Happy New Year, Gamers! I hope everyone had a great holiday season, whichever one you celebrate. 2011 was definitely a good year for video games and I hope you were able to partake in some of the biggest releases in gaming. 2012 looks to be another good year to be a gamer with the release of the Playstation Vita, maybe the Wii U, and a good line-up of games, including the final chapter of the Mass Effect trilogy. I hope it’s also a big year for the Just In Bailey column. I have some good ideas in the works and hope to provide you with quality reading material at least 52 times. Now, down to brass tacks.
The video game industry has grown by leaps and bounds. With 3 major home consoles, PCs, 2 major handhelds, and now mobile devices entering the fray, there is no shortage of choices. But there is a shortage of money. Unless you have an unlimited supply of disposable income, deciding what to spend your [parents'] hard-earned money on can be daunting. So, how do you decide what system to buy? Well, for the most part, a system is judged on the quality of the software. But, what games do you buy? How do you know if a game is worth spending upwards of $60 on (more if you buy collectors editions)? Like so many people in today’s fast-paced world, you don’t have nearly enough time to research every game out there. So, you put your trust in someone else to tell you if a game is worth your time and money. You look to the reviews done by sites such as Vagary.TV, monthly magazines, and even television shows.
Game reviews are pretty standard fare. The reviewer plays the game with a critical eye, judging everything from storyline to sound. They write up an article, giving their opinion of the game and maybe even throw in a few jokes so the review doesn’t read like stereo instructions. This is all fine and dandy. I like to read other opinions. There’s a benefit to getting another person’s perspective. And then they go and do something that really doesn’t help matters. They assign a score. Sometimes this score is on a five point scale. Sometimes it’s on a 10 point scale. And then there’s Metacritic, which gives an average of multiple review scores and converting the numbers to fit a 100 point scale.
Video games, like movies, books, and pretty much anything creative, are subjective in nature. My opinion of a game may be completely different from your opinion. I liked Final Fantasy XIII, and I hear that’s a pretty exclusive club. There are a lot of people that don’t like it. Maybe they dislike the gameplay or the story. Or maybe they are completely against anything Final Fantasy. So, what if the reviewer is one of these people? How can they be completely objective? This goes double for those reviewers that are extremely cynical (or act that way because they think it’s funny). You can also read in their eyes and words that they relish hating on certain games just because they are part of a particular brand or genre. In order to throw my cash a certain way there needs to be a bit of trust between me and the reviewer. If the reviewer is going to hate on a game just to get a rise out of their audience, why should I trust them? Given the nature of the medium, I wouldn’t expect absolute objectivity. I just want the reviewer to tell the truth.
Then there’s the scoring system. Again, as a creative medium, video games need to treated subjectively. Is there really much difference in a 9.3 or a 9.4 rating? Or between a 3/5 and a 4/5? How does the reviewer come to the conclusion that a game just doesn’t quite make the 7.5 rating and gives it a 7.0? And to give a game a perfect score? Is any game truly perfect in every way? Numbers have a way of just muddling things up. I really had to laugh when the reviews came in for Uncharted 3 and the game did not get perfect scores across the board. The outcry was hilarious. Did it stop the game from selling millions of copies? Not by a long shot. Was it a great game? Definitely. Why didn’t it get perfect scores across the board? I can think of two reasons. Reason the first, a review is purely subjective and not every person sees the game the same way. Reason the second, it wasn’t a perfect game. But, fans everywhere were in an uproar over the lack of perfect scoring from the different reviewers. Would they have been as upset if someone just told them the game was awesome? Instead, they got heated over a digit.
My point is simply this: video game reviews aren’t going anywhere. Nor should they. Like I said before, I like hearing other perspectives on games. And let’s face it, people have way too many other things going on in their lives to test drive every game that comes out to find out where to spend their money. I just take issue with the numbers game. You can’t do the reader justice by placing a score on something that can be seen as art and is, therefore, subjective. Last time I checked out the Art Institute of Chicago, I didn’t see critic scores next to the paintings and sculptures. If I were a game reviewer and had some freedom in the way I “rate” a game, I would do it as follows:
Is the game a purchase? A rental? Or, should you just not waste your time? If I thought a game had enough content to warrant the sticker price, I would recommend it as a purchase. Or a used purchase if I didn’t think the game was worth the full freight. If I thought the game was worth giving a try but didn’t warrant spending $40 to $60 US on, I would recommend it as a rental. With GameFly, Blockbuster, Redbox, and soon, Netflix, there are still options for those of us who want to try a game without spending a lot of money. Then, if I thought a game was a waste of time, I would advise the reader not to bother with it and move on to something better. And when offering up my opinion, I would also give some comparisons to games the reader may have already played so they know what to expect.
It isn’t a perfect system, but I think it’s pretty effective. Like the subjective material we play for fun, and sometimes profit, reviews are an opinion. All I want is for someone to tell me their thoughts and the truth. I don’t need a number to tell me whether or not I should play a game. All I want the numbers to do is create the game and I’ll, in turn, be their judge, jury, and executioner.
Just In Bailey –an homage to the secret code from Metriod, which allowed you to play as Samus Aran without her suit– is an editorial column at Vagary.TV brought to you by Joey Alesia. Each week Joey will challenge you to look at a different perspective of the characters, gameplay, and/or plot in your favorite games. Chat up your thoughts below, or send Joey an e-mail at Joey.Alesia@vagary.tv