How Do you Solve a Problem like 10/10?
We all have them. That game that speaks to you like no other. The title that shaped your entire relationship with video games as a medium. The sacred cow. Bullet proof. Untouchable. For me, that game is Final Fantasy VII. For someone else, Ocarina of Time. Mike’s is Halo. For Jerry its Super Mario World. Dark Souls, Grand Theft Auto, Half Life 2, and on and on and on. My point is, everyone has their own subjective 10. A game that comes along at just the right time, at just the right moment, forging its legacy in the halls of your precious memory, forever. These titles, we call them our favourite games of all time, but make no mistake, these games are not the 10 out of 10 masterpieces we claim them to be. They never were, and they never will be. “Why!?” I hear you cry in terrified indignation! Because the idea of a perfect game simply doesn’t exist. I mean how could it?
That being said, I whole heartedly believe that any given game can, at any given time, be just the game you need at that precise moment. Or otherwise put, there are no universally “perfect” games, but, there might just be a game that’s perfect for YOU.
When I was 6, my Aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the months that followed, I distinctly remember the evenings my parents would disappear to the hospital. They’d return around 10 or 11pm looking like the mere mortals I’d accept them to be many years later. No longer Mum and Dad, Defenders of the Earth, superhuman and unflappable, but just everyday adults, crushed by the emotional heft that comes with watching a loved one pass way right in front of your eyes. I tell you this because while they visited my dying aunt, I was left at home, being loosely baby sat by my elder siblings, who’s only way to keep me busy was to sit me in front of a newly released copy of Super Mario Bros 3. Not surprisingly, it became one of my favourite games of all time.
Now I’ll be honest, in 1991 the “real world” was rather shit. For me at least. A mother perennially on the edge of tears. A dad, angry at his inability to deal with the situation. Siblings, who frankly didn’t know how to act, and me, still too young too fully understand the intricate emotional complexities of the “things” going on. It was all just a bit too much. Only it wasn’t. Because I was always one push of a button away from entering The Mushroom Kingdom. At home, in my room, I had the keys to a gateway to a whole different world. A world where real life worries seemed to disappear. Where rescuing the princess, became the only thing that mattered, and because of that I was able to make it through a time that might have otherwise been an incredibly sad six months of my young life. Right there, right then, it was the perfect game. Hell, in many ways, it still is, but you wont catch me giving it a ten out of perfect ten. I can’t. To do so, would be to deem the entry the perfect game, without an inch of improvement to be made to it. It simply isn’t true.
At the time, subjectively speaking, it was everything I needed, but even then, I like to think I knew it had its flaws. Sure it was fun, deftly crafted escapism, but narratively speaking, where was the games depth!? The princess has been kidnapped you say!? Thats the third time in less than 5 years, change the record already! Now I realise Im reaching, because lets be honest, there’s really very little you can find fault with when it comes to Mario 3, but the fact remains, there’s always something you can find fault with, in ANY game. Because games, like all art, are completely subjective.
Do me a favour: Go and google “Mona Lisa” and rate the thrumpy bint out of 10. It’s impossible right? One person can look at the Mona Lisa and see a painting without peers, a piece of art that single handedly encapsulates a lifetimes worth of skill acquisition, manifested with life like precision on canvas. Someone else might think its a tad boring. We use the “Out of 10” method of scoring games because its what we always have done, and it suits us to wrap things up with a neat and tidy unit of “quality measurement” that we can quickly and automatically identify with, using the least amount of mental exertion. It just falls apart whenever I see a perfect 10/10, because by scoring a game 10, we inadvertently say its perfect: in every sense and to everyone, and that my friends, just ain’t so.
I mentioned earlier that Final Fantasy VII is my “sacred cow”. I played it on the edge of my teens and it spoke to me on a very personal level. Desperate to be treated like an adult by everyone around me, it was a video game of all things that offered me the misguided respect I was to eager to receive. Playing it felt like the developers themselves had crafted a game targeted at adolescents but that did so in a way that made them feel “properly grown up” and because of that, I fell head long in love with it. 12 year old Dan would have scored that game 10/10 over and over again. (Sorry, did I say 10/10, I meant, 100/10. 1000, NAY, a MILLION, INFINITY X INFINITY/10!) In hindsight I can see that my praise for the game was more than a little misplaced, innocent enough as it was.
You see, to 12 year old me, Final Fantasy VII was indeed perfect. I couldn’t tell you what I’d have you change about it to make it better, because in my head, it was already consummately realised. All these years later, I find the same mind set adorably amusing. Of course Final Fantasy VII has its flaws. If I played it today, I’m genuinely scared of the score I’d have to give it, and it’s for that very reason that I refuse to do so. However, re-examining my experience of the game all these years later, is valuable in getting to the root of the problem of handing out arbitrary scores for subjective products: That the “Out of 10” modus operandi is a bad fit. That said, I’m no closer to inventing another method to replace it with.
If you would to see more of Dan’s content check out his youtube channel KaiJuice