Why this site doesn’t use review scores

Every review website seems to end up with some kind of numerical representation that’s meant to reflect the “goodness” or “badness” of the thing they’re reviewing. For killapenguin.com, I wanted to do something different. Not because I’m lazy (and let’s all take a moment to be astounded that this isn’t the case this time), but because the whole idea is dumb; can one really quantify something as abstract and subjective as goodness? If you believe the answer is “yes,” then I’m about to launch a twenty-pound “error of your ways” into your face from my trebuchet of truth. Is that last sentence technically English? Probably, so shut up.

Can you judge kittens numerically?

It’s a legitimate question. I mean, could you hang out with a cat for a few days and be able to reduce its entire being to a number? Of course not, because whatever criteria you use to arrive at that number would be completely subjective and meaningless. Does the kitten get extra points for playfully jumping in and out of a box? Not everyone would find that cute, so is that something that should be disclosed? Before you know it, you either end up with a bunch of disclaimers, or, as has happened with reviews on the internet, completely meaningless numbers that are at once loved and hated by different groups of cat people without any explanation behind what those numbers actually represent. The reviews themselves rarely match the scores, adding extra confusion to the whole mess. Long story short, cats should be allowed to just be cats.

Expectation ≠ reality

What does a review score of 7 out of 10 mean, exactly? That at any given time, there’s a 70% chance that the person is enjoying the thing in question? That’s actually a pretty decent percentage, yet if the new Call of Duty or Legend of Zelda game were to receive a score of 7/10, people would be (and have been, historically) up in arms: “Why are you being so mean to my favorite shiny thing?”

Thanks to the fact that people are incapable of accepting the idea of an actual range where a 7 would be a good thing (these days anything below 85% might as well be poison), big-budget things typically score within the 8-10 range easily, regardless of merit. This has narrowed the spectrum of possible scores for larger games to just a few numbers, with the lower, rarely-used numbers being reserved for smaller games that are safe to rate lower without fear of a backlash. In a nutshell, review scores have become almost entirely useless because of a lack of consistency stemming from people in general being no smarter than a potted plant. But hey, at least you can all photosynthesize. So there’s that.

How could this be avoided?

Well, I suppose the people who do scoring for games could stop having reviews be “out of five stars” or “out of ten,” because this makes it too easy for people to come up with a percentage. I’m kind of fond of people actually having to read my words to know what I think of a game (and admit it, you’ve skimmed to the end of others’ reviews before just to see the score), but for others, having reviews be out of 13 or 19 or some random other number like that would be a good step. Also, breaking down that score into unequal categories would be great.

For example, if I were to implement a scoring system—which I won’t, but let’s be all hypothetical and cool for a second—it’d be out of 13. The story would be judged out of 4, the characters would be judged out of 3, the gameplay would be judged out of 3, the graphics would be judged out of 1, the originality would be judged out of 1, and the music would be judged out of 1.

How this would work:

Does a game have graphics that don’t make my eyes bleed? Then it gets a 1 out of 1 in the graphics category.

Can I remember any of the music? If so, then that’s a 1 out of 1 for that category.

Are the graphics and music, despite their quality, unoriginal? That’s a 0 out of 1 in originality.

Mediocre story with lovable characters? That’s a 2 out of 4 in the story category and a 3 out of 3 in the characters category.

Is there awkward gameplay that gets progressively better as you play? That would probably be a 2 out of 3 in the gameplay category.

The overall score would then be 9 out of 13. Could that score be used to get a percentage of ~69? Of course, but that would mean nothing since it was judged category-by-category, weighed against my obvious preferences. Someone who cares more about gameplay than story would clearly rate the game differently, and this would be obvious rather than being hidden behind a subjective wall of things I like while I pretended to be completely objective; those with similar preferences to mine would have scores that align with their taste, while those with other preferences would still be able to derive useful information from the score.

I once thought about implementing this

By “once,” I really mean “yesterday.” It didn’t work. It looked really, really ugly, and I seriously don’t feel comfortable reducing abstract things to numbers, even using my totally awesome review system above. I mean, I like both Chopin and Vivaldi, but do I like one more than the other? I’ve honestly never thought about it—they’re both rock stars in my book, and assigning numbers to them means either stating that they’re completely equal (which is probably not true) or putting one above the other (which would also be a lazy, inaccurate way of comparing them). Honestly, I’d rather just post awesome music from both of them and let people decide which is best for themselves:

And that’s why I don’t use scores

Because I’m classy and listen to Chopin and Vivaldi. Or whatever I said before.

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