Why Grinding Is Fun…?

If I’m to believe that RPGs on the whole don’t blow a big bag of dicks, then it stands to reason that grinding must be fun.

Most people, including RPG fans, talk shit about grinding; but I’m not sure why. As I understand it, having to “grind,” means having to fight a shit ton of enemies to level up and continue a story or quest, as opposed to only fighting a regular ton of enemies. The logical fault is that no matter what, you’re going to fight more enemies.

That’s what I don’t get; if all you do in a game is fight enemies, then what difference does it make how many you have to kill before leveling? Whether I level after ten kills or after one-hundred, guess what I get to do after I level up? Kill more enemies.

If grinding bothers you because it takes too long to reach the next part of the story, then it stands to reason that you’re just playing the game for the story and don’t care as much about the combat. After all, if you liked the combat, you’d be willing to do more of it.

But if it bothers you that you aren’t leveling or getting gear fast enough, then my mind is boggled. You only level and get new abilities/armor so that you can do more fighting.

But don’t let me be dismissive. Clearly, there’s some reason that people are bothered by the need to kill shit impeding them from killing more shit. I’m just not sure what it is, yet.

I know that personally, I always seem to be in a rush to finish a game so that I can play the next one. At the same time, I’m perfectly willing to stop playing a game when it loses my interest. If I get to a grindy bit and decide I don’t like the game’s combat, then I quit playing. If I love the game’s combat, I won’t be upset with the grinding.

I did complain about the grinding in Tera at times, and then I had to take a step back and wonder why I cared. After all, there aren’t a huge variety of monster types in the game—most of it was the same shit. Plus, I almost always stuck to one rotation, regardless of opponent. I didn’t like grouping, so I wasn’t trying to min/max or get geared to take on higher-leveled dungeons, either (which would only mean more fighting, just now with a group of assholes).

What bothered me about grinding? I don’t know. I think it was some kind of desperation to get to level 60. After I reached 60, I spent like a week and a half just doing dailies (which were always the same shit), and I only went to a couple of dungeons. I was still grinding, but was totally content about it. What’s up with that?

It doesn’t make any sense to find grinding boring in a game that you enjoy for the combat. The best I can do is chalk this up to humans being weird. I think we get addicted to the game telling us that we’ve accomplished something, even if the accomplishment is empty—which leveling up is, because it just lets you do more fighting. At some point, I have to question if we enjoy playing the game, or just enjoy the idea of “leveling up.”

It’s hard to say, because I can’t get into everyone’s head. I’ve put hundreds of hours into Phantasy Star Online and Tera Online, both of which can only be called grind-fests. While in Tera it took me longer to get over grinding, in PSO, I never even noticed it. I just liked playing the game, and replaying the same area over and over wasn’t a pain because, well, it kinda felt like the point. And the rest of the game was just more of the exact same shit, so what difference does it make?

17 thoughts on “Why Grinding Is Fun…?

  1. There’s a significant amount of leeway to be given when defining the use of the word “grind”, due to it being so popular, but for me, it describes a system where the leveling itself is boring and repetitive. Basically, if you notice the grind, it’s there. Grinding can’t be “fun”, at least not with the way I use it.

    So yeah, if you have a game where you need to get 10k kills, that’s not necessarily grind. If it’s made enjoyable, how can it be? On the other hand, if it’s repetitive, even a hundred are enough to label as a grind.

    You hit the nail on the head when you say that we do combat to do more combat. It’s how interesting the combat itself is that leads players to call “Grind!” and “No grind!”. Upon release, WoW had enough quests to save you from killing the same mob over and over again, which made people say that there’s no grind there. Eventually, quests became the standard, people got bored, and suddenly, GW2 has no grind. Despite this, WoW, GW, and lazily-crafted questless games have one thing in common, the fact that you kill a copious amount of enemies. Obviously, defining “grind” simply as “having to kill many enemies for the next level” doesn’t work, it all depends on how fun it is for the player personally.

    In GW1, the hardest dungeon is called Domain of Anguish. Done with a team of very competent players (we’re talking dozens of runs in experience for the newbies and hundreds for the tanks), it takes 40 minutes to complete, while random groups take about 2.5 hours. It’s the end of the endgame in GW – if you can do that, you’re rich, you have nothing to grind for. Still, our guild, myself included, visited and cleared this place out daily, several times a day, killing the same mobs and redoing the same 40-minute run without any complaint. After 3 months of play, I had 120-150 runs, meaning I had invested 4 hours per day, every day, replaying this activity. It wasn’t grindy, it was fun. It also involved killing copious amount of enemies. And there wasn’t even a higher purpose. The only grinding we’d do was start new characters so we could run them through the campaign and use them to play a different role in the same dungeon, with the same group. I have more than 10 times as many kills inside DoA as I have outside it (I know this by comparing experience points). Yet, despite this being the place where I had the most copious amount of kills, it wasn’t grindy: In fact, it made me go through the grind of other activities with new characters whose classes I wanted to play as, in my greatest, yet non-grindy, killing field.

    • I really like your definition of the word grind, and can accept it. It’s just that I read a hundred articles along the lines of “Tera Online has the best combat system in an MMO, but unfortunately has some long grindy bits,” and I go, what the fuck? If the combat is fun, then, eh??

  2. For me, the difference between endlessly killing things being fun and being a grind is whether or not I have to do it so much that it becomes repetitive to the point of not being fun anymore. Even a game with great combat and great enemies can be ruined by making me play essentially the same exact fight hundreds of times before I can move on. Eventually, I’m going to master the best strategies, there’ll be nothing interesting left in the fights, and it’ll feel like a drag.

    That said, even grinding can be fun if the combat really is that great, but the thing is that it needs to be optional. Good grinding is when I set the goal myself, there’s a tangible reward, and if it gets boring, I can always go do something more interesting in the game. Bad grinding is when the goal is arbitrarily set by the game, there’s no real benefit, and I’m stuck with nothing else interesting to do until I finish. Sure, in the second case I’m just going to be killing even more stuff in the next area of the game, but it’s different stuff in a different environment and that keeps the combat feeling fresh; or, if the game truly has no worthwhile variety to differentiate combat between areas, I’m going to drop it because it’s crap.

    tl;dr The fun is in the details of combat, not just combat in general.

    • Right, I can agree with you here. It’s just that in MMORPGs, it feels so rare for the way you fight to be different in any significant way, beyond like, “in this fight, you have to make sure you run around a lot more.” In Tera, I was driven by my desire to see more of the beautiful world, even if the enemies in each area were all quite similar. I just enjoyed being there so much that it didn’t bother me.

      It’s reasonable to not like the combat so much that it’s why you play, therefore you want to do other things, or have some variety. The only thing I don’t get is complaining about grinding as the means of progress. In Tera, you could go anywhere in the world if you feel like it. You could go do crafting or some other shit to break up the constant fighting. But the core of the game is always going to be fighting, and it makes no difference what level you’re at.

      I guess all in all my problem isn’t with the concept of using the word grind to be negative, but with the lazy way that most reviewers use it.

  3. That reminds me that I have seen this video from the Game Overthinker the last day where he explained that Asian gamers have less problems with level grinding because they don’t have the desire to controll everything in the game. Western gamers on the other hand are too spoiled by open-world games like GTA or Red Dead Redemption where you can do whatever you want. He also said that level-grinding is a “ZEN”-like experience for Asian gamers, although I think he is reading too much between the lines regarding this.

    That being said, I am myself not a great friend from grinding. I have beaten FF7, FF9 and FF10 as a kid. FF8 on the other hand was too hard for me because I had no interest in level-grinding Squall all the time just to beat a certain enemy -__- Ahh, but what should you do ?

  4. I agree that a lot of reasons for perceiving a certain segment of a game as “grinding” can be pretty subjective, but I think it’s considered a bad thing for a few reasons:
    1. an attempt to pad out the game and artificially extend it’s length.
    2. evidence of poor pacing on the part of the designers (ideally, the player should be able to smoothly progress from stage to stage)
    3. devaluation of skill and/or strategy as compared to time investment.

    Games are all about maintaining the illusion that player input “matters” in some way – in each of these 3 ways, grinding breaks up that illusion. Getting to a set level in most RPGs is generally an inevitable occurrence. Grinding, or at least the perception of grinding, thus robs players of the sense of accomplishment or emotional investment that skillful play can create. It creates a feeling of simply “going through the motions”; that human player input ultimately doesn’t matter: only machine-like execution does (and indeed, many MMOs do see an attempt to mechanize some of these features, ranging from macros to full blown bots).

    The inverse of grinding is using a skillful tactic, appropriate preparation, or even exploiting a glitch to tackle an area at a lower level, which again, helps maintain the illusion that player input matters. You’ve played (and blogged about) Dark Souls, which is a solid example of the sort of dichotomy I’m talking about.

    • Those three problems are certainly reasonable ones to have, but I don’t think it’s right to say that games aren’t allowed to do those things. Obviously if the reviewer doesn’t like those things, then they’re going to give the game a negative score, but I think it has to be acknowledged that there are plenty of people who don’t care about those issues, i.e. people who enjoy grinding, which in turn equals people who keep these games selling. I think people who like grinding are underrepresented in video game reviews and discussion. (Probably because they’re too busy grinding to write anything.)

  5. I rarely grind in games because grinding is boring. The last time I grinded in a game was Maplestory, lucky I had some music playing or else I wouldn’t last 5 minutes of grinding. I often use the time when I’m grinding to try out new skills or to make a combo that works well against bosses.

    I hated the grinding in Dragon Nest, repeating the same dungeons over and over again, so many times that you know exactly where the monsters will spawn and repeating the same tactics over and over again.
    To make the grinding a little interesting, I would turn up the difficulty of the dungeon, the behavior of the boss doesn’t change, but it has more hp and has higher damage, so I have to make sure I dodge every hit and hit the boss at the correct time.

  6. I personally LOVE “grinding” I can do it for days and days and… weeks! But I HAVE to love the game play/combat otherwise I’ll just stop playing. “If I get to a grindy bit and decide I don’t like the game’s combat, then I quit playing.” <- me… which is why I still haven't finished FFVII

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