Why We Grind

Grind, it’s a word gamers and dance club regulars are all too familiar with. Sexy dancing aside, I’ve consistently observed the term used most often in a negative connotation. Why is this? I’d argue that it is inherent to the original meaning of the word. To grind means to break something down and to wear it down. Some people feel worn down by the grind and cease playing a game they may have played for hours on end.
I’d like you to consider that grinding is not inherently negative or positive but is instead determined by the individual. What I consider fun may be boring and tedious to you. In this article I will discuss what I consider to be an acceptable grind and what draws me in.

Don't put your games on the grindstone, you'll scratch your discs
Don’t put your games on the grindstone, you’ll scratch your discs

To begin, I would like to discuss an infamously popular game that has been highly criticized for its tedious grinding. If you are an active gamer, you have undoubtedly heard of Destiny. I had fun playing Destiny for a number of months. I planned meetings with friends; I yearned for better gear and higher levels. Then one day just prior to the release of ‘Crota’s End’ I’d had enough of the grind. I was tired of farming all manner of currency and constantly playing and replaying mission after mission. I loved the Vault of Glass, but I couldn’t fathom playing it again one more time. My regular raid group got it down to a science such that the challenge disappeared.

Don't expect to fly freely through space.
Don’t expect to fly freely through space.

Destiny is in no way a bad game and despite my opinions, it is still massively popular with a large population to boot. Why is it that I got bored when others continue to play and grind? Well, there really isn’t a simple answer to this question. The obvious answer is individual preference, but what else is there to consider?

Destiny encourages social play. As a social species we generally desire contact with others of the same species. A game with friends often amplifies the fun factor. You develop your own stories, jokes, and forge memories. Still, there are many social games, why Destiny?
Destiny gives you something to do. There are so many small tasks on the road to better weapons and gear that you will likely always have something to do. Just X amount of glimmer and resources and you can finally upgrade that kickass new gun. The competitive nature of some people pushes them to be the best they can be and, ideally, better than everyone else.

If we want to evaluate grinding at its core and why we tolerate it, I will now discuss Elite Dangerous. Elite Dangerous is a space commander simulator (space trucking, mining, combat, exploration, smuggling), where you take control of a ship and strive to earn money through various means throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. When you start out, you have a basic ship with limited cargo space, weapons, and jump range. In order to upgrade or purchase other ships, you must make enough space cash to do so. Some of these ships cost millions of credits and that doesn’t even include the upgrades. The game itself throws out curve-balls. Break space law and you get fined or a bounty on your head. Did you end up in a fight you couldn’t win and die in the empty void? Sorry, pay the insurance on your ship or start over from scratch. While tasks are varied, each is fairly repetitive. Wait at a nav-beacon in pursuit of bounties, hang out in a planet’s rings and mine resources, deliver cargo between systems, or travel and scan the celestial bodies within systems. The game can be a real grind at times, requiring hours of playtime.

Don't expect to walk on the surface.
Don’t expect to walk on the surface.

I admit that I really like the flight simulator and combat genre and Elite Dangerous fits the bill. At this point in the game, I own two ships. One ship is a fully upgraded long range cargo hauler and exploration craft, while the other is a short range and lethal fighter. I own ~$6 million in assets and have about a $500k balance. I obviously didn’t just find all this stuff. I had to sit down and invest my time into earning enough money to afford it. These figures don’t even consider the money I’ve lost or the ships that I’ve earned and sold. Why could I tolerate this grind more than I could Destiny?

For one, I like the risk. Knowing that any combat situation can be devastating keeps me alert, it makes me want to get stronger and faster in order to survive any encounter. All in all though, it comes down to completing smaller tasks as a means to acquiring bigger and better things. I see the value in what I wish to earn and know that if I’m not careful I can lose it at a moment’s notice due to the harsh realities of space. If you think about it, there really isn’t a significant discernible difference between grinding in Destiny and Elite Dangerous. It is a matter of preference. What are you willing to tolerate in reaching your goal and what engages you the most? Having something to do is important in keeping a game fun and alive. If the game does not give you something to do, something to work towards, and or something to create then the game you are playing may lack significant replay value. Some games are fun but after you play it once or twice you place it on your shelf to collect dust while you move on to something new.

This is where I store all my Steam games.
This is where I store all my Steam games.

Games like Destiny and Elite Dangerous allow you to formulate a goal, and plan what you need to do to reach that goal. Since the steps involved in the completion of the goal often have sub-steps, you’ll find some of these ultimate goals are surprisingly long-term goals. We may find ourselves investing time into a game comparable to a part-time or even a full-time job. Invest eight hours earning digital game currency when you can theoretically apply the same amount of time into earning actual real-world currency. By no means is this a judgement, as I am just as guilty as anyone else in this department.

I think people like to have something to work toward, like to be powerful, like to indulge fantasies, and like to socialize. We grind for the promise of something greater and/or something new. If you do this now, you will have more fun later. Playing for the promise of fun, may lead to fun along the journey. In some cases, the end game results in no new tasks, no goals, no challenges. You essentially reach a plateau and likely move on to something else.

There is an increase before leveling off and potential decline
There is an increase before leveling off and potential decline

Saying a game is bad just because there is too much grinding, is too subjective. You cannot determine a game to be bad based on its grind as some games that involve the grind are phenomenal and hugely successful. It’s a matter of degrees, but if put under a figurative microscope you’ll see that many games contain aspects of grinding. Simply attempting to level up in a standard multiplayer shooter like Halo, Call of Duty, or Battlefield can be considered grinding as you are completing repetitive tasks in the pursuit of a goal.

The Halo: Reach Armory is a solid example of grinding in more subtle terms.
The Halo: Reach Armory is a solid example of grinding in more subtle terms.

All in all, don’t count any game out before you play it because there is a grind. You are the only person who can determine whether the game is fun and if the grind is worth it.