Grading Games

I wrote before about scoring video games and talked about how I didn't think it was a good idea... then I went to review games, which I never intended to do, and give them a grade.

Naturally, the grades I give them are meaningless because who the fuck am I but also they are for the people too lazy to read thoughts. They also are a lazy way for me to write an ending paragraph so laziness all around! Although I do try to give games a grade that I think is fair sofaras one could fairly assign a letter grade to a game.

It takes me back to a conversation I had my freshman year of high school with one of my art teachers. He was talking about how art classes used to be pass-or-fail, then they asked for a letter and now they wanted a score out of 100. He admitted that he had no idea how to even grade most assignments so absoloutely out of 100. He reasoned that the letter grades could at least give an idea of how well a "problem"-- in his words-- was approached and executed.

The idea that he was not giving assignments but problems or prompts to be addressed creatively was interesting and something that stuck with me. I think that if you're going to start grading things which are highly subjective the only way you can grade them is on how they approach their goal and how they execute their goal.

I take this with me into games thinking about what the game is trying to do. Sometimes a game just wants to be fun and that is A-OK but the game should feel like it just wants to be fun. Sometimes games want to tell a story or make a point about Karl Marx's hairstyle. All are perfectly valid in the realm of subjective expression. About half of it is a game comunicating what it is trying to do.

The other half, then is the execution. This is where controls, graphics, audio and usually what people score a game on comes into play. No one will know your deep thoughts on historic figure's fashion sense if the controls are crap or no one can tell what the graphics are.

The third half-- yes there's three halves-- is also very subjective about if I personally like a game. In subjective media there are no absoloutes and trying to pretend there are is a gross misunderstanding of creative media as a whole. You can say on a technical level that a novelist spelt every word correctly but that hardly makes their novel good. While, yes, flagrant mithspellings [sic] would be an issue the fact that the letters are not only correctly selected but also arranged in the order in which it is customary is not really meaningful. Likewise it is possible for a game to have technically impressive graphics but little else. "My this code runs splendidly!" you could shout but that wouldn't make the game fun to play.

Another apt comparison would be the textbook to the novel as the word processor is to the game. For an information book or utility software the use is the focus and indeed it would be judged differently. For a novel or a game there's more of an experience than just reading arrangements of letters or pressing the same keys and clicking the same mouse you would to format an office newsletter. For that reason you can't boil a game down easily to a few specs.

Once again I am at a loss for a real conclusion... this ended up being more of a blog post, I guess. Oh well.