Grinding: all massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) have it. Some more than others, but it is always there. Go forth and slay 50 rats. Collect 10 copper pieces, 32 rat pelts, 19 rat tails. Turn in same. Repeat 245 times. Graduate to killing skeletons. Repeat 895 times. Ding! You leveled! Now go forth and slay 2,655 ghouls…. It is like factory work, but without the pay cheque. In fact, we actually pay someone else for the privilege of doing this, and call it “entertainment”.
You’d think we’d hate it, that these types of games would never catch on, yet tens of millions of players log in every day, strap on their virtual swords, and head out to slay another few thousand denizens of the countryside in pursuit of the elusive level. Every new massively multiplayer online game that comes out perpetuates the grinding “feature”. It is weird, doubly so because I seem to be afflicted by the same behavioral quirk as all the millions of people playing MMOGs. There has to be some reason why…
The best explanation I’ve found of why so many of us put up with it was in this article on Wired that I read earlier today. Here is a quote that sums it up:
there’s something enormously comforting about grinding. It offers a completely straightforward relationship between work and reward. When you log into WoW, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you just plant your ass in that chair for long enough, you’ll level up. It doesn’t require skill. It just requires putting in the time. Play 10 hours, you’ll do better; play 50, you’ll do better yet; and yet more so with 500 hours.
The thing is, almost no arenas of human endeavor work like this. Many are precisely the opposite, in fact. When you go to your job at the office, there’s little or no linkage between effort and achievement: You slave like a madman all year long, only to watch the glad-handing frat guy hired two months ago get promoted above you. And if you’re a really serious nerd, the logic that governs interpersonal relationships — marriage, kids, your parents — is even more abstruse: Things can actually get worse the more time and effort you put into them.
But grinding? Grinding always works. Always. You get a gold star just for showing up. This is a quietly joyful experience. It feeds our souls, as well as our sense of justice and fair play. We grind because we can’t believe what a totally awesome deal we’re getting handed here, often the first time in our entire suck-ass put-upon lives.
That actually makes a lot of sense to me. I suspect that a majority of gamers who play games like WoW, EverQuest 2, Age of Conan and so on would hear the truth in these words, if they were honest with themselves. But something tells me that most of us wouldn’t admit we actually like grinding.