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

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