of the past ten years. You also can't make the excuses that you can't play them as a result of the older graphics of those games because the vast majority of the games are visually tolerable and are sometimes better than today if you look at games made after 2006.

So with the literally hundreds of great titles out there spanning a decade of gaming's golden era, why is it very few people take time to experience the older games or even RESEARCH into finding the older gems?

Why do most gamers obsess about the next Gears of War coming out or the next Halo or the next EA sports game? Sure, these may be amazing games but while you're waiting why not try some other games you missed.

So many people missed out on playing Heavy Rain because it was a PlayStation Exclusive and even today when i ask people if they've experienced the beauty and elegance of that game, they say they skipped over it and SADLY will NEVER revisit past games again! That's our Gaming Culture! That's what most gamers do; they NEVER revisit past games, even if they're only a few years old!!

Why would you gamble on new release titles when instead you can play some of the older blockbusters of gaming?

Then maybe a month after a game is released and proven to be good, you take the time to experience those new games. That saves you unneeded headaches with average or horrible games, especially when gaming is meant to be a time to have fun.

Wouldn't you save time, money, effort, and stress by not having to play those over hyped games, simply because they're new and everyone is talking about them? Why not wait til that hype dies down, the game gets cheaper, and others tell you if the game lived up to everyone's expectations?

Are you really looking forward to playing another Halo:ODST bust that was over hyped and frankly... sucked?

The Exception

There are definitely exceptions to every rule and there are a few reasons why you wouldn't want to wait to play that game you've been looking forward to.

Certain games are made at such high caliber levels by top of the line gaming studios, that you know they won't let you down.

Skyrim is a very good example of a game people look forward to for good reason. Obsidian Entertainment and Bethesda have a track record of making top of the line games, especially when it comes to the Elder Scrolls franchise.

To want to play and experience Skyrim, knowing it will probably be amazingly good, is not an issue and I wouldn't bother you for going that route.

Other games like Call of Duty have rarely if ever let down their fan base by producing high quality content for each and every installment of their games.

These games are the exceptions to the rule. If you don't want to wait to buy them, then by all means, feel free to rush out and play them on release day.

But the vast majority of games are a bit of a crapshoot. If you're a gamer you know this from experience. Even powerful developers like Disney can't be trusted simply because of their name, as we saw when Epic Mickey was released and thousands of gamers were united in disappointment.

Final Thoughts

Gaming culture needs to shift away from this problem. People should take the time to research and look into some of the best games of the past, experiencing them instead of a stress inducing random new release that may or may not live up to the hype.

When I say past, I don't really mean it has to be 10 years old. Maybe a great game that's 3 years old, that people have written about and vouched for, would be a better game to play than the next random new release of this year. If it's only 3 years old and has high production values, it could end up having better graphics than the game you want to play that's BRAND NEW!

PS2 has a lot of great titles and Ps3/Xbox have been making great titles for years. Do you honestly think you've played or experienced all the best games during that time? 99% of gamers haven't.

Very few gamers have. I know because I've routinely asked them about those games and everytime they don't know what I'm talking about.

This problem is getting worse and I guarantee you someone in a few years will tell me they haven't played either Red Dead Redemption, Starcraft 2, or Fallout 3.

Shouldn't we tell them to play that game INSTEAD of an unknown new game that probably won't be as good?

I know most people don't want to play games from the classic era on the Super Nintendo or the Sega Genesis because of the graphics and the possible gameplay issues. But that's why I used a 10 year frame instead of 20 year. After the year 2000, nearly every game is visually tolerable and some of the greatest games were released around this time. Just to give you a time frame, the PS2 was released in 2000.

The Classic era of SNES/Sega FAR precedes that time frame. So I'm not asking you to force yourself to play classic games.

For the few that have the stomach to play classic games, I'd definitely recommend you try them out, especially the early Zelda and Final Fantasy series of games.

No one has an excuse to not play older games. These games have engrained themselves into the history of gaming forever. We only live so long on Earth, so why waste our time playing sucky games, when a couple times a year we can play older games that were the best of their time.

It makes perfect sense, it saves you money, it keeps your gaming experience high, and lets you wait out the periods of the year where there are no good games being released.

This is a shift in gaming culture I hope all gamers adopt.

Since this is the year 2011 and to help support me in changing the perception of Gamers and Gaming culture, I'd suggest a Hashtag on twitter. People could use the hashtag to support the idea of playing the best games of the past instead of gambling on random new games.

If you tweet/use twitter be sure to mention: #BestGamesofPast>LatestGamingOutcasts

A few resources to help you find some of the best games of the past:

Don't Forget Flash Games! :D

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Top 10 reasons Why we Game. 10 unfulfilled needs Gaming satisfies

Source CraigmDennis
(Gaming has always shifted to meet our needs. But exactly what are those needs and why do we game?)

The explosion of gaming at the beginning of the 21st century turned a fringe hobby into a significant pastime for millions of people.

The question follows then: what exactly does gaming give us that we need so badly? What inherent desires do humans have that gaming fulfills?

Today we'll be looking at the top 10 reasons for gaming and showing how gaming gives us what we want. It's become another way to fulfill desires we never knew we had.

Before we start the list, I just wanted to mention that this list isn't in any particular order. It's randomly listing the 10 most important needs that gaming fulfills.

Number 10

Isn't that why we fell in love with Mario and other side-scrollers? The platforming was really fun in Super Mario Brothers but the worlds were also very catchy and well themed. Wanting to go out in a brand new world and venture about was one of the reasons why we played as Mario. His new world was more interesting than ours.

This need inside us, to be adventurous, to go out and explore, is something gaming has come to provide. We used to go out into the woods and find new worlds on our own. Now all it takes is a controller, T.V, and a very very nice couch.

Gaming helps fulfil that inner desire in all of us to see things we've never seen before.

Number 9
Earn Praise - Become a Hero / Interactivity

Imagine working hard and never being rewarded for your efforts. Gaming doesn't do that. Instead when you spend hours grinding away and working hard doing quests, the game, story, and virtual people come to recognize your efforts and in turn praise you for your hard work.

Gaming fulfills this inner desire to become that hero, be recognized for your talents and efforts, and receive praise we may not get enough of in the real world.

The other key with being a hero in a video game is interactivity. You're not watching this in a movie theater. You're actually in control of the main character. You immerse yourself into that character and interact with the environment. This interactivity is a key reason why games are so fun. Being able to influence the outcomes of the story or be a part of it is amazingly fun and a definite reason why we game.

Number 8
Leave Reality - Nurture Creativity

Being able to step out of the real world once and a while is a feeling everyone enjoys, especially if you venture into worlds you could never have thought possible. It's why we watch movies, T.V shows, or any other sort of visual drama. Stepping out of reality has always been a way of helping to cultivate creativity in others by seeing someone else's vision of another place and another time.

Think of how many spinoff stories people write and how much fan-fiction gets created once someone experiences a fictional world drempt by a creative artist.

Number 7
Explore the Dark side - Curiosity

Everyone always wonders what it's like from the opposite characters point of view. We also understand that even though Grand Theft Auto lets us drive into streetlights, we'd never do that in the real world.

Gaming often gets criticized for the freedom it allows it's players to move. But this freedom is really the basic instinct of curiosity. We always ask what life might be like in a different more sinister way.

That doesn't mean we ourselves are sinister, just like wondering how a cat is like doesn't mean we dream of being a cat, it just means we want to see a side of the world we could never try in real life.

Don't let fear mongering against games scare you. People know the difference between virtual and real life violence. Psychologically, something would be wrong with you if you THOUGHT you killed someone while playing a video game. That would be a scarier thought than people merely having fun playing video games .

Even young children know the difference when their action figures/dolls die or get fight each other. They know none of it's real and it doesn't affect their moral conscience.

Number 6
Power/Control - Observe results of our choices

The Sims is the highest selling PC game of all time. The game, which puts us in full control of the lives of other virtual people, is a telling example of our need for control and power.

We like building these virtual worlds, controlling them, and eventually seeing the outcome of our decisions. We get to see if our choices panned out and if we really were the wise rulers we thought ourselves to be.

There is also the sinister side of waging chaos and wrath in-game when we may be in a bad mood in real life. Other games like Black and White make us a God, either merciful or vengeful, with full divine powers, and towns worshiping none other than us.

This quest for power has been intrinsic in humans since the dawn of time. It would no doubt seep into gaming and allow us another way to get our fix.

Number 5

These games seem to have taken over the gaming market. Examples include Halo, Call of Duty, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and a number of other top selling titles.

Competitive games are there for our competitive natures. Sometimes we just want to show others that we excel in a certain field and anyone that disagrees with us can step up and challenge us and be proven wrong in a matter of minutes.

This inner competitive nature in all of us needed to come out eventually in Gaming and it has fully manifested itself now in the line of games filling up store shelves. Multiplayer gaming and cooperative modes let you play with friends rather than just against robots. It takes the difficulty level up to a new threshold when the opponent knows as much or more about how to win than you do. No computer can ever be that difficult and as a result Xbox Live has helped increase sales numbers for Xbox games over their PlayStation counterparts.

Number 4

Just as we enjoy creating and being creative in the real world, so too would we inevitably find a way to do so in gaming. In a lot of ways Gaming is simply an extension of ourselves. It allows us to virtually fulfill our needs and desires, negating the real world all together.

Being able to create was a very important aspect of ourselves and recently games like Minecraft have really raised the bar on our abilities to create things how we choose.

The games, such as Sims, Terraria, and Little Big Planet, provide the tools and then we work with them to create to our hearts desire. The more customization the better. Hundreds of sites are now littered with these unique designs created in these virtual worlds.

Number 3
Real World Simulations

The name Madden or Fifa is synonymous with sports simulation games and independent franchises. Companies like E.A games have been built simply from this one aspect of gaming.

Lots of people love sports but may not always have the opportunity to play at that moment because of weather, energy level, or time of day. Luckily it's always clear, bright, and sunny on our game consoles.

Our favorite sports stars also come packaged with fully virtual playoff seasons that wet your appetite when the actual season is already over. Rosters now automatically update to keep your teams exactly up to spec with how the real world is moving and how trades are occurring.

Gaming is a second home for the sports enthusiast and will remain so indefinitely now that these sports simulations have large fan bases and sell millions of copies.

Number 2
Absurd Real world Sims

These games allow us to do activities and sports in ways that are impossible in the real world. They make us super human, like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and allow us to get air or spin in ways that no skater could do in the real world.

NBA street, a game with ridiculous passes and dunks, let you play street ball the way you dreamed. It was the type of dunks, moves, and exploding rims that not even Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan could imitate.

We had insane racing games that let us get chased by the cops or be underground street racers.
These simulations allow us to bring a bit of absurdity into a real world occupation. The graphics would fool us into thinking the world was unchanged but the game-play showed us a view of the world we'd never seen before. That world was simply impossible to glimpse in ours.

Number 1

The oldest art form known to man will always be a draw to play games. Some stories plotted out in games have outsold and outperformed popular stories in books, movies, or T.V shows.

A good story is always a thrill for a human and it entices the senses while welling up emotions deep inside everyone of us. The need to know what happens next drives us through the game, making us work tediously hard, just so the next page in the chapter can be revealed.

One of the most successful franchises in gaming makes it's bread and butter simply with story. You know when you play Final Fantasy that you've paid for the story. That this game better be epic, better be coherent, and better be enjoyable, or it isn't what you've come to expect.  To be synonymous with storytelling itself is a very high mantle to hold.

Heavy Rain, Red Dead Redemption, Fallout, Starcraft 2, and a number of other games have shown us that storytelling sells and is an important feature of any newly released game. A bad story can ruin a coders years of hard work producing a solid platformer.

Storytelling becomes a powerful glue and cements a game together when it's polished to perfection and fulfills the needs of gamers shown above

Final Thoughts

Gaming is a very flexible activity and new games will have to cater to the needs of it's players by allowing greater and more unqiue features to be implemented.

A multiplayer option is becoming more and more necessary even for games that once were only known for their single player modes. That was the idea behind giving games like Uncharted 2 rich multiplayer experiences.

Other games only known for multiplayer are being asked to incorporate story modes, such as the Street Fighter series. Games like Starcraft 2 have followed through and provided a rich single player experience even before you get into the competitive multiplayer experience that the game was initially bought for. Other games like Marvel V.S Capcom, were recently criticized for their lack of a true story mode and were deducted points; even though the nature and essence of the game has always been in a multiplayer setting and the multiplayer was executed excellently.

Future games will become more and more open, letting people explore what once was very static and tight spaced quests and adventures. Like Fallout and Red Dead Redemption, you will have the ability to do what you choose and continue the main quest when you like. The reins will be in your hands and the days events for you to decide.

Such freedom needs to be incorporated because different people have different wants and needs. The more of them we can pack into a game, the more people will enjoy the freedom of choice.

For those that want to avoid the horror that awaits over the hill, they can put it off for a few days and level up before traveling onwards, possibly connecting with a few multiplayer friends as backup. For those that want to charge in with whatever they have, guns blazing, the game will be flexible and allow both to do as they want. One may die horribly in a matter of seconds, but hey, at least he learned a valuable lesson. :D

Games are becoming an extension of our real lives. The various needs and desires we have will no doubt have to be fulfilled by game designers. Future games will need to incorporate the flexibility to succeed at many things at once and will need to be more graphically breathtaking then we ever imagined.

In every way possible Gaming is becoming less and less virtual and more and more real. Maybe full integration one day with augmented reality will be the future our kids wake up to in 100 years time. The future of gaming is bright. In the last decade its attempt to satisfy as many human desires as it can has been miraculously successful. Where it will be in the next decade is up to anyone's imagination.