I think I have something new for you, but Raph has covered similar territory. At the very least you get a new word.
The digger wasp (Genus: sphex) is the unheralded mascot of the grind. When laying eggs, it makes a nest, finds a bug, paralyzes the bug, drags it home, makes sure the nest is okay, drags the bug in, lays eggs on it, and buries the whole thing. When the eggs hatch, the bug will still be there for baby wasps to eat.
The interesting part is that this is all mindless, genetically determined behavior. The sphex has no idea what it is doing. If you were to move the bug while the sphex was double-checking the nest, it would come out, see no bug, and reset its mental programming to go find a bug. Coming upon the paralyzed bug three inches away, it would drag it back to the nest, make sure the nest is okay, and come back out to discover that you have moved its paralyzed bug three inches away again. Reset, go find a bug, hey here’s one! Drag it home, go inside to make sure the next is okay, and come back out to discover…
Wow, you’re a jerk. You just keep moving its objective a few inches away and laughing as it keeps doing the same thing.
Douglas Hofstadter’s word “sphexishness” is used to mean tolerance for repetition. The wasp does not realize that it is in a loop, doing the same thing over and over again. Each time it finds no bug, it treats it as a novel situation.
Frankly, as a little-used term, it is somewhat under-specified and I am going to appropriate it for my own use. When you are grinding orcs or whatever, you realize that you are grinding (FSM I hope so). But you keep doing it. You are sufficiently entertained by going through the same motions, with minor variations, again and again.
When playing my City of Villains Stalker, I sneak up on a group of three yellow minions, Assassin Strike the first one, Build Up-Eagle’s Claw-Crane Kick the second one, Placate-Assassin Strike the third one. There can be minor variations, such as when I hit my 5% miss chance, but that is a solved problem as well. I have assassinated thousands of minions and lieutenants, and there are no possible unsolved problems in that sphere.
I have heard children’s behavior described similarly as working out unsolved problems in physical space. You might see a kid pouring water back and forth between a pitcher and a glass, or stacking a tower of blocks, knocking it over, and re-stacking. This is all new for them, and their brains are still getting a grasp on how this gravity thing works.
Antisphexishness is not just a desire for novelty but possibly the nature of consciousness. “It is a general sensitivity to patterns, an ability to spot patterns of unanticipated types in unanticipated places at unanticipated times in unanticipated media.” It is the reason why procedural content
is can be bad: once you see the pattern behind it all, it reduces everything to a solved problem.
Killing ten wolves is not more interesting than killing ten rats. A wolf is a rat with different numbers and graphics, maybe a different ability. The fundamental is the same. A goblin is a bipedal wolf, an orc shaman is a goblin with a fireball spell, and a dragon is a flying shaman. Almost everything in the game can be understood as fiddling with variables on a fairly simple template.
The actual content is what is new. “Kill ten rats” and “bring me ten rat tails” only add content to the extent that the quest text is novel. If you add an “orc shaman leader” that also has a freezing spell, that is new for the seconds that it takes me to work out “orc shaman + purple tint + second fireball with less damage and a slow effect.” City of Villains has endless newspaper missions, but really it is the same mission with a narrow range of variation.
When you are learning how the game works, that is antisphexishness. It is new and exciting. There are lots of moving pieces and you have no idea how they work. Learning how they work is fun. An ideal pacing keeps adding new pieces as you become comfortable with the old ones. A poor pacing leads to The Grind, which is sphexishness. You are performing by rote. You already know how to defeat goblins, and defeating 100 of them to level is not an interesting variation. Learning how to do a new raid is interesting. Once you know what you are doing, “farm status” is just sphexishness, raiding by rote until you get your new gear.
Yet Another Fantasy MMORPG is sphexishness. I said The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™ is WoW because the gameplay is a solved problem with minor variation. Making EverQuest in space is just the same, with different graphics. No, it does not help to call it “morale” instead of “health” or “fuel cells” instead of “mana.”
This is why you cannot recapture the magic of your first MMO. It was all new then. The better you are able to transfer your skills from one game to another, the less fun the new game is because it is already a solved problem.
This is not to say that it cannot be fun to play in your comfort zone. Working with your friends like a well-oiled machine has its own joys, but once you really start to feel like a machine, what is left?
Edit to add: there is reason to doubt the original sphex narrative, as apparently there is a spread of sphexishness in sphex. There is more of a bell curve in how likely a wasp is to repeat behavior as opposed to just dragging the food inside. It is not just that all sphex perform this behavior endlessly. The nuance of the researched was dropped along the way of a good story, and I have not gone back to trace all of the research in this game of Telephone.