Grinding as Achievement and Extender

Should I blame CRPGs for grinding, or do we want to go back further? I remember long ago in the original Final Fantasy, seeking out wandering encounters so that I could get that bit more experience or treasure for taking on the next boss. I suppose I should not be surprised to find it in online multiplayer flash games. You see it everywhere once you start to look for it. But why, because people feel like there is more game if they spend longer squeezing the enjoyment or accomplishment from it? Time spent is a cost, not a benefit!

Dream World is one of those click games that give you X turns to adventure, wait Y minutes for your turns to refresh. You will find 100 games like it; I noticed this one because it has Kongregate badges. It also awards experience for simple math and logic puzzles, so you know I had to look around. But each zone has five sub-zones that vary only in enemy level (plus a bit of color and nomenclature). You must kill a few thousand enemies to get through it all, even though you face the same six-ish enemies in different colors for five levels of sub-zones, even though there are no mechanical differences between those six-ish and their re-named/-skinned version in the other zones, even though they use the same math and logic puzzles in every zone. If you complete one quest, you have seen all the gameplay. Maybe they make more RMT with the grind; they have a community around the game, so it perhaps helps people feel committed.

And there are hundreds of games in this vein. Hundreds! I know that this and its PvP-prone ilk were awesome, when I was 14, in the ones that favor time instead of money and therefore give you a false sense of achievement when you are a young nerd not noticing the precious minutes passing into oblivion, but… are people really demanding enough of these to support hundreds? At least Kingdom of Loathing has humor and interesting mechanics; perhaps some of the others develop those if they get years of development.

Elements is one of the best ersatz-Magic: the Gathering games I have seen. You build a deck and play the computer or other players. It is more creature-focused than Magic, with few spell attacks and almost no deck or environment manipulation. You can build a good deck quickly with in-game rewards, but then the advancement hits a cliff with a very high mesa. I enjoyed a deck that took just a few hundred electrum (in-game currency) to construct, plus some free cards. That took perhaps as much time as it took to work out the rules and gameplay. Then it encourages you to upgrade your cards for 1500 electrum each. If you are not in the endgame, a good deck farms 30 to 50 electrum per game. Assume the minimum deck size (30): fully upgrading one deck will involve grinding out 900-1500 games. The endgame False Gods play with entirely upgraded decks; you can get some wins with no upgrades, but as someone who reads MMO blogs, there is a fair chance that you are the “best in slot” OCD type who fights for that extra 2% optimization. Oh, and there are rare cards that you cannot buy at the bazaar, so just keep playing and hope you can win one at the end. There is no RMT, just a very steep divide between new players and veteran farmers. Once you have one leg over that divide and can start winning free upgraded cards from False Gods, you are in business. (Cue the familiar bootstrapping problem. You are not welcome in the raid unless you can prove you have already beaten this raid.)

Does this grind really appeal to the Achiever? I know, creating Explorer content is hard because you explore it once and are done, while the grind extends into infinity. Optimizing a farming deck is fun; farming with it for a thousand rounds is not.

You could just play without paying attention to the grind. I don’t know what else there is in Dream World, but Elements is a diverting game. Less efficiently, you could play PvP and gradually get rewards that way. You can even restrict yourself to “no upgrades” PvP games, although there is still farming for rare cards (or accepting that you’ll be at a disadvantage against those who farmed them).

Something about the existence of the grind bothers me. I feel its presence. Its presence seeks you out. WoW presses your Achiever button more than real life because it constantly gives you little doses of Achievement, little numbers that pop up during and after every fight. That is nice when it feels like free candy from the sky, but it palls when you tire of the treadmill. You have a constant grind reminder and update. There must be an option to hide those in WoW, but you will not find that in a flash game. It will stop you after each round to mention how many steps you have taken on the treadmill.

It is like how cheat codes and meta-gaming can ruin how you feel about a game. If you knew you could be paid twice as much for your meatspace job, wouldn’t you push the “more free money” button? You’d feel like a sap knowing it was there while you toiled away for subpar gains. In your MMO, if there is a daily quest to farm boars, you are probably not going to farm boars for lesser rewards in between quests. The Achiever grind comes to you, telling you what a clod you are for missing out on what you could have had for just a couple of well-placed clicks. And you cannot un-know it.

Even if you are just playing for fun, you cannot un-know that the Achiever subtext is there, stalking you. Every time coins, points, or whatnot appear on the screen, it implicitly asks you for more. Your score is going up; you must want a higher score; why aren’t you raising it more? Free money; I like money; why not detour for that easy cache of coins? What gets measured gets done, and it is right there, asking whether you measure up.

But mostly, the huge grind between bits of new content is what gets me. “Oh sure, we have some neat stuff next zone. Just grind a few hours and you’ll be strong enough to see it.” I have learned everything I am going to learn here, I am ready for the next zone. Gimme.

: Zubon

3 thoughts on “Grinding as Achievement and Extender”

  1. I think they try to cover everyone but focus on people who can play in small bite sized chunks.

    Imagine the millions who can grind on their own time. Totally in control of how much they grind and when. They can play for 4 minutes one day, come back the next day when they have 5 to 10 free minutes in their day.

    It’s an awesome time killer when you’re standing in that horrible boring line at the DMV or airport. And within the limited time you have each day to play, you still can earn an achievement or two.

  2. Personally I’m ok with that type of grind. There are two things that will keep me grinding: chance to find uber loot that will propel me a few tiers (be it currancy or ability to handle much harder mobs), and a real end game goal accomplished purely from the grind. As well, some medium term gain provides another nice carrot, be it crafting mats or steady currency. This is where WoW fails me a bit in that questing is king, which frustrates me since questing is boring.

    But nice to see the Elements grind put in firm numbers. Fun game!

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