Is this a Grind I see before me?

This “grind” thing is something I think about now and then on my very own, but recent internet teacup storms and my own no-quests experiment in LOTRO have pushed it to the forefront again.

A little context won’t hurt. First there’s the reported “ZOMG I WON”T BE GETTING ANY XP THIS IS FUCKING UNFAIR!!” fatigue system that’s apparently going into FF XIV. Lots of people have commented on that in various places and, for the record, it’s not the first time such a system has been mooted. Just Google it if you want some links. The Shwayder, however — he of Nerfbat fame — wrote something this morning that hit a nerve with me and that I’ll quote here, because I’m more interested in the concept of grinding right now than in whether there will or won’t be an xp-shackle system in FF XIV.

(Which is a shame, since it appears a large proportion of my page hits are people looking for FF XIV info, even though I think I’ve made exactly two FF-related posts in the last couple of years. I will however continue to not pander to the masses. I’m minimally excited about FF XIV but I hardly count as a great source of news for it.)

Here’s what the Nerfbat-meister had to say: “The grind is simply a state of mind that players get into. It’s negative, and everyone has a different threshold.”

This is particularly relevant to me this week in the light of my week-long NO QUESTS FOR YOU! experiment in LOTRO. (Progress posts here, here and here.)

One of the things most commenters seemed to assume — myself included to some extent — was that if I couldn’t quest I would, perforce, have to spend hours and hours and hours grinding away at mobs. Stand in a field and just blat whatever spawns, then wait for it to respawn, blat, wait, rinse-repeat.

By my definition that is Z E R O fun. Well, maybe for 5 minutes, but then it’s hardly a grind, is it?

(Why yes Faithful Reader, I have written about this before, but according to my wordpress-search-fu it hasn’t been a direct subject since, like, way the hell at the beginning of last year, and in internet terms that’s more than an Epoch so stfu and just read on.)

So, standing in location X blatting respawns /= fun. Standing in loc X blatting respawns for 5 hours definitely = grind as far as I’m concerned, but people’s mileage does vary. I, for instance, can happily do exactly that when it comes to crafting, at least in games that have a crafting mechanic that goes beyond input-quantity-and-hit-go. I can harvest all damn day. Seriously, I can. I’ve done it before. Hell, I did pretty much that in LOTRO yesterday.

Assumption 1 for me, then, is that GRIND is not a universally and identically apprehended term. My grind = your hoot, and vice versa. Also, the exact nature of the grind isn’t as important as the fact that beyond a certain point, some types of repetitive activities will cause people to become bored and frustrated.

Having said that it also seems to me that these days, “grind” has become a catchall term for anything that isn’t questing. Hell, you can even “grind quests” so even that’s not entirely accurate.

Leaving aside the discussion on whether the evil developers spend all their work time trying to figure out increasingly complex grinds just so they can keep our subscription sheckels (srlsy — do they have lairs inside volcanoes too? coz if so I want me some of that evil dev action), there’s still this increasingly pervasive idea that in order to achieve anything meaningful in an MMO, we’re going to have to grind. it. out. Usually painfully.

Here’s something new for you crazy young kids out there who might not remember MMO gaming at the turn of the Millennium: back in the day, we used to call it HUNTING. Not grinding, not “omg I’m so tired of this but *sigh* I’ll go back out and grind another three hours of MeaninglessFactionRewardTokens because that’s what the game — and my gaming Joneses buddies — expect me to do.”

Just hunting.

In Asheron’s Call I used to log in, chat with my friends and acquaintances, get buffed up and ammoed up (or not if I couldn’t be arsed), and go out to hunt shit. I could hunt stuff for xp, for sale-loot, for phat lewt (not the same thing), for rare drops, or for all of the above.

Or — and here’s the shocking concept — just for fun.

I spent hours doing this with a variety of characters. I’d head out, either into the wilds or to whatever dungeon I happened to like that week, and run around killing stuff. Sometimes it would kill me. When my bags got full I’d head back to town and spend an entertaining half hour sorting through what I’d got, keeping some of it and selling the rest. To vendors or directly to other players. No AH back in our uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways days. If I was feeling friendly and there were chars around who looked like they could use it, I’d drop some stuff in the middle of the town common and let people grab whatever they wanted. (Yeah… you can’t drop stuff on the ground in WoW. Maybe that’s for the best, actually.)

And it wasn’t a grind. It was fun. Repetitive, sure (but so is Monopoly), but still fun.

So here’s my manifesto for the weekend: Thou Shalt Not Grind. If it’s not fun, why do it? We pay good money — or not, in these F2P days — to play these games. Playing + games is supposed to = fun. Playing + games is not supposed to = hours of repetitive mind- and bum-numbingness. Game /= boredom.

Maybe we should ask ourselves at what point our games became more like a second job — fighting for advancement, being recognised ahead of one’s peers for better rewards, logging in just so one doesn’t get behind — than like the leisure activity they’re designed to be. Evil volcano-lairing developers aside, we players bear a very large part of the responsibility for that one. Hype and dev-blogs also aside, we do largely shape our own expectations. Man up for your own fun.

If it’s fun, even if it’s the same thing for hours on end, go for it. If it’s not, find something else to do. Check out that blinding ball of fire outside or something. Get some fresh air.

This is not rocket science.


Post-scriptum: I was going to add something about my LOTRO experiences yesterday, but I’ll save those for another post later today.

6 responses to “Is this a Grind I see before me?

  1. Congrats on the interesting experiment! I’ve been following along via RSS – one question – Without doing actual quests, isn’t ‘grind’ (endlessly killing mobs) the only experience generating activity left? Immersion in the story/lore of a world is my main motivation for playing MMOs, so you’ve inspired me to do a similar experiment of my own. I’m going to start a character in multiple games and see how far I can get doing most of the quests, but ignoring any that are of the ‘kill ten rats’ time wasting variety. I think comparing the advancement I attain across multiple games would give an interesting look into how much love the developers give to their virtual world. I suspect to get further in AAA titles than F2P, but I’ll keep an open mind. Any thoughts or suggestions?


    • Heya and welcome to the comments. 😀

      Being able to not-quest, I think, depends very largely on what you’re trying to achieve in an MMO. I define myself as a slacker and I very rarely get to max level (aside from crafting levels), so clearly that kind of achievement isn’t as important to me.

      Which isn’t to say I don’t want to feel like I’m progressing at least a little bit — we all need that, I think, or we wouldn’t be playing this type of game.

      I’m going to do another update post later today where I’ll address some of the stuff you asked — it’s going to be easier than posting one of my trademark wall of text comments, especially in my own blog. 😉

      As for your own experiment, I heartily encourage it, with the caveat that if you *are* more about the end result than the journey, you may get extremely frustrated. Forcing oneself to smell the flowers when one isn’t into horticulture isn’t necessarily fun.


  2. One of my favorite game genres is askii roguelikes. Quite literally all you do is run around, kill stuff, and get loot. I can play them for hours, even for weeks in the past. Yet ask me to play an MMO that way, and it bores me to tears.

    I think it comes down to pacing. In a roguelike a single combat rarely lasts more than a few seconds, a tough encounter perhaps 30. You also collect loot at an astounding rate, and in most of them have an inventory limited only by how much you can carry and still move around. It’s not repetitive because things happen so quickly.

    In an MMO, even a fast paced one, combats take at least ten times as long. And if you are getting any loot apart from vendor trash and coins more than once every ten or twenty minutes, that is an amazing run.

    More on topic, your main point is well taken. Anything can be a grind. For some players running back and forth to grab quests and turn them in is much more of a chore than simply finding a good spot and killing everything in sight for a few hours.


  3. I run into two sorts of “grind” that bother me a lot. One is busywork, like homework in a math class. Once I’ve mastered an application, I don’t want to have to demonstrate it again and again and again and again just to fill time. Two is gating, where I have to get to a certain character level (usually via combat) in order to continue exploring. This overlaps with the first a bit, but the second has a reason beyond filling time… but it’s still not a good reason.

    I still say that Chrono Cross is a great example of proper pacing; you only gained levels (party levels, really, so characters not in the active party kept pace) when you defeated a storyline boss. You could muck around all you wanted in between and get very tiny stat boosts and collect junk to sell or forge, but if you wanted to, you could blast through from boss to boss and never suffer for the lack of wandergrind. It was a brilliant way to let players putter around and grind all day if they wanted to, but also let those who just wanted to rush the game to do so.


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