Some MMO topics never quite go away, but fade with the autumn’s chill and reappear with spring’s warm breath. One of these is about the desirability (or not) of grinding in online RPGs.
“Grinding” is a swear word for many, meant to represent a repetitive activity that has to be done for hours upon hours before yielding a positive result. “Grind out faction”, “grind mobs”, “grind dungeons” and so on. It’s so reviled and so hated that one of the biggest messages that players have been sending back to developers is “Cut out that grindcake, already, and bake us a content pie!”
Then again, there’s always a case to be made for grinding. There actually is. I’m not saying that I love grinding all the time, but there is a time and a place where, yes, I prefer it above other activities. Usually it’s when I want lowest common denominator in gameplay, something simple and uncomplicated and basic. The casual of casuals, so to speak.
Let me put it this way. If I was to be less lazy than I am right now and make a chart, with one end representing maximum stress and attention and the other representing maximum relaxation and minimum attention, then I’d probably put things like “PvP” and “raid content” over on the stress side, and “grinding” and “seeing if I can jump onto the roof of that building over yonder” on the relaxing side. Since I often play MMOs at the end of my day, when I’m tired and fading fast, I don’t always have the high energy and attention span for complicated gameplay. Sometimes I just want to sit back in my chair and take on mob after mob after uncomplicated mob, without any garnish.
And, strangely enough, this sort of self-imposed grinding can be quite satisfying. For one, grinding isn’t without reward — it provides loot and XP for the time you spend doing it. If you plan ahead, you might throw in faction/reputation points along with everything else. When I log off, I may not have saved the princess or destroyed the enemy’s stronghold, but I haven’t done nothing either (double negatives FTW!). I’ve advanced my character, earned more goodies, or progressed in a faction of my choice.
In my life, some forms of grind are more desirable than others — for example, I like to straighten and clean. I’m not the most fastidious person in the world, but I enjoy turning a destroyed kitchen into a sparkling visage, even though I know it’s just going to get messy a few days later. I still feel as though I accomplished something, and that gives me reason enough to do it.
Or look at how my wife games — she of Desktop Tower Defense, Plants vs. Zombies, and that word typing game on Facebook. Right there is a person who grinds and grinds a game, doing the same basic, simple actions, but still enjoying it, being relaxed through it, and challenging herself to do better next time. I’ve shown her more complicated, deeper games, but this is what she wants when she needs to unwind.
So, yes, there’s a case to be made for grinding. Just… let’s not make it ALL grind, okay devs?