So with the Gain Jam almost upon us, my thoughts turn to game ratings and how we score games. Games can vary greatly from one another, which can make the scoring and comparisons between games tricky or feel like certain genres have inherent disadvantages over others when to comes to traditional judging criteria.
Whilst it is important to note, say, good graphics or writing in a game, it’s also important to note why they are important to us as players, in as much as how they enhance the experience being provided and in turn how the game experience makes us feel overall. Different games can provide similar levels of enjoyment and engagement despite using very dissimilar approaches.
With this in mind, this is my attempt at categorising these states in what I have dubbed the “Entertainment Index (EI)”. The EI is a measure of how much a game…
A sensory feast for the eyes and ears, not only for art and sound design, but also for vivid descriptive writing and atmosphere that can tantalise the mind’s eye. Moments that switch you on score highly here.
Lighting up the pleasure centres of the brain, aka the fun factor. Be it through combos, discovering new things and, of course, fetish interests. The laugh-out-loud, “ooh~” and “ahah!” moments (among other utterances) that spark a player response score highly here.
Entering that “flow state” either through gameplay pacing or from being immersed in a rich narrative or a finely-crafted world, the plot and characters therein. If it keeps you glued to your seat, it scores highly here.
Clever and rewarding, or tough-but-fair, gameplay and level design that tickles the brain and/or the reflexes. If the game makes you sweat (in a good way) it scores highly here.
The novelty or creativity factor. A measure of how interesting the game’s ideas are. If it’s something you’ve never seen before or it keeps you thinking about the game after playing it then it scores highly here.
An overall measure of all of the above. How much enjoyment did you ultimately derive from the game?
It is my hope that by judging games from a new perspective, like above, we can attempt redress some of these pre-existing issues. I will stress that this system is by no means perfect as we shall see EI:
- Takes into account the playing experience as a whole and puts that up for comparison, rather than as a sum of a game’s parts.
- Fuzzy logic within each category should allow for more games to score well within each category.
- Can be qualitative or quantitative - attach a number out of 10 or give a “low to high” verdict to each category. The system is flexible that way.
- Can still allow for objective appraisal for game aspects. Top graphics will earn top marks in the “Exciting” category and/or be lauded there.
- It’s a more involved process. Forces a more thoughtful commentary from the reviewer to give a more insightful view, rather than pointing out obvious merits/flaws.
- It’s more complex/less intuitive. People understand the current rating systems (Graphics, Gameplay etc) well.
- It’s a more involved process… Some games can be quickly praised or written off, but this system now insists that reviewers “find the fun” and report back their feelings, which can take more time to review each game.
- Scoring highly can feel less impactful. If you’re a writer you may just only care to see top marks for a “Writing” category at the end of the day.
- It’s prone to subjective bias. EI scores can reflect more about the reviewer’s tastes than the game itself. Readers be warned!
(Also these two lists are by no means exhaustive. There’s plenty more benefits or shortcomings I have overlooked. Feel free to discuss them below!)
So if there are problems what’s been the point of this? Well firstly, I think we should move away from the notion that there is a perfect ratings system out there. No system stands can withstand sufficient scrutiny, but what the EI does represent is an additional tool in a judge or a critic’s arsenal to gauge a game in an attempt to smooth out comparative differences between games. A way to fairly judge apples and oranges, essentially.
Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below. Could you see yourself using this system or something akin to this? Could it be improved? Have your say!