Grinding, or in non- gamer speak (let it be known that I am nothing if not a writer for the layman), engaging in monotonous and repetitive menial tasks for payoff down the road, is a gameplay mechanic that has been utilized for years in the gaming industry. The more commitment to the grind you have, the higher the reward for your patience. Ever since the halcyon days of leveling up your party in SNES RPGs like the Final Fantasy series or Chrono Trigger, the act of grinding has been endured by gamers, if reluctantly so, and is still prevalent in gaming today. No element of gaming in the last twenty years has been viewed as such a necessary evil than the grind. My introduction to grinding began when I was eight years old and I received a Gameboy Color and Pokémon yellow for Christmas. For hours I would toil, downing hordes of Rattatas and Fearows with my powerful and vengeful Raichu with the sole intention of making my team stronger. I would grind for so long that I would ask for AA batteries for my GBC for about the next 4 or 5 Christmases and when I received them, you’d have thought I’d just received a new kidney (because hey, free kindey, right?). Because I knew what those AA batteries granted me. They granted me time; time that I could grind. And if I had time to grind then I knew that the game and the world within would open itself to me.
Another prevalent game that utilizes grinding recently celebrated its tenth anniversary (and the release of a new expansion ) on their servers. That game is World of Warcraft. When I heard this news I wondered just how this was possible. I wondered exactly how Blizzard has been able to keep up to (at one point) twelve million people captivated. As of this year, WoW has been in continuous play for the past decade. Which means that for the past ten years, there have been millions of players slaying boars, mining ore, and completing menial fetch quests for no other reason than to gain xp (experience points). When it launched in 2004, WoW offered tons of magnificent content to gamers; content like slaying legendary mythical beasts, participating in enormous melee battles with real people, and going on epic journeys to uncover new powers, abilities, and treasures, all within a fiercely enthusiastic and mostly helpful community. But to simply hand these massive rewards out to gamers would be a mistake. To be able to log in and immediately slay any number of demonic forces would sell the game short, and cheapen the experience for the players. No, to access these types of content, the players had to work for it. They had to earn their bones. They had to, say it with me now, grind. You didn’t say it with me. Why didn’t you say it with me?!
In games like WoW the player must be made to grind. Otherwise there is no real or sensible way to reward the players for their work within the game. This thought process is all well and good for the game developers. This ensures that the players will work for their payoffs and that they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment once they’ve achieved their goals. This thought process also works for publishers because it ensures that players will be spending tons of their time in these worlds that they’ve spent so much money to have made. It validates their work and their financial backing. But there is one party in this equation that seemingly gets the short end of the stick when all is said and done: the player. Think about the position this equation puts the players in: Instead of getting to participate in the advertised epic-ness that you know for a fact this game can offer you, you first have to trudge your way through tons of fetch quests, defeat helpless opponents for hours on end, and essentially spend most of your time getting ready to play the game, instead of just playing the game to the fullest extent of its capabilities? Who would put up with that? And more importantly, why would they put up with that?
There are a couple of reasons that gamers put up with the grind. Pokémon games capitalize on the naiveté of children who take the “Gotta catch em all!” slogan as a command rather than a selling point. They know they like this game and they know that it’s telling them to consume, so they abide. The reason why more advanced gamers put up with the grind in games like WoW goes beyond that naiveté and it also goes deeper than the surface reasoning of grind + patience = reward. That’s too simple an explanation. I think the reason we, as gamers, put up with the grind is that we have no choice whether or not we grind. This lack of choice is not limited to the gaming landscape. Everyone everywhere has their own type of grind they have to go through on a daily basis: the grind of studying for a geometry exam, the grind of meeting your quota at work, the grind of picking your kids up from school. The list is literally endless. But gaming offers us, if not a salvation for our grind, then at least a recognition of it. In our daily lives, if we grind and we don’t screw up, all we’re rewarded with is another day where we’re not allowed to screw up. There’s rarely any recognition, adequate thanks, or compensation. Met your quota? Congrats, you’re not fired. Graduated from college? Congrats, get a job. Magna Cum Laude, huh? Neato dorito! Now you can pay your student debt back faster. Grinding in the gaming world, however, gives us that reward that we don’t get during our daily lives.
The games we play recognize how many boars we’ve slain and how many items we’ve fetched, and rewards us for our troubles. Gaming offers us an outlet in which we’re applauded for our efforts and given new abilities and quests and items and characters and so on and so on. With grinding we know that the world is at our disposal, and that the only thing standing in our way is how much effort we’re willing to put into the game. No other medium offers this incentive. You can’t watch a movie so well that you get to see deleted scenes or early sequels. The same goes for reading a book, or listening to an album. You get what you get and that experience is all you’ve got to take away from it. Gaming thanks their players for participating in these worlds and these scenarios. That, my friends, is the glory of the grind. And for that, I thank them. So, keep grinding folks. And remember, when the world has you down and you’re feeling underappreciated, just remember that you might have a forgotten Charmeleon somewhere that sure would love to be a Charizard. I bet the Elite Four would have a hell of a time with that guy.