Why Do People Hate Grinding (And Why Do I Love It)?
I love grinding, and I know that's an odd opinion to have. For most people, having to grind in a game is boring and merely an obstacle to get to the good part. But why is that?
The idea of how weird it is that I enjoy grinding came to me while I was recently playing a game called Cubicle Quest. In this game, if you travel to the basement of your character's castle and look in the library, a book will tell you how you can easily go through the game by grinding and brute forcing your way through everything, but that there was never any reason to have to play that way.
One of the reasons this bothered me is because the final boss of the game seems to have no other way to defeat it other than grinding and leveling your party and then brute forcing through the fight, but that's only part of it. The other part is because what the game is suggesting as alternatives are grinding in a way as well.
But that's sort of besides the point.
What is Grinding?
To figure out why other people hate grinding and I love it, I think it's helpful to have an understanding of what grinding is and why it exists in gaming.
In the blog post "Grinding - why we love (and hate) monotonous tasks," Louise Stigell separates grinding into two categories, the hard grind and the relaxing grind, defining them separately. The hard grind is something that is partially or completely necessary in order to progress in the game, and has an element of challenge to it. The relaxing grind is more what people tend to think of when they think of grinding - monotonous tasks like collecting resources or battling relatively easy enemies endlessly for experience.
Rowan Kaiser, in his article "Grinding and its relationship with the RPG genre," goes a different route with his definition. He claims there is no real definition of grinding, instead concluding, "Grinding is an entirely subjective measure of whether the game is enjoyable or not."
So these are two different ways to approach defining grinding, with Stigell clearly defining types and Kaiser coming to the conclusion that basically anything in a game can be considered grinding, and the term is only assigned when a player decides they don't enjoy something. For simplicity, let's say that when people say they hate grinding, they're really saying they hate what Stigell referred to as the "relaxing grind," such as having to stop progressing to level up your party members in an RPG before a boss battle, as I had to do in my Cubicle Quest example.
Why Does Grinding Exist?
So what's the point of games having grinding in the first place?
Carey Martell gives an explanation for the specific case of grinding in MMORPGs in his video "Why MMORPGs have Level Grinding."
To summarize, the idea is that when a player starts an MMORPG, the game is designed to hook them at the beginning, and then keep the player playing longer as levels require more experience to advance.
This touches on one of the reasons grinding exists in general, and not just for MMORPGs. Grinding in any game can keep the player playing longer. In some cases, this leads to an artificial extension of the game's play time because it has forced the player to take time to grind instead of progress in the game.
But the existence of grinding in a game doesn't have to be for a negative reason. Stigell says that one way grinding can be utilized is if it is incorporated into a game as an option to pursue, but not the only way to progress in the game. This is what Cubicle Quest attempts to do in its suggestion to alter your strategy rather than grinding. In this scenario, grinding exists in a game so that the player has more of a choice of play style.
Grinding is Boring
It's probably obvious by now that I don't take a negative view of grinding, but I know that monotonous boredom is a major reason why people hate it. They find grinding tedious and, at best, a necessary evil in order to actually progress in a game.
Patricia Hernandez, in her article "Are We Being Unfair When We Say That Grinding Sucks?", points out that what it really all comes down to is framing and the player's state of mind. She says that at one point, she had compared grinding to putting up with a job you hate rather than following your dreams. But then a friend suggested to her that people can still find fulfillment in those types of jobs and that "there's nothing wrong with not being hyper ambitious."
Hernandez also quotes Jason Schreier, who says, "It's easy to love a world where improvement is guaranteed, where life follows a set of rules that allow you to level up and get better at your job not because of talent or luck, but because you worked at it. Effort guarantees results."
This really drives home the point that the player's state of mind is really what determines whether or not grinding is ultimately seen as positive or negative. Do you have those lofty ambitions and feel like you're above this menial labor of grinding, or do you get satisfaction from achieving a goal because you chipped away at it with the certain knowledge that you'd succeed eventually?
So now to answer the second half of the question I posed. Why do I love grinding? Well, I suppose I'm one of those people finding fulfillment in a menial job.
Outside of games, I'm an anxiety-ridden wreck who struggles through life because I'm not certain of where I'm headed and if I'll ever be able to achieve the few goals I actually have set for myself. Grinding is mindless and peaceful, with very low stakes, because I'm assured that I'll hit the level I need eventually as long as I keep training on those low level enemies I know for a fact I can endlessly defeat.
Games are meant to be escapist fantasy, or at least that's the role they serve for many people, including myself. My fantasy just happens to be boring to everyone else, and I'm okay with that. I'll just keep sitting here skilling in RuneScape and training my Pokemon, and enjoying the knowledge that I'll get where I'm going eventually.