Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

To Grind or Not To Grind?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 8, 2012

Rowan Kaiser talks about “grinding” – an ill-defined term that generally references facing repetitive, meaningless combat encounters.

‘Grinding’ and it’s Relationship to the RPG Genre

Grinding is generally a negative term, and I agree in that I dislike games where grinding is a significant source of gameplay. I remember all too well my frustration back when I was playing Ultima III (when it was new), and facing Yet Another Random Combat Encounter while I was trying to find a Mark in the dungeon.  Useless, senseless filler.

But I take a little more favorable view of unplanned encounters as a general rule, and of ‘optional’ grinding where the player is allowed to basically go out looking for trouble to get a little extra loot and experience. In fact, it’s a little frustrating for me in a few games which have a fixed number of encounters with no options to get a little ‘ahead’ of the game.  If I’m only a couple hundred experience points from leveling, or I’m out of money but feel I need a few extra healing / mana potions prior to moving on to a confrontation with the Big Bad’s Henchmen, I want to be able to do some quick grinding and improve my chances. Or if I only have fifteen minutes to play, a quick excursion to a respawned dungeon for some quick fights and loot can be just what I needed.

There’s actually something a little zen about some of the old-school games where you can push forward from a safe (healing) spot, kill a few bad guys in some fights, and come back, particularly if the game has an interesting combat system. I just don’t want that to be a significant & mandatory chunk of the game.



Filed Under: Design - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

  • Xenovore said,

    I don’t know that we need paragraphs of exposition to define “grinding”; it’s pretty basic:

    Grinding n. 1) Repetitive game-play devoid of fun.

    Ergo, game-play can be repetitive but as long as the player enjoys doing it, it’s not grinding.

    And since we all have our own distinct fun threshold, one player’s grinding is another player’s fun.

  • Ayrik said,

    I think we do need more than that definition. Just like Jay says in the blog, sometimes you WANT to grind to top off your experience bar, etc.

  • Xenovore said,

    @Ayrik: No, we don’t.

    By defining “grinding” as simply “repetitive game-play devoid of fun”, as designers we can then simply ask, “Hmm, this particular game design is kinda repetitive; is it still fun?” or “Will this still be fun if the player must (or wants to) repeat it?” Then, if it’s not fun, we can take steps to keep it fun in spite of its repetitive nature, or if it’s the repetitiveness that causes the game-play to become un-fun, mitigate that repetitiveness. The alternative is that we just throw in the towel and say “To hell with it, players are gonna hafta grind through this bit.” (Which, based on empirical evidence, is the route many game designers take.)

    We play games to have fun, right? So, wanting to “…grind to top off your experience bar…” is something players do not really want to do, because grinding is not fun. We actually want to do something fun to “top off the experience bar”, not grind.

  • Ayrik said,

    That is NOT a definition, it’s more of a classification. Something that is inherently different for each user cannot be defined in one sentence without being super vague like your definition is.

    I agree with most of what you say, except that it’s not as black and white as you make it out to be, just as Jay mentions in the above blog.

  • Erez Ben-Aharon said,

    Long time lurker here, and I have to say “hear, hear” –
    grinding is repetitive, but it is not necessarily ‘boring’, or ‘devoid of fun’. There is a zen-like quality to repetition (anyone who ever done Katas for hours in a martial arts or otherwise would know what I’m talking about) – the problem is that in most games grinding IS boring and unnecessary. A recent game I played filled with grinding I most thoroughly enjoyed was Might and Magic III.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    Generally I hate grinding, especially if the combat is poor. Of course if you are grinding, it usually is poor because you’ll be repeating easier combat in order to level up your character(s), so there’s no skill or challenge to it.

    Of course, you could suggest that this is a problem with cRPGs relying heavily on combat for the content. This might make people think more grinding = more content.

  • Xenovore said,

    Ah, semantics. =)

  • Armaan said,

    I like grinding in games that don’t require strategic thinking. I love just mashing “attack” over and over and kicking monster ass. I find it very relaxing.

  • Xenovore said,

    @All: My whole point is that “grinding” is the very definition of repetitive, boring, annoying, otherwise-unfun game-play.

    If you enjoy doing it, it’s not grinding.