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.
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.
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.
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.