Grinding (video games)
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In video games, grinding is performing repetitive tasks, usually for a gameplay advantage or loot but in some cases for purely aesthetic or cosmetic benefits. Popularized by Secret of Mana and Phantasy Star IV in 1993, many video games use different tactics to implement, or reduce, the amount of grinding in the gameplay. The general use of grinding is for "experience points", or to improve a character's level. In addition, the behavior is sometimes referred to as pushing the bar (leveling up), farming (acquiring loot repeatedly from one source), or catassing.
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 either that all games feature grinding to some extent or that they enjoy grinding. Some games, especially free-to-play games, allow players to bypass grinding by paying additional fees.
Grinding in MMORPG can be advantageous, using the same strategy to repeatedly kill AI-controlled monsters to advance one's character level and unlock the content. Some games may require grinding to unlock additional features or 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.
Some players may program scripts, bots, macros, and other automation tools to perform repetitive tasks. This is usually considered a form of hacking or an exploit by game developers and may result in a ban. Due to the controversial subject of grinding, this act is sometimes, but not always, frowned upon in the games community.
Players' desire to reach the highest possible level often motivates grinding. Alternatively, players might enjoy performing repetitive tasks as a way of relaxing, especially if the task has a persistent positive result.
A need to grind may result from lack of game content or the inability to battle stronger enemies. If the player experiences all of a level's interesting content before reaching the next objective, but is not powerful enough to proceed, grinding may be the only available gameplay option. "Interesting" content is distinct from merely new content which is too similar to previous content to be considered interesting by the player. [note 1]
Players may also grind simply to become better at the game, gaining experience and leveling up. Level increases often come with additional statistical boosts and new abilities which allow the player to defeat stronger enemies, which in turn rewards and encourages grinding.
The repetitiveness of grinding have given birth to early iteration of idle games, such as Ayumilove's HackerQuest V1 (2008) parodying a bot grinding for items and avoiding GMs (Game Masters) in a Maple Story game, a famous MMORPG from Korea at that time.
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 a 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.
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 or inability 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.
The IGDA Online Games Special Interest Group has noted that level treadmills are part of the addictive quality of MMORPGs that caters to those who play more than 25 hours a week. Another criticism of the entire leveling concept and level playing field approach is that it often allows the player to avoid difficult strategic or reflexive challenges that one might encounter when fighting powerful opponent challenges. By spending a large amount of time battling weaker or easily defeated characters (a practice known as bottomfeeding), players can gain levels to have little difficulty vanquishing the more difficult enemy. 
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). Several players left the game afterward, claiming that NGE made the game simplistic.
Various games' approaches to issues of grinding
- 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.
- Borderlands 2 requires players to repetitively kill specific enemies multiple times to acquire Legendary items. Legendary drops are not guaranteed to be dropped the first time, so the enemy who drops the desired item will likely have to be killed over and over.
- Black Desert Online contains the literal definition of grinding in the most simplistic sense, as the methods of making money are through any of the several "lifeskills" such as cooking, or combat through killing monsters. Combat is generally considered to be better, however players often complain about its repetitiveness. The grind of combat is done by creating what is called a "rotation", or a circuit in an area populated by monsters, and run through that circuit while killing the monsters on the player-decided path repetitively, generally from as little as an hour to as long as 4 or 6. Progression is quite quick at lower gear and experience levels, with an increase in several minutes to only a few hours for each. However for the strong and highest-levelled players, they could spend over one hundred hours grinding before they have enough money for a single upgrade.
- 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.
Other Rewards/Advanced Rewards
- 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 existed in City of Heroes/City of Villains, where these titles were named "badges".
- 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.
- Warframe features grinding in one of its purest forms, but also a quite developed fashion: Every Warframe's parts are acquired differently - The most drop from boss fights within the game, others can be easily purchased from a Clan's Dojo, while certain Warframe parts have a percentage chance of dropping from certain game modes once the player spends enough time in them. Warframe supports "endless" and "non-endless" missions - With "non-endless" having a set objective, such as capturing a VIP target for interrogation, and "Endless" being infinitely replayable, such as defending an important piece of equipment or intercepting and decrypting enemy communications. Endless missions use a Rotation system, with three different "Drop Tables", one for each. The rule of thumb for Endless missions is AABC, meaning that on rounds 1 and 2, the item that is granted to the player will be selected from Drop Table A, for round 3 it will be chosen from Drop Table B, and round 4, Drop Table C. The cycle repeats per four rounds until the player leaves the mission. "Non-endless" missions may function in two ways: First, missions such as capturing an enemy will have a single drop table and semi-randomly draw an item from it each time, with a certain chance for each item. Missions with more objectives, such as infiltrating three "Data Vaults" will have multiple drop tables, one for each objective. Completing more objectives in "non-endless" missions will allow the player to have a chance at the rarest items included in the last drop table.
- Guild Wars attempts to reduce grinding by using a very low maximum level (20). Equipment with maximum statistics becomes easy to obtain at a 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. Play past the level cap usually provides rewards in the form of tokens and specific in-game currencies that contribute to rarer and often visually superior cosmetic items for player avatars compared to the most easily acquired sets. The focus in these late-game areas is therefore usually aimed at effective teamwork and how the players approach a problem as opposed to the degree of statistics acquired by playtime.
- 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 to reach the next level. Players generally have to grind for ISK (money), minerals, and NPC faction standing. However, the in-game alliance CODE. protests grinding, by attacking or 'ganking' anyone suspected of 'illegal' grinding.
- Minecraft allows structures called mob grinders that automate the process of killing monsters, usually by gathering them with flowing water and killing them with a large fall at the end of the water flow. When built, such a grinder removes the need to fight or work for the mob drops as they become generated passively.
- Black Desert Online contains the literal definition of grinding in the most simplistic sense, as the methods of making money are through any of the several "lifeskills" such as cooking, or combat through killing monsters. A cooking session consists of cooking the same dish several hundred or even thousand times for several hours, over and over. This may be performed completely AFK at a lower efficiency, and is popular among players who can attend to their character only periodically, or it may be performed more actively, with as little as 8 minutes before the cooking stove, or utensil as it is called ingame, is depleted depending on the utensil, gear, and various consumable buffs used.
- Grand Theft Auto Online features passive businesses that produce various types of cargo automatically that can be later sold for profit. The player is only required to resupply the businesses and do a sell mission once the production is finished. An exception is the "Nightclub" business that can produce goods without the need to resupply. While the game has a mechanic that kick out of the game players who stay AFK for more than 15 minutes, some usually bypass this by accessing security cameras located in various ownable properties, which stop the AFK timer.
Shorter Time Commitments
- World of Warcraft features dungeons that can be played in segments, so that players can play the game in smaller chunks of time, allowing ones 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.
- 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 the player Dojo points, which, when accumulated in large numbers, can be used to get equipment for the player's character which boosts stats. Players can also get a title for 24 hours when they beat a certain boss 100 times.
- Game designer Raph Koster gives an example of "Fireball VI" being uninteresting.
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[...] 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 [...]
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