Mario Kart Wii is a better game than Assassin's creed, at least according to IGN.com.
I was once a big believer in review scores, but I think it is time to move away from them. There is nothing inherently wrong with an author reviewing a game and providing insight into what they perceive to be its positives and the negatives. However, trying to distill the quality of a game into a single number is a shallow method of analysis that serves to limit the development of thoughtful analysis by diverting people towards petty arguments.
In my view, there are at least three major reasons to abandon video game scoring systems:
1. Games Can Change, but a Number is Forever
Not to get overly "critical theory"-y on everyone, but the video games, like any other piece of art or entertainment, are defined both by their creators and their consumers. The line between creator and consumer is easily blurred when players begin to utilize features within games that the designers may not have consciously created. Because of this, giving a game a numerical score exacerbates the already-glib nature of a review.
Consider the way in which gamers institute modified sets of rules in games: doing a "speed run" in Super Mario Bros., trying to get through a Zelda game with as few heart containers as possible, or attempting to play the Sims by building a house with only one room. None of these game modes are detailed in the official manual, and each arise from the player's modifications.
In the PC world, game modification has been taken to an extreme: who could have guessed Team Fortress would come into existence when Quake was being reviewed, and how would this have effected its (already very high) scores?
Finally, some games (I'm looking at you Will Wright) feature gameplay that emerges only after a sustained period of playtime. I think it is absurd that Spore is being scored right now, in light of how much of the game depends on player input. Complaints about the weakness of herbivorous characters may be rendered moot when veggie-players band together and create a vast Spore-alliance dedicated to ruling the Spore-universe. Putting a number on a game a week after its release is a shortsighted way of viewing a game that ignores the dynamic nature of art.
2. It's Like Comparing Apples and Machine Guns
As I alluded to in the initial Mario Kart/Assassin's creed example, it is unproductive to use the same basic scoring system on games in vastly different genres. This method of evaluation is unnecessarily focused on standardization.
Different genres provide unique forms of gameplay whose merits should be evaluated in their own right. The basic question a review is trying to answer is: "Is this game enjoyable?" The best explanation, regardless of the answer, would focus solely on the elements of the game without trying to quantify them for mindless digestion.
Mario Kart Wii and Assassin's Creed both succeed and falter at certain points, but trying to convince me that one deserves a higher score than the other is like arguing that chocolate tastes better than bacon. The enjoyment a game provides is a novel product precipitated by the interaction of developer and player. Slapping a number on that experience does a disservice to the player, the developer, and the game by inviting faulty comparisons and oversimplified judgements.
3. Zealots Feed on Numbers
A score's most damaging effect is the adversarial mindset it fosters. The attitude of trying to find "the best game" is a destructive practice that produces discord within the gaming community while also undermining the broader cultural credibility of video games as a medium.
There is nothing worse than someone hell-bent on blindly defending a game towards which they feel some misguided personal attachment. Any criticism is defended with bellicose rhetoric, ad hominem attacks, or good old-fashioned crappy logic. Numbers are simply ammunition for these people, who gleefully jump on a lower-than-expected showings as proof of a failure, or continually trumpet a perfect score as evidence that the epitome of gaming has been reached. Figuring out whether Call of Duty 4 or Halo 3 got higher marks does not make one "teh suckz," it simply creates trivial arguments that distract from thoughtful analysis of each games' respective components.
The inclination towards "scoring" an artistic works seems weaker on a broader societal level than it does in the gaming world. Many newspapers and magazines have dropped numerical or "star" rankings for films. Similarly, have there ever been scores for literature reviews? The most respected art, literature, and film journals do not try to boil down their analysis into a number, yet the most respected video game journals do.
This is not an indictment on the leading game journals, but rather a call out to the entire gaming community. Ultimately, the big game journals represent the state of the community, a state in which scores still have currency. It is time to change that, to embrace the open-ended quality of games, to analyze them on their individual merit, and to cease the bickering that ensues when we make vapid judgements based a fallacious hierarchy of game quality.
It is time to stop playing the numbers game.