For Love of the Grind: 5 Reasons Why We Grind

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!

Well, damn.

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.

// Ocho

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

10 thoughts on “For Love of the Grind: 5 Reasons Why We Grind

  1. I mostly enjoy the repetition, but it’s also one of the simplest functioning chains of a means to an end in your typical MMO. I remember grinding my ass off on the Aqua Goblin camps in Everquest because I wanted money. I’d turn on some music, chat with guildies, or otherwise just grind in perfectly honed silence.

    Simply splendid.


    • The only time I found myself really willing to do this is with the Dabo tables in Star Trek Online. It’s essentially a method of really slowly transferring one currency into a pretty useless other currency. I’m not even sure WHY I’ve done it, probably just so I would get the achievement saying “Look How Much Time I Spent Doing This Mini-Game!”. But I’d still do it, and usually throw something on Netflix on a 2nd monitor while I was doing it. We don’t want to put ALL of our attention on playing. Just a fraction… but when we play this way, what do the developers get? Well, if a sub game, that’s obvious. But the F2Ps?


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  3. I also think that grinding levels the playfield in another way as well: Namely in that if it takes 50 hours to get reward X in a game it does not matter if I play 5 or 2 hours a day, it still takes the same 50 hours played, regardless of you being the most hardcore of the hardcore or the most casual player ever. Plus grindy features are also good for the player base that only plays casually as if we only rewarded skill the “casuals” would not get any rewards as they played the game too little to build up the sufficient skill for rewards. If you throw in a couple of grinds into the rewarding scheme suddenly everybody will know that slowly but steadily they will get the reward if they keep working at the task at hand (no matter how many hours per week they play).Of course everybody has a different point where the grind is just too much for the reward at hand, but principially grinding has the above effect (imo).

    “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.”

    I found this paragraph interesting as well since I do not think it has any relevance to grinding (imo) it merely has to do with the fact that most MMOs (if not games in general) have a simple underlying principle that governs how you get rewards. The more effort you put into something the better the rewards. Because this system is imposed upon everybody without exception it is fair, after all everybody plays within the same circle of rules. Now if you add a cash shop that sells things you can also get buy playing the game you have suddenly fragmented that circle by essentially saying the people willing to spend are no longer governed by the rule: effort = reward and can actually get a reward for not doing anything. Thus the game does not seem fair.

    At least that is how I (ardent supporter of the almost extinct Pay to Play model) feel

    Anyway thought I’d chime in a bit as this was a topic I had had various discussions and thoughtful moments over.


    • Haha! You caught me. Yes, that paragraph really didn’t have much to do with grinding, but I threw it in anyway… it’s a bit of stream of consciousness that I left in. I absolutely see where you’re coming from. But from my perspective as a casual F2P promoter (note: not fully free… we all know the term F2P really means “pay something or suffer”), the majority of games I have seen that have implemented a cash shop, the amount of effort gained by using your wallet is mostly negligible. Someone who is willing to pay to get past effort barriers, they aren’t the type of player that sticks around for the long haul. Their impact on the game’s community is barely felt. The people who are really grinding are still really competing against each other. And really, just like the capitalist real world, I could care less what my neighbor does with his money, I only look after mine. (also note: I’m not a big fan of PvP combat… I usually get steamrolled by people who play more often than I do… which is the way it’s supposed to be, but I have no interest in reaching the upper PvP echelons. But this lack of caring about PvP is a big reason why I don’t mind it, too)

      So yeah, I don’t mind if people are willing to spend to bypass the effort = reward rule. If someone does, they’re the ones out $10. But then it adds something tangible to my gaming, too. If I acquire what it cost them money to get, I get that feeling of earning. That what I did had a set value to it that I earned. The earnings per hour is horrifically dismal, yes, but the satisfaction of doing so is the real reward all unto itself.


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  5. As a very casual gamer, I disagree about the “Grind = Fair”. MMO are social games, where you can only play with people at the same level. By adding grind to the game, it forbid the casual to play with hardcore friends, putting pressure on them to play more or be lost. Thus the casual can not compete, not even play with the hardcore ! I do not find it fair.
    I think that the fairest would be to reward only based on skill, but grind can be a good solution (but not a fair one 😉 ) to allow less skilled player to play with their friends/guildies/complete stranger ! And this is my last point : cooperative game are not about fair, but about enjoying ourselves with friends – a little grind can be cool for this goal. But competitive games are about being fair, and that’s why I hate grind in these games (see CoD, GhostRecon, etc… VS TF2, Counterstrike, etc…) !


    • Ettesiun are you not automatically making the assumption that new players are skilled at this game X that only offers rewards based on skill? I for instance am attrocious with FPS games so if I wanted to play an FPS game and feel like I at least get something tangible out of hours of dying I’d very much like there to be “grindy” rewards as I know it will take me approximately the same time to get them as anybody else. Overly rewarding skill (notice overly) will only lead to these potential new players qutting the game as getting to the level where you are good enough to earn rewards feels to much like a grind with too few rewards (other than at the end of it).
      Also for MMOs only allowing you to play with people only at the same level I would say yes and no. Yes because many games have mentoring systems in place that allow you to play with other people regardless of level difference. No because it sometimes feels artificial and there still is the difference in that the max level guy mainly raids or does PVP while the lower level guy can’t do that yet.
      In the end it’s a problem of the “level system” something that actuually is not something that is inherent with the MMO genre it is merely something that atm is too much in the comfort zone of it to move away from.

      Also you are arguing a different kind of fairness. You argue that it is fair to able to play with your friends, whereas I argue about the fairness in awarding rewards. But personally I think grinds should not award you items that make you better they should merely be cosmetical or used as a means to an end. In the sense that mounts do not make you better or getting (account wide) attunements for raids or fire resist gear for a boss is only a means to an end (in this case raiding). Thos would thus be examples of what I would gladly have behind a “grind lock”

      Also I also think that we just disagree about MMOs (I make a difference between a co-op game like Diablo 3 and Borderlands 2 and say WoW) not being about being fair as well as being about socialising. Since to me MMOs are “world simulators” and in that a sense of fairness in how rewards are handed out is paramount as it tries to simulate parts of our own world. If MMOs (as they sadly have become more and more) were co-op lobby games like D3 and BL2 then yes I would agree with your assessment.


    • Oh yeah, totally. Grind in CoD and games that are primarily skill-only based to begin with doesn’t make much sense. They just throw in grind there to extend the time you play their game. For most of those gamers, though, usually the multiplayer component is enough.

      MMO’s, though, let’s face it… are not about skill in the first place. Even raids, though tricky, are really just a choreographed dance where you have to figure out the moves yourself (or… just watch a video of others doing it, which is much more prevalent). However, unlike games like CoD that starts everyone on the same level, same stats, same weapons, etc. where the only factor of success is how much practice someone has had; success in MMO’s depends on a lot more variable factors. How much time an individual has to play, how much money they decide to sink into the game. As a casual gamer, I will never be able to “compete” with those that sink 6 hours per night in the game, and as a budget gamer, I will also never compete with those that spend tons of money on the game either. Skill level plays very little into MMOs at all, and so the unskilled, through grind, can play with the hardcore just fine. Thus is how grinding levels the playing field. The hardcore may get there faster, but the casual can get there, too, given enough time.


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