Grinding (video gaming)
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Grinding is a term used in video gaming to describe the process of engaging in repetitive tasks during video games. The most common usage is in the context of MMORPGs like Realm of the Mad God, Tibia, or Lineage  in which it is often necessary for a character to repeatedly kill AI-controlled monsters, using basically the same strategy over and over again to advance their character level to be able to access newer content. MUDs, generally sharing much of the same gameplay as MMORPGs, often feature grinding as well. Grinding may be required by some games to unlock additional features such as level progression or additional items.
Synonyms for grinding include the figurative terms treadmilling (a comparison with exercise treadmills) and pushing the bar (it can be a reference to a weightlifter "pushing the bar" on a bench press, over and over to get muscle gains, or a reference to Skinner boxes in which animals, having learned that pushing a button will sometimes produce a treat, will devote time to pushing the bar over and over again, or also can be a graphical reference to push the character's experience bar to higher values). Related terms include farming (in which the repetition is undertaken in order to obtain items, relating the activity to tending a farm field), and catassing, which refers to extended or obsessive play sessions. Used as a noun, a grind (or treadmill) is a designed in-game aspect which requires the player to engage in grinding.
Grinding is a controversial subject among players. Many do not enjoy it, and disparage it as a symptom of poor or uninspired game design. Others embrace it, claiming that all games feature grinding to some extent, or claim to enjoy the practice of regular grinding. Some games, especially free-to-play games, allow players to bypass grinding by paying additional fees.
Several answers have been suggested for the question of why players grind. A major motivating factor is the players' desire to pursue what appears to be the game's ultimate goal, which for many games is to reach the highest level. Sometimes players might actually enjoy repetitive tasks as a way of relaxing, especially if performing the task has a persistent, positive result.
One reason that is less influenced by player choice is a lack of game content or to be able to battle stronger enemies. If the player experiences all interesting content at the current level before reaching the next objective, the only alternative might be for the player to grind to the next level. "Interesting content" is key here since the player might have been given "new content" that is too similar to previous content to be considered interesting by the player. [note 1]
Additionally, the players may grind for the enjoyment of being better at the game. Putting in the time to grind leads the player to gain experience and level up. Increases in level often come with additional statistical boosts and new abilities, which in turn allow the player to defeat stronger enemies. Time invested in grinding is usually related to strength or ability in the game. This relationship is encouraging to players, consistently rewarding their grinding effort.
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While grinding's potential to cause players to stop being entertained may be seen as contradictory to good game design, it has been justified in several different ways. The first explanation is that it helps ensure a level playing field. According to the Pareto principle, players with better aim, faster reactions, or more extensive tactical knowledge will quickly dominate the entire game, frustrating the now-powerless vast majority. By creating a direct correlation between in-game power and time spent grinding, every player has the potential to reach the top 20% (although the Pareto principle will still apply to the amount of time spent grinding).
The problem may not be that talent and skill are rewarded, but that the rewards are based on relative talent and skill. If only the top 20% of a game's players are rewarded, 80% must be receiving little reward, even if objectively they are highly talented. If there is no hope in the future of these players being rewarded, they will likely leave the game, causing the population to shrink, and thus reducing the number of people who can be in the top 20%. Grinding has the benefit that, although only 20% of the population may be rewarded at any given time, 100% of the population will have the potential to be rewarded in the future, and will have no reason to quit. Raph Koster also addressed this issue, explaining that "... the average user is below average — meaning, the median user lies below the mean on the win-loss curve, because the win-loss curve turns out to be a power-law distribution." [jargon]
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Though grinding is used to provide a "level playing field", this effect could be achieved with any time-consuming behavior that is accessible to all and provides game advancement; The behavior need not be tedious or repetitive, as the term grinding generally implies. For example, in a game where advancement is gained by killing monsters, the game could provide such a huge variety of monsters and environments that no two kills are ever the same. As long as all players remained equally capable of killing the monsters, the same leveling-off effect would be generated. Thus, the "level playing field" effect is considered by some to be a misleading attempt to hide the real reason for grinding: unwillingness to budget sufficient content resources to produce a varied game.
To solve the grinding issue, E McNeill proposes that "the most effective path to victory should also be the most fun". For example, challenging tasks should give better rewards than easy tasks.
Another alternative to grinding is to remove designer-defined objectives, leaving players free to do whatever they want. This creates a new problem where many players might be confused about what they are supposed to do, or they might lack the motivation to do much of anything in the virtual world.
Players of subscription-based online games often criticize grinds as a heavy-handed attempt to gain profit. The most interesting and challenging gameplay is often only available to characters at the highest levels, who are those strong enough to participate in raids or player versus player combat. Grinding is seen as a reason to increase the amount of time it takes to reach these levels, forcing the player to pay more subscription fees along the way.
It has also been observed[by whom?] that intense grinding can actively damage the role-playing aspect of a game by making nonsense of the simulated world. A classic example of this occurred in Star Wars Galaxies, where skills were improved by using them. It was therefore possible to see groups of three people, in which: one person was repeatedly deliberately falling over, taking a small amount of damage each time; another person was healing the first, increasing one's healing skill, and taking "stress" damage oneself; a third person was dancing for the other, relieving their "stress" damage and increasing their dancing skill. Star Wars Galaxies later revised the skill system with a sweeping overhaul called the New Game Experience (NGE). A number of players left the game afterwards, claiming that NGE made the game simplistic.
Various games' approaches to issues of grinding
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- RuneScape often requires the player to do repetitive tasks to level-up skills. An example would be the "Slayer" skill, which requires players to defeat a certain number of a specific type of creature. The monsters are randomly chosen based on the player's combat level. Players gain experience while fighting the monsters, which increases both their Slayer level and their combat skills. Because the effort is repetitive and time-consuming, it is considered "grinding". A newer skill called "Dungeoneering" was introduced that does not require grinding, due to randomly generated scenarios to play through. Yet advancing in Dungeoneering requires players to "grind" dungeons and complete them over and over. The grinding play style has led to a large macroing playerbase, which Jagex has dealt with.
- The Lord of the Rings Online features a "title system" in which players are rewarded special titles, and often new abilities, for killing massive quantities of particular types of enemies. This can make grinding lucrative, as the player benefits from the added experience points and can receive a title they can show off to other players. For example, killing large numbers of Wargs grants the player the "Warg-Slayer" title. Killing even more Wargs results in more advanced titles, such as "Warg Foe" and so on. This system also exists in City of Heroes/City of Villains, where these titles are named "badges".
- Guild Wars tries to reduce grinding by using a very low maximum level (20). Equipment with maximum statistics become easy to obtain at maximum level. Players can still improve themselves by acquiring new and different skills so they can create more varied combinations of skills, or they can gather points for titles that improve certain skills usable only in PvE. The game was designed to be difficult even for players who have reached the maximum level and obtained the best equipment, but without creating huge gaps between the hardcore and casual players so that both could enjoy the same challenges. Additionally, any more time spent playing only produces better-looking characters,[clarification needed] rather than stronger characters, so that, unlike most MMORPGs, success is a matter of strategy rather than time spent in the game.
- Eve Online features a system that does not require continuous play to increase character skill. Characters are plugged into their ship's computer and are trained at a rate based on their attributes. Attributes can be enhanced to decrease training time; however, training occurs continuously, in real time, whether the player is logged in or not. Some of the advanced skills can take as long as a month or more of to reach the next level. Players still have to grind for ISK (money), minerals, and NPC faction standing.
- Final Fantasy XII features a "Chain" effect, which occurs when a player kills the same monster over and over; doing so increases the number on the Chain and increases the quality of the items dropped by the killed enemy. With a maximum of 999 chained kills, the Chain can only be broken by killing a different monster, or leaving the area.
- MapleStory features a party quest, called the Dojo PQ, that can be done with several players or solo. It is available to all players level 25 or above. It is a boss rush, in which the player or players revisit many bosses, one by one, all in a row. Beating every boss gets you Dojo points, which, when accumulated in large numbers, can be used to get equipment for the player's character which boost stats. Players can also get a title for 24 hours when they beat a certain boss 100 times.
- World of Warcraft features dungeons that can be played in segments, so that players can play the game in smaller chunks of time, allowing people who can't afford to dedicate several hours of continuous playing time to complete them. The game also includes a "resting system" which increases the rate of experience gain for casual players, based on the amount of time spent out of the game. Similar systems exist in other games, including Lord of the Rings Online and City of Heroes.
- ROBLOX, Halloween 2013: The Witching Hour featured a large city map known as 'Bloxburg' in which players navigated through in order to complete on a number of 'quests' they were tasked with. These quests were given to players by ROBLOX staff NPCs within the game through dialogue boxes. The quests required users to dedicate numerous hours to the game, knocking from door to door to 'trick or treat' and fight Halloween monsters. Chests were sometimes acquired through the battles that ensued, as well as cosmetic items and quest loot. The player had to complete these almost identical NPC battles hundreds of times to progress through the quest system and gain virtual items on the ROBLOX website. The main gameplay dynamic was fighting the NPCs within the houses, with a side mechanic of walking (or riding on a motorbike) between houses and quest characters.
- Game designer Raph Koster gives an example of "Fireball VI" being uninteresting.
- Sorens, Neil (2007-03-26). "Rethinking the MMO". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2009-03-06.
- Thompson, Clive (2008-07-28). "Back to the Grind in WoW — and Loving Every Tedious Minute". Wired:Games Without Frontiers. Retrieved 2009-03-06.
- Christian Stöcker (2006-08-25). "An Interview with the Maker of "World of Warcraft"". Spiegel online.
- Lawley, Liz (2006-08-05). "In Praise of the Grind". Terra Nova. Retrieved 2009-03-06. "[...] I want to relax, to clear my mind, to do something repetitive that provides visible (to me, not to you) and lasting evidence of my efforts [...]"
- Koster, Raph (2007-04-23). "The game without treadmills".
- Koster, Raph (2003). "Small Worlds: Competitive and Cooperative Structures in Online Worlds".
- Grinding and the Burden of Optimal Play - E McNeill, Gamasutra, 21 July 2014
- Dunin, Elonka (ed.) (March 2003). "IGDA Online Games White Paper, 2nd Edition" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2004-09-20.
- "MapleStory - A Free Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game". Maplestory.nexon.net. Retrieved 2010-05-28.