MMOs didn’t invent The Grind

Several times over the last couple of years I’ve read the sentiment that more and more grindy game mechanics are creeping into single player games of late, and that the success of such mechanics in the MMO genre are to blame for this development.

I disagree. In my opinion The Grind has been an integral part of video gaming since, well, the advent of video games.

First off I’d like to make clear what I mean when I say grind in this particular case, since grind, like P2W or casual, seems to be a rather subjective gaming term.

By my definition to grind in a video game means doing the same thing over and over and over again in order to reach specific goals.

Don’t ask what I’m doing with an icebear on a boat, you don’t wanna know

Let’s play a little game. Name the first five video games you’ve ever played, as far as you remember. If you’re around my age (which is 42) your list probably looks similar to mine:

Pole Position, Asteroids, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt.

Why is a game about shooting at marshmallows called Asteroids anyway?

Pole Position is the only one of those that I played on an arcade cabinet first, steering wheel and all. The rest I played on the Atari 2600, my first home-gaming device. Like pretty much every game of that time they all were originally developed for the arcade though.


Consequently these games had to encourage players to spend as much money as possible, and their gameplay design very much reflects that.

You always had a limited number of lives or tries, and the difficulty was always high enough to ensure that even very good players couldn’t possibly beat the game with just a few bucks spent.

At the arcade, whenever you decided not to continue by spending more money, in my case usually 1 DM for another set of lives, or if you had no continues left you had to start over from the very beginning.


Obviously the games’ console ports didn’t require you to insert any money, but since the gameplay usually remained unchanged you still had to go back to square one whenever you’d spent all lives and continues.

So that’s what we did. A lot.

During the mid- and late-eighties the huge success of home consoles and computers ushered in a new era of video games. More complex genres were devised, the ability to save and load game states became more common. Nevertheless a lot of new releases still followed the arcade formula for many years to come.


This is one of my all time favourite games, the Amiga version of Turrican 2. I bought it shortly after it released in 1991 and still play it from time to time on an emulator, believe it or not. I’ve probably seen the end credits about 30 to 40 times. How often I’ve played the first stages, however, I have absolutely no idea. It must have been hundreds of times.

My enjoyment didn’t suffer from it though. The game has nicely designed stages, superb music and slick controls. Advancing further and further with each try was motivating, it was more of a fun challenge than tedium and repetition. Even after I’d beaten the game I challenged myself to get better still, my measuring stick being the amount of lives I had left when the credits rolled. I believe my record was 32 (you start with three).

Going by my definition this is a prime example of grinding your butt off, as it were. And as I said, if you intended to beat pretty much any game during the eighties, and a great many games during the nineties as well, this was the only way to do it.

I think the fact that this type of gameplay-loop still persisted long after the arcade’s heyday – and still exists today – clearly shows that there’s more to it than just making people throw more money into coin slots. It seems human beings just like the kind of challenge I described in my example above. Many of us do, anyway.

So this is it? The grind has always been there, and that’s a good thing? Well, not quite.

The grind we encounter in a lot of games today is missing a key element: the aforementioned challenge to progress further than last time.

We don’t do our dailies or fight our monsters again and again because we didn’t manage to beat them before. We do it because the games withhold our rewards if we don’t. Rewards, I might add, that didn’t even exist in games of old. I guess in the end it’s a matter of taste which kind of grind is the worse one – or better one.

Yes, yes, I’ll do what you’re all asking…again

Anyhow, MMOs aren’t to blame for the latter kind of grind either. Endless slaughtering of non-challenging mobs just to level up has been around for ages, for example. Whether you played Final Fantasy, Ultima or any other RPG, chances are you’ve encountered a boss you just couldn’t beat at some point, so you had to go and get some levels before you tried again. Or how about killing the same bosses over and over for specific loot drops in Borderlands or Diablo?

This is getting kinda long, so I’ll try to get to the point.

The way I see it there’s always been grindy mechanics in video games. Some are specifically meant to keep us playing and paying, but most of them are mainly there because we actually like doing repetitive tasks and/or running against walls until we finally overcome them.

The former type is found in pretty much every MMO out there, yes, which is no wonder since those are and always have been about keeping people engaged and playing for a long time. But they definitely didn’t invent that stuff. I wish people would stop making that false argument to cast a poor light on the genre for whatever reason.

7 Replies to “MMOs didn’t invent The Grind”

  1. This is true! I don’t remember the earliest game I grinded but I used to grind on mobs to level up in a game if I knew a boss was coming. At the time I didn’t know the term “grind” so I just called it “training”.

    Granted, this was all self-imposed too. The earliest, not self-imposed, grind I can remember is Final Fantasy VIII, back in the original PS1 days. I had gotten through past about halfway through the game and was starting to have difficult fighting mobs in the overworld. Then I don’t know where I found the info but I discovered there were several weapon upgrades I didn’t get because I was supposed to have grinded for the materials to upgrade them somewhere else.

    That soured the whole experience for me so I quit the game and never finished it. One day though I will give the game another go and finish it though!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The theory has been that MMORPGs are more likely to include grindy mechanics due to their revenue model. Initially it was because they charged a monthly subscription fee, so seemed to be incentivized to keep people subscribed. Later, when F2P became the path for most MMORPGs, people noticed that cash shops tended to sell things like experience boosters, which effectively reduce grind. So, once again, the incentive appeared to be there to include grindy content.

    The problem has been that there is at least a seed of truth in those assertions. MMORPG devs are incentivized to keep people playing because that keeps people paying, in a way that a traditional single player game is not.

    Which is not to say there hasn’t been something akin to grind in such games. Grind there sometimes seems related to the theory that the more hours of play a game has, the better the value it is, and grind extends that.

    Of course, this all goes back to the idea of what constitutes grind in the first place. Grind is very subjective. I can find something fun one day, grindy the next, and good again the day after that. Sometimes we’re responsible for the grind.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There was an interesting definition of grind that I ran across on Reddit some time ago, but I can’t recall where.

    Essentially, grind is repetitive actions you do (which you may or may not enjoy in and of themselves) in order to enable yourself to do something that you do want to do (or reach or achieve or obtain.)

    The idea of having some -other- end in mind while doing -this- grindy thing seems to be implicit in the term.

    Meanwhile a set of actions meant to be repeated in a game could be described as a gameplay loop, which most games have, and endeavor to make engaging.

    The problem with grind arises when some players decide they don’t actually enjoy the moment to moment of said gameplay loops, but still convince themselves that the cookies at the end are desirable. Then they end up in unenjoyable grind and making themselves miserable for the end product.

    If one does enjoy gameplay loop A while getting to end B, then one is engaged in enjoyable grind, and wondering what in the world those other players are complaining about.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The gameplay you describe in offline video games from the 80s and 90s has a huge amount to do with why I dropped offline games like a hot brick the moment I discovered MMORPGs. Yes, I did consider all of that activity to be “grind”. For the most part I hated it. As Jeromai says, the drive to get to a specific goal sometimes meant I would grind away until I completed a level or whatever but I resented doing it both while it was happening and afterwards. It was self-evidently meaningless.

    When I started playing EQ, however, all that changed utterly. I was playing a character who lived in another reality and killing creatures to become more powerful and capable was how life was. It was a virtual world and those were its physical laws. It took several years before I reached the point where I looked at anything I was doing in terms of “gameplay”.

    Maybe some people were able to invest themselves emotionally in the icons of Space Invaders or Pac Man but not me. When I found myself becoming a Dwarf Cleric or a Half-Elf Ranger, though, it was easy. I felt like they had a place in their world and the “grind” was merely their expression of how life was for them.

    (When will I remember to switch NoScript off before commenting???)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. @ Jeromai – Interesting. By that definition the gameplay loop of games like Turrican wouldn’t be considered to be a grind at all on first glance. Like I said, in that specific case it certainly didn’t feel like one to me, so there’s definitely some truth to it.

    On the other hand I’ve heard people complain about having to repeat the early stages of games over and over just to get to the later ones quite often, so for them it does meet the criteria because they only played those stages grudgingly in order to progress further.

    Human beings are complicated. 🙂


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