Ugh. Grind. Just saying the word conjures up images of boredom, slogging through the same content over and over again, just for the same small reward. There are many different names we gamers use for grind; the gear treadmill and farming are two general ones that come to mind. But does anyone really enjoy farming, or running those same dungeons and same bosses until you’re blue in the face? Anyone?!
Actually, the answer may (or may not) surprise you. In doing research for this post, I’ve uncovered lots of research that suggests that, yes, we as humans and gamers really do love to grind.
But why do we do it? Isn’t “the grind” what we encounter on a day-to-day basis by going to work in the first place? We “grind” at our jobs, usually performing the same tasks over and over to get that paycheck. You’d think we’d be sick of it.
Maybe not. Imagine you just won a nice fat $10 million lottery. Sweet. Would you go back to work? According to a Gallup poll performed last month, 68% of people would continue to work. 68%! And a poll of 34 national lottery winners showed that 48% of winners stayed in their current job. If you take the financial stress completely off the table, half of them would return to work the next day and continue the work grind. In fact, according to that same poll, 68% of lottery winners still played the lottery on a weekly basis!
So to those who enjoy the treadmill, or enjoy the piles and piles of centaurs left in your wake, here are five reasons showing why we enjoy the grind, despite our frequent objections to it:
Grinding Levels The Playing Field
Lets face it, anyone can get to the top levels in the MMO’s that we play simply by putting in the effort to get there. Even with very little time, anyone potentially can acquire, through purchase or play, the gear necessary to hit the next level. Grinding is the key to leveling the playing field for everyone, and is the one big part of making a game “fair”. If that Giganto Sword costs 50 tokens, but you only get 1 token per hour-long run, is it worth it? Certainly not to everyone, but there will be players that will get it, because they can. But you are not excluded from getting it, too. It’s not a Superbowl ring, where ones 5’6″, 175 lb frame (for example, of course ) isn’t humanly capable of competing to get one. Anyone can work toward that Giganto Sword. The more grind a game has, arguably the more fair it is.
This would explain why you constantly see a demand for more sandbox-oriented subscription-only MMOs. In the minds of some people, the more grind a game has and the less items you can exchange for real money, the more overall “fair” the game becomes. In this scenario, though, I personally think that most people misattribute the payment model as the source of “unfair” gameplay, when really it comes down to the amount of grind.
Repetition is Relaxing
According to Everyday Health, repetition is one of the best ways to help with stress. We spend all day in stressful situations, all of our responsibilities and activities, when crammed together, can cause us to want to shout at the world. I know that’s how it is for me. Being more an introvert, even being around people for too long can trigger such stress that I just need to be alone to recharge.
Sitting back, playing a game, listening to music or podcasts, and just farming the same mobs over and over again to help progress towards that Giganto Sword is actually, in a sense, therapeutic. I’m no doctor, of course, and the method of stress relief that works for you may be different, but for me, gaming is my relaxation. Although I say I’m not a fan of grinding, maybe I secretly am a fan. It would help explain why I am drawn to MMOs over any other genre.
Cognitive Efficiency Enables a Path of Least Resistance
This is the bane of game design, and why I feel empathy toward game designers. You give too many options on how to build your character and someone will theorycraft the absolute best builds. Playing anything else, then, is sub-optimal. We, as humans, always seek the path of least resistance and so will play with the most optimal equipment and builds, and take the path that’ll lead us most quickly to our goal.
If getting that Armor of Awesomeness takes either running the same dungeon 10 times or slaughtering 10,000 Borgfish, most will pick the dungeon as it’ll take less time and effort. Taking the long way is not the most efficient, and is more the path of most resistance, but I am glad it’s still there as an option. Options are good.
The Practice from Grinding Makes Us Better Players
What better way to become better at running a tricky dungeon than to run it time and time again. We run it again as we are really looking to get the “phat lootz”, but the practice gained from doing so is a side-effect that is tangible and substantial.
I consider myself a terrible player, sometimes. I tend to shy away from group dungeons and group activities as they cause me some stress and playing games is how I reduce my stress in the first place. But there’s the rub. If I ran dungeons more, got over the dungeons learning curve, and fell into a steady routine, the stress that comes with running them in the first place would drop. It’s getting over that activation energy in the first place that is the hard part.
The Endowed Progress Effect
Finally, this point I’ve spent the most research on, but seems to be the biggest factor as to why we are addicted to the grind. In a nutshell, Endowed Progress is the idea that when people make progress towards a goal, that they will become more committed toward continued effort of achieving that goal.
If you get 15 tokens toward that Giganto Sword, the likelihood of you continuing on to finish getting the other 35 tokens towards it are more likely. If you have 3 out of 4 pieces of a set, the odds of you giving up are slim. There is usually nothing that will stop you from attaining the 4th piece.
Here is an example of Endowed Progress in action: In Study 1 of the Nunes and Dreze paper, they hand out loyalty cards to a car wash. Half of the cards (A) require 8 washes to earn a free wash, the other half (B) require 10 washes, but the first two washes have already been supplied. So, both cards need 8 washes to get the free wash, but (B) appears to have a head start. Of the 300 cards given out, 80 were redeemed. The redemption rate for those that needed 10 washes, but were endowed with 2 washes (B) was 34% over a 19% redemption for the control cards (A). Furthermore, the amount of time it took to redeem the cards was 2.9 days less, on average, for those using the endowed cards.
The more invested you are to your goals, the more likely you are to see it through.
My guess, though, is that you’re not that surprised by all of these reasons. Look at all the games we have around us today, MMO and non-MMO. Is there a single one that doesn’t have SOME form of grind associated with it? “Facebook” style games like Farmville, cell-phone games like Candy Crush are literally nothing BUT grind. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that the games are designed to be an addiction 1st and a game 2nd.
Overall, In writing this post, I’ve learned a lot about my own habits any playstyles. I, usually, am not a fan of grinding. When faced with a grind, I usually go play another game that doesn’t have one. Or so I think. Am what I really doing is just replacing one grind for another grind that I like better? A rose by any other name…
I really like the leveling in games and MMOs, I like that feeling of improvement with each session, the big improvements over the marginal ones. But a leveling grind, even if it has varied content, is still a grind.
So next time, don’t just dismiss a game you’re playing for being too “grindy”. The grind may be the reason you’re playing in the first place.
P.S. - So the Super Adventure Box in Guild Wars 2… is that really just a Skinner Box INSIDE a Skinner Box?! Woah… Skinnerception… #mindblown