Grinding is a concept in gaming that is quite strange when you really think about it. You’re using your leisure time to do menial tasks that are akin to chores in order to get items so that you can do even more chores. Many would chalk it up as a waste of your precious time on this great green earth, which isn’t entirely far from the truth, but yet we still do it to this day. Why? It’s a complicated question to answer because you need to look at what makes games tick in the first place. Many games are designed to give you rewards based on your performance. Incremental gains and incentives for doing tasks that involve the various gameplay systems within a game. This reward-based task management is an important part of why we enjoy games since it makes up the fundamental driving force of what you’re doing. Complete a puzzle, you finish a level. Find some weasel skulls, you gain some experience points.
Grinding is the purest form of this system. Where pretence is stripped out and replaced purely by doing the same tasks over and over in order to gain more and more. You get that little dopamine rush when you finally complete an armour set or get that legendary weapon and that feeling can often be very addictive. So addictive that corporations are starting to exploit this by trying to coax you into skipping that grind and getting right to the juicy stuff.
Yet, grinding remains popular in our games even without the exploitation being done and I firmly believe that when done correctly, the act of grinding can also be made incredibly fun. I now present you with five games to support that statement:
Loot-based games have been a part of gaming’s fabric since forever. Killing enemies and getting drops from their fallen corpses is a system so universal that it’s everywhere. But the one franchise that really got the balance right of fun versus loot, is Diablo. The very first game already had the blueprint on lock for how you can spend your time slaying the damned and getting rewarded for it. In later iterations, such as the recent Diablo III, things were turned up to eleven.
Diablo III features fast-paced and strategic gameplay across various classes making the act of playing the actual game a treat. The journey through the game’s story is only novel on the first playthrough but after which the focus shifts to getting the best gear as possible by defeating increasingly difficult bosses and really challenging yourself to be better. It creates this beautiful harmony between grinding down enemies and bosses and getting progressively better.
Diablo can be replaced with many loot-based games of the same ilk. RPGs, a few shooters, a couple of roguelikes even. But Diablo was one of the first games to really get the balance right of pure enjoyment and the monotony of grinding.
Real life is a grind, whether we like it or not. Wake up, do your same routine, go to work, come home, make dinner, play a few games and then sleep. Outside of a few times in a year where this routine is broken, you’re stuck in a loop of sameness. A game that captures that part of human existence but manages to make it beautiful is Stardew Valley.
You’re someone who has gotten sick of the monotony of salaried work and decided to go live on your grandfather’s farm that he gave you as an inheritance. Swapping the stressful corporate life for a simple one of farming. Every day you get up, go water your plants, do a little maintenance, maybe explore a dungeon and then go to bed, doing everything again the following day. Your routine gets broken by the various people you talk to in town and you potentially finding love later down the line.
However, this routine is also incredibly relaxing. The gentle music plays in your ears, nothing is really too stressful and you get whisked away to a more peaceful world where you’re picking some corn or milking your cows. You’re essentially grinding for a bigger farm and more stuff, but you’re also not really cognizant of the fact that you’re doing that. All you think you’re doing is having a nice, relaxing time with a few moments of excitement in it.
Stardew Valley can be talked about for a very long time since the game is so dense and full of secrets and interpretations. But its ability to make the mundane seem extraordinary is undoubtedly its biggest achievement.
Free-to-play games are all about the grind. Those currency meters at the top of your screen need incrementing and more stuff needs to be acquired. The mobile gaming market and sometimes the AAA market have made a mockery of this system by firstly exploiting customers and more importantly, making the actual gameplay incredibly tedious.
In Warframe, you’re a space ninja that can wall-run and shoot enemies in the face in mid-air. That description isn’t even scratching the surface of how fast-paced and incredibly satisfying it feels to play the game and as mentioned, it’s all about the grind. There are a dizzying amount of weapons, warframes, cosmetic items, auxiliary items and upgrades to craft and acquire and the whole point of the game is to get better.
However, on your grind, you won’t even mind jumping into missions and getting that one asteroid stone that you need to craft that Prime frame. You’ll be vaulting all over the place, joining others to tackle missions together and have a whale of a time doing even the simplest quests. The incremental progress you make is also very satisfying and the fact that you can tailor everything in your build makes this a game that you can play for an extremely long time and still love it.
Warframe is the prime example of how free-to-play games should be and it’s also a testament to how games where you primarily grind can also be immensely fun.
Monster Hunter: World
Like many others, my introduction to the Monster Hunter franchise only happened with Monster Hunter: World. I knew that the game was all about slaying monsters and more prominently, grinding. You slay monsters, cut the materials right from their fresh carcasses and craft weapons and armour in order to kill even bigger monsters. What is not immediately obvious is that this process can also be incredibly engaging and fun.
Due to the dizzying amount of weapon styles, you will always find something that fits your playstyle and you can make your hunter exactly how you want. Every hunt is an event, where the monsters will change forms, cause upsets in their pattern and provide you with a chance to be better at the fight than you were previously. It’s this mixture of beautifully designed gameplay with the satisfaction of self-improvement and incremental progress.
Monster Hunter: World certainly isn’t a game for everyone and if you have a low tolerance for grinding and doing the same thing over and over, you’re not going to find much to like with this game. I was even one of those people who didn’t really “get” the game at first, thinking it was way too monotonous to be any fun, but that quickly changed as I got deeper and deeper into the game and much more opportunities presented themselves to me.
It’s an MMO that is also not an MMO, which brings us conveniently to the final entry.
The absolute basis of all MMOs is the grind. The grind to the highest level, the grind to the raids, grinding the raids, grinding higher difficulty raids, grinding mounts and grinding materials to make new gear in order to grind more. I’ve said grind so much that it has lost all meaning, but that’s precisely what encompasses an MMO on the base level.
So why do people play games such as World of Warcraft where your only goal is to get that legendary gear and max out all characters? Well, because that grind is fun, it’s as simple as that, but what is not so simple is everything that makes it fun. A huge part of making the grind enjoyable is the social aspects that surround playing an MMO. Your guildmates that you talk to in chat, your raid party who holds meetings on how to take down bats and being a part of something much bigger than just you.
You’re not the only hero in this world and you better bring your A-game if you want to play amongst the big boys and girls. Each hour spent is progress in becoming one of the best or finally mastering something that is incredibly difficult to do. MMOs are the grindiest of the grind, but there’s so much that you can get out of them that the tedium feels incredibly worth it. Just don’t go overboard, of course.
I’ve actually been smart about my time doing grind-heavy things. I usually put on a podcast, long video or some music that I’ve been meaning to listen to while I run around collecting horse femurs in a field or something. That multi-tasking elevates my grind sessions to new levels and makes the experience all the more worthwhile. If it’s one of the games that I have on this list that I’m playing, it’s an entirely new level of euphoria.
Do you grind? Do you find the act of it to be tedious or don’t you mind at all? Let us know!