Archive for May 30th, 2007

Read the forums and discussions about almost any massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), and you are bound to notice the repeated mention of what players call “the grind.” What most players mean by this is the dull, tedious, boring, and repetitive actions that one often takes when engaging in the game-play of the MMORPG’s system. For example, in many games, crafting (if it exists at all) is a very grind-oriented activity: you take some resources, and using a simple interface, you click the same buttons over and over again. Each creation of an item gets you some “crafting experience,” and after enough experience has been gained, you gain a “crafting level” or “crafting skill” or something along those lines. The activity often has to be repeated hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of times to gain a single level, clicking the same three or four buttons over and over again in exactly the same sequence. To almost anyone sane, this would be a boring, tedious, and probably objectionable activity, and yet not only is it present in most crafting systems of which I am aware, but it has generally been purposely designed to be that way. In other words, crafting is supposed to be a grind.

Other sorts of activity in online games also can be a grind. If there is harvesting, often you have to do some very similar clicking over and over on a single resource spot, using the same three or four keys or mouse clicks, to gain enough resource to sell or use. Depending on the game you may also have to “level up” in harvesting, the way you do in crafting. Again, hundreds or thousands of clicks might be required to gain a “harvesting level.” Again, this is not remotely interesting, but rather is boring and tedious to most players.

And then of course there is the “combat grind” — this is the sort of gameplay where players are expected to go out and kill the same enemy over and over, dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of times, so that they can gain a level (or a “skill box,” or however the game is set up to recognize character improvement).  Often the grind is purposely designed and quite explicit, such as when, in City of Heroes, you get a quest telling you to “go defeat 25 Warriors in Talos Island.” There’s nothing particularly different about beating the third, or the tenth, or the twentieth Warrior, as they are all more or less identical, and so this is just a “grind” — a simple activity that is repeated over, and over, and over again to either complete a quest or gain a level.

Now, as I have said in other posts on this blog, players usually play games for the purpose of having fun. It would seem rather self-evident, then, that most players probably wouldn’t like “the grind,” because, after all, the grind is boring, tedious, repetitive, — in other words, not fun at all.  And as you might imagine, players often post their complaints about the grind in the forums of games that have grinds as part of their gameplay. Perhaps one of the most “grindy” games in the MMORPG arena right now is Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Pretty much everything in that game is a pure grind. There are a few original and somewhat-interesting quests, but after 10th level or so (which goes by very quickly for most players) the rest of the game is mostly a grind. Not surprisingly, a number of people have made posts  in their forums complaining about this, and asking why the game was (seemingly) deliberately designed to be such a grind.

The answer from those who (bizarrely enough) actually like the grind, is that Vanguard is a “hardcore” game aimed at “hardcore” players, and that people who don’t like it are simply not “hardcore enough.” And at this point one of the people engaging in the discussion said something that I think was frankly brilliant in its simplicity and accuracy, which I will paraphrase here:

What people really seem to mean by a game or activity in an MMORPG being “hardcore” is that it is something designed to be endured, rather than enjoyed.

And that, it seems to me, is the crux of it. If you have to endure it, put up with it, suffer through it, then it is a “hardcore” activity and if you are capable of it then you are a “hardcore player.” If you instead, demand enjoyment for your monthly subscription fee, or fun, or entertainment, why then, you are just a “casual” player (or possibly even a “carebear,” which is the insult that most of the “hardcore players” like to hurl at those who decry tedium and demand entertainment of their games).

In my opinion, “hardcore” is the wrong word to use for these people. I think a better word for it is “nutjob.” Think about it. These “hardcore” players are paying a company for something that they have to endure… suffer through… something they have to “grind out” (through gritted teeth, one can only imagine). That, to me, is a nutjob.  On the other hand, people who demand pleasure and enjoyment for their money, these people, to me, are the rational folks.

Interestingly, the world is made up of a whole lot more rational folks (“casual players”) than nutjobs (“hardcore players). The evidence for this could not be clearer. The “casual” oriented games like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars are doing swimmingly, and the “hardcore” oriented games like Vanguard are dying on the vine. Most people, clearly, are not willing to pay someone for an activity they have to endure. They’ll pay only if they are enjoying it. This makes sense to me. The reverse (paying for what you have to endure, but do not enjoy) does not.

And so, the next time you see people arguing over a “grind” in an MMORPG, and you see people defending the grind because it makes the game “hardcore,” just remember what they are really saying — that the game is meant to be endured, not enjoyed. And then, perhaps, ask whether you think it is worth paying money for something that, at best, you have to suffer through. I can tell you right now what my call is in a case like that.

I hit the cancel button.

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