Once you've finally graduated from your last class, not having to worry about school is a pretty great feeling. You don't need to study for tests, you don't need to wake up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus, and best of all, you don't need to stress out over grades. There are other places where your performance may be reviewed, such as the workplace or the boudoir, but for the most part you can live your life free of worry from needing to achieve a letter grade.
Except for one specific area: Video games. Even though games are primarily a hobby meant for fun, a lot of games do score you based on how well you play. The number one offender of this is undoubtedly the third person action RPG genre. We're talking about combo-based games like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, or the newly released Astral Chain. These games expect a lot out of you, and almost every enemy encounter is graded on some kind of scale, letting you know exactly how god-like, or garbage, you really are.
So what can of an effect do these letter grades have on players? Is it a positive experience as it's telling you how well you're progressing in the game, or does it turn what should be a fun and relaxing experience into a flashback of poor report cards from years gone by?
The Honor Roll Of Murder
A lot of character action games are pretty tough, and they don't hold your hand all that much. After the tutorial (if you even get one), you're expected to grab whatever weapon you're given, and be a regular killing machine in relatively short order. But for a lot of fans of this genre, the fun of playing these games is getting better and better as you go along.
You may start out getting D's for dismal, and end up getting S's for savage. This can feel super rewarding, as it can make you feel as if you've mastered the battle system, and you're now a fully capable hero who can easily face off against whatever kind of ultimate evil the game throws at you.
Best of all, if you're getting those high grades, then you're basically being rewarded for having become an expert at the game. These grades are an indication that you've learned the correct way to play, and can safely call yourself a master of character action. It's not just empty praise, it's proof of your progress as an expert bad guy exterminator.
See Me After Class
Some people just want to play a game. They want to load it up, smash the buttons on their controller, and smile as the enemies go flying off the screen. It's why people play video games in the first place, to ease their anxiety, and just sit back and enjoy swinging a sword around.
But these types of games are practically insulting you if you're not mastering the battle mechanics to a ridiculous degree of perfection. What fun is playing a game only to be presented with a big fat D at the end of the battle? This isn't 11th grade chemistry class, this is Devil May Cry. And yes, you could turn the difficulty down, but that just feels like an even bigger defeat on its own.
This can really discourage people from playing other games in the genre, because they don't want to be negatively judged by their entertainment. Imagine if you were watching something on Netflix, and you received a bad grade at the end because you paused it halfway to go make a sandwich. Wouldn't feel too good would it?
Worse still, a lot of these games punish you if you don't score high enough. Some of them will lock away special perks, rewards, or even story content if you don't get a perfect grade on every level, meaning if you want to experience everything, you need to become a character action guru. Most of us don't have time for that, so we'll just have to settle for whatever pathetic ending the game wants to give us C-grade scrubs. If all you want to do is just enjoy a game, it's kind of a bummer.
Do We Need Video Game Report Cards?
Getting a grade in these games can inspire some pretty mixed feelings. Getting a high grade shows that you know the in's and out's of the game, and can pretty much roll over any boss that they put in front of you. But getting a lousy grade can make you feel awful, and instead of having fun playing with Dante or Bayonetta, you kind of just feel like a bum, especially if things get so hard you have to lower the difficulty. In which case it's almost like the game is telling you to turn it off, and take up crocheting or bird watching or something because you're not cool enough to play.
Grade systems aren't inherently bad, but it'll nice to have the option to include them or not. Many people like to flex their skills, but some of us just want to let off some steam and chop up some bad guys. Maybe a way to toggle grades on or off would be the way to go, so we'd have the option to let our games judge us or not.
Because the last thing we need is Bayonetta derisively smirking at our poor combat skills. We already feel intimidated by her enough as it is.