Review scores are always something of a hot button issue, at least for me. There is never really a time when they aren’t prevalent considering they appear every time a movie or video game comes out, as well as various other forms of media. To clarify, before I get into this discussion, I’m specifically focusing on review scores or the number a piece of media receives alongside a review, not reviews themselves. I have nothing against reviews, hell I used to write them on this very website. I do however have an issue with scores, something I did away with early on in my review writing days.
There are a few reasons why I dislike the mere idea of scores, one of which being that they basically mean nothing. It’s simply a numerical summation of someone’s opinion on a thing. I like the beach, I give it a solid 9/10. I really dislike sunrises therefore I give them 1 out of 5 stars. San Francisco? A solid 88. I’m sure you can see where this is going, my point being that the numbers mean nothing. What matters more is why I like beaches, the reason behind my distaste for sunrises and why I think San Francisco is a very cool yet imperfect city. The words and opinions behind the scores are what really matter yet when numbers are what the focus is drawn to people are less likely to sit down and read the actual review. I can attest to this as there are many, many instances in which I have personally experienced readers simply looking at the score I give a thing and responding without actually having read my opinion or why the thing received said score. It may sound like no big deal but in actuality it’s extremely frustrating.
Reading reviews is so much more important than looking at the score because you can get a better feel as to what the reviewer’s pros and cons are in regards to the piece of media they are discussing. For example, if someone gives Uncharted 4 a 2/10 because they don’t like third person shooters then you can say hey, that’s silly because that is expected in that particular series of games. If you simply looked at the score you may think the game is bad when in reality the reviewer just didn’t like one subjective aspect of it. This brings me to my next reason for being strongly against reviews: they are opinions.
That’s right, let that sink in. All reviews are nothing but opinions. They may be the opinions of someone who is very educated on a subject/form of media or someone whose profession is to write reviews, but at the end of the day it is still an opinion. Human beings aren’t perfect, sometimes even professionals and educated individuals have ridiculous reasons for liking or disliking something. While they may be trying their hardest to be objective, some bias still slips through nearly every time. This is why some reviewers will always score action movies low or PlayStation exclusive games high, for example. It is simply the nature of reviews and there is nothing wrong with that as long as people are fully aware of it. Sadly many people seem to be either unaware of this fact or apathetic to it, allowing their own opinions to be controlled and changed based on someone else’s opinion, someone who they typically don’t even know. I tend to see a lot of people base their own opinions off review scores, without reading the reviews themselves, and allow them to shape how they think which is something I find absolutely abhorrent.
An example of this can be found in the recent influx of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice reviews that have just begun to release around the web. People have been using scores from compilation websites such as Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes to basically trash the film, given that many appear to be negative. While some may argue that these compilations of scores are the most accurate way to judge this film (or any film, for that matter), it’s easy to scroll down and realize that many of these reviews are offering criticism that is based on pure, subjective opinion; which is to be expected but is often overlooked in lieu of an easy score.
Looking through the review excerpts on Rotten Tomatoes for Dawn of Justice proves that many of the negative reviews are negative because the reviewer just wasn’t into the movie. Not because the movie was poorly made but rather because they seemingly don’t enjoy the genre or didn’t know what to expect going in. The point being that you or I could read a review like the one pictured below and think “well, I want to see said smash-and-bash orgy because it’s Batman v. Superman and I expected CGI as well as an open ending given that this film is a gateway to the Justice League, therefore I bet I will enjoy this film”. You’d never know that if you’d simply looked at the score and brushed the entire movie off without looking into the reasons why, most of which I found to be absolutely ridiculous.
All of this boils down to my main reason for disliking review scores: they give people permission to not think for themselves. Due to the fact that review scores are just numbers next to thoughts and those thoughts are typically only informed (or uninformed) opinions rather than fact, the people who follow them religiously are basically allowing someone else’s opinion to trump their own. Every time something new is released I see hordes of people on social media and in my day to day life allow these review scores, or compilations of scores, to dictate what they watch/play/etc. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against looking through a few reviews, or even at one review from a trusted source, and making a decision based on what you have read/watched. That is smart, in many ways. Looking at some scores and then saying “xyz is bad/good” without reading why or using your mind to weed out the silly opinions, however, is not smart.
A recent example of this can be found in the reviews for Ubisoft’s most recent video game titled The Division. While many of the professional reviews were mediocre, many of the unprofessional reviews as well as general consumer opinion were mostly positive. Seeing discrepancies like this always leads me to believe that I need to do a little reading into multiple reviews, both positive and negative, in order to grasp why there is such a difference between user opinion and professional opinion. For others this just isn’t the case; they see that IGN gave the game a 6.7 without looking into the reasoning behind such a score and immediately choose not to purchase it because it’s “a bad game”. This is a problem, not only are people not using their mind and are instead allowing a number to make decision for them but they aren’t really grasping why the game is being scored that way. Maybe the negativity is unreasonable or maybe it’s because of something you have no problem with, these things are important to know. This is most troubling when the individual wanted the game prior to any reviews being released but changed their mind based on some scores on the internet.
I simply urge folks to not take review scores at face value. While I may seem overly harsh, while some may disagree with my thoughts on this subject, I am simply looking to a future where people understand reviews as well as actually read them. While I hate that I have to say this, I feel obligated to clarify that I know full well that many people do read reviews and that it’s possible that only a vocal minority of folks are the ones allowing scores to make decisions for them. Regardless of how many people are victim to this phenomenon, or how many are willfully part of it, my point still stands: please read reviews, understand that they are opinions, and make decisions for yourself. You are the consumer, you are the one that matters and it’s your money being spent. Don’t let someone tell you not to watch a movie you really wanted to watch because they decided to give it a 2 out of 5 stars. Don’t allow someone to persuade you not to play a game you really wanted to play because they felt it deserved a 5/10. Conversely, don’t assume that because a movie/game is getting only positive reviews that you will enjoy it. Read the review, if you want to change your mind because the reviewer made good points and you agreed with them then good on you, but please don’t judge a piece of media by its review score.