Score Sores: Or How Reviews Had A Hold On Me

[Disclaimer: I don’t think I really need to do a disclaimer, because it somehow insinuates that I have something in my article that I’m afraid will be contested. Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is personally. I’m only putting this here to say that I know not everybody has had the same experience as me in the review department. I grew up with the internet and have been effectively spoiled by never having to take a guess on what game to buy, as most people of the past two console generations or so have. I’m not saying that scores for reviews are bad, just that I believe they’re often put on an undeserving pedestal, even by myself previously, and getting rid of them could help solve this problem.]

The Anecdote

A few months ago, my dad purchased Mario Party for the Wii. When we were younger, we all used to play Mario Party as a family on the Nintendo 64, which I suppose is what spurred the purchase. He isn’t one to look at reviews before he buys a game either. For those who don’t know, Mario Party 8 was met with lackluster review scores for the most part. So needless to say, I wasn’t very thrilled to play it. He popped it in the ole’ Wii and off we were to Mario Land. Everything was familiar and, for the most part, solid. I had a good deal of fun that I otherwise would have avoided. The next night he wanted to play again. “Why not?” I said to myself, and once again we engaged in some minigames madness. And then we played it again. And again. And again. He continued to find entertainment in Mario Party, where I grew tired of it after about the third “again”.

Fun…?

Next up, it was my turn to choose. I went for the better rated Wii game that is Zach & Wiki:  Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure. A linear, one time through, game that I was sure we would both enjoy. We played it over the next couple of days, finding the answers to the various riddles and using our logic to head onward. He liked it, but he didn’t love it. I was fairly dumbfounded. I was gonna have to agree with the reviews on this one. Mario Party got old after a while, while Zach and Wiki was fun all the way through. I just wasn’t interested in Mario Party anymore. I immediately dismissed him as having poor taste in games. What other explanation could there be?

Next, we rented Boom Blox. THIS was a game that we both enjoyed. HERE was a game that I completely agreed with my dad on. It was fun, it stayed fun. It wasn’t a casual game either. I could no longer immediately write my dad off as having bad taste in games. He agreed with me, he agreed with the reviews, all was good in the world.

FUN!!!

It was then that it hit me. Why was I placing so much stock in review scores? If my dad disagreed with the common consensus, he was wrong in my eyes. I went back into my personal game library for the Xbox 360 and found that only one of my games had scored below an %82 on Metacritic. Thinking back on all of my game buying decisions, none of them was made without consulting a review first. Well, none but one.

The Reasoning

The one game that scored below an %82 is the one that I didn’t consult reviews on. That game scored a %66. That game was Shadowrun. For this particular article, I was forced to go back and look at my various games and I was honestly surprised, and humbled, to see the Shadowrun review scores. Shadowrun is an entertaining, Counter Strike with Magic game that I still pop in to this day. I used to be one who would trade in games (I’ve gotten over that terrible habit now), and the fact that I still have Shadowrun is a testament to the fact that it’s fun. I’ve owned it since May 29th, 2007. The day of it’s release, and haven’t looked back since.

Enjoy the Awesomness

I’ve heard people say that they don’t listen to reviews anymore. I usually write them off as people who no longer like a site because they’ve given their favorite game less than an 8, but I’m beginning to see the merit in their actions. My dad has followed this method to a tee all of his life without even realizing it, and is happy with his gaming life. A year ago I would have called him a casual gamer, but now he plays games like Portal and Grand Theft Auto 4. Yet, despite the fact that he has played these fantastic games, he still enjoys playing Mario Party 8. One could say Different Strokes for Different Folks, but my friends feel the same way about Mario Party, or at least some of them do. And like my dad, they play the big name games like Gears of War and Left 4 Dead.

I believe that I’ve allowed reviews to actually hold too much sway over what I play. I’ve liked most of the highly rated games I’ve played, so like Pavlov’s dog I jump at the chance to play any game with an 8 or higher rating. Yet when a game gets 7 or below, I immediately pass because of a few rotten games from the 7 or lower group. I can’t afford to buy or rent every game out there, nobody can, so the lower rated ones will slip through the cracks most of the time. This is where Shadowrun comes in, in that I would be greatly upset now if I had never picked it up.

It’s hard for me not to wonder what other games have slipped through the cracks. Potential favorites that were written off by people who can play every game out there as mere “toys” or  temporary distractions. Would Full Auto have been a new favorite racing game? I don’t know, I never played it. How all of this information comes together is one simple question. Do reviews affect people too much? Through all of this self realization, I came to realize that my dad was enjoying himself regardless of low review scores.

Hidden Gem?

Now I ask, who among you can remember buying a game last year without first consulting a review? A spur of the moment kind of thing. I don’t doubt that it happens, but can you remember doing it more than once in the past year? With reviews showing up farther and farther out from the actual release of the games their speaking of, it’s almost impossible to not get a whiff of a review score. I mean, it was still over a month out when Resident Evil 5’s first review showed up in OPM, and tell me you that didn’t affect you in some way. Just a little bitsy review score (unless you found some review scans of course… or received the magazine…) . Some were happy (such as myself I’ll admit), some were confused, and some didn’t give a crap. Oddly enough, I now wish I could count myself in the last group, but probably for different reasons.

Jumping to Conclusions

I review games myself, so I feel a bit odd saying this, but I think that game reviews have too big a hold on the industry. I’m not the first to say it, and I won’t be last. Reviews are one man’s opinion, and this fact is easy to forget. People always refer to the review scores as “IGN gave “x” a 9 out of 10″, as though the larger entity that is IGN’s combined employees have decided upon the review score.

Not a “Collective Conscious”

There’s no way to “fix” the way reviews are done, but one remedy would be to read what the reviewer says, and not just jump straight to the score. In fact, perhaps it would be best to get rid of numbers altogether, because %90 of the time that’s all people look at outside of the ending “mini-scores” for graphics, sound, ect. Things should be simpler. I want a review to tell me about a game, without having the constraints of fitting it into an arbitrary review number.

When was the last time you read a review just to find out what kind of TV it will run best on? If a game looks beautiful, tell me that, don’t run on about 1080i or 720p. If a game sounds wonderful, don’t tell me that I need a fantastical audio system just to get out of it what you did. I’ll be able to enjoy it regardless. I want to know what’s in the game. Is it in any way broken? What’s the story? How does it play? Oh, and of course, is it fun? Leaving numbers out of the equation altogether. I’m not saying that recommendations shouldn’t be made, but perhaps that’s all it should be, a recommendation.

Agree? Disagree? Please, do tell.

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~ by Dylan Nelson on March 3, 2009.

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