Robert Hampton

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18th July 2012

What’s the Score? Who Cares?

Helen Lewis has an interesting blog at the New Statesman, complaining about the apparent requirement to conclude reviews of computer games with a score out of 10.

It’s frustrating to see a nuanced review of a book, film etc., which ends with a clunky “3 stars – give it a go”. Giving something a “score” implies that the quality of a film, game or other piece of art is something that can be tested objectively – that the review is an unquestionable fact rather than one person’s opinion. We use the same system for reviews that I had for spelling tests at primary school.

The star rating “system” for films also annoys me. TV listings magazines are the worst for this, as their reviews usually come complete with a patronising “explanation” of what the ratings mean – does anyone really need telling that * means “don’t bother” while ***** is “unmissable”?

A star rating may tell you whether a film is “good” or not, but it gives you no information of any use when deciding which film to see. Roger Ebert gave 4 out of 4 stars to both Brokeback Mountain and Toy Story, but I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people out there who would enjoy one but not the other.

Percentage ratings are even worse. I’m reminded of a game called Mayhem in Monsterland on the C64. It was released in 1993, right at the end of the machine’s commercial life, when most games publishers had already abandoned it and Commodore itself teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. It was an amazing last hurrah for the platform though, pushing the venerable 8-bit machine graphically in ways previously considered impossible.

Why do I mention this here? Because Commodore Format magazine, in their wisdom gave it 100%. Now, considering that CF had been running a “diary of a game” about Mayhem for many months beforehand, this score may not have been entirely impartial.

But think about what that 100% implies – was the reviewer suggesting that no game can ever be better than it? That every C64 gamer (even those who preferred RPGs or sports simulators) would enjoy the game? It’s an absolutely meaningless number.

Read the reviews by all means, but if there’s a score, ignore it – it’s not useful.