Controller to the Grindstone
Have you ever had someone look over your shoulder while you were absentmindedly grinding away in some game and ask, “Hey, whatcha doing?” and immediately start questioning the way you spend your time?
This past Saturday a friend and I were sitting around after a couple bouts of X-Wing Miniatures just chatting about video games when we ran aground on our time with The Division and the upcoming sequel. We talked about what we liked, disliked and the things we hoped that the sequel would get right from the start. After playing Destiny 2 I’m personally hoping that Massive Studios took notice of the pitfalls they failed to avoid and takes steps to not do the same. The general mechanical, aesthetic and content concerns aside the conversation led us to the endgame or, ‘The Grind’ as gamers have come to know it.
Does it do anything for us anymore?
We come from a long, proud and, nacho dusted history of grinding games until our vision blurred and our chairs no longer felt like disparate objects from our numb backsides. Now that we’re in our thirties with more limited free time to invest I think we each individually have just naturally begun to gravitate away from those experiences. You may have noticed above that doesn’t mean we are completely divested from games that use a grind to extend playtime and incentivise investment in their game mechanics, which is true. I used to dive into the grind until I was physically burnt out to the point that I saw loot tables, drop percentages and boss strat maps when I closed my eyes at night. Naturally that was when the fun and ultimately my time with the game would come to an end. I struggled, like I think most people do, with the lingering sense of guilt that by leaving all of the time I invested in the game was ultimately wasted. Eventually I managed to reconcile that the free time you invest into your video games is the same as the time you might spend watching TV, going fishing or reading books. The important decision you have to make is how much of your available free time you dedicate to any one or variety of activities..
I want to take just a second here to make something absolutely clear: This is not a judgement on how people decide to invest their time. It is not a knock against people who play a single game or to this day are still dedicated to grinding away in years old titles for that perfect set of items or max level character. I was, and to a point still am, that gamer to this day, that will never change.
A few months ago there was a round of media attention for The Division’s latest patch which many considered had finally made the game a complete and worthwhile experience after all this time. I had owned the game since launch and had played it through till nearly the end of the main campaign when I finally became exhausted by the lack of polish. I enjoyed it and I had desperately wanted to love it because it filled the looter slot in my gaming that had gone empty for a while. I quit and let it collect dust in my uPlay account until my friend suggested that he might want to pick it up to which I said if he did I’d be more than happy to give it another try. So we did and it was absolutely fantastic, we played almost every night for weeks on end chewing our way through the story, min-maxing our gear and, tweaking cosmetics. Just generally enjoying the grind. It wasn’t too long before we finally hit the endgame which had purportedly ballooned with content since launch so we were excited to see what it had to offer. We played for another couple of weeks until we got to experience our first Global Event. To put it briefly these weeklong events allow players to grind as much as they want towards specific high end gear in nearly any fashion they prefer. Wanting to get the most out of it we did a little research on the fastest and most effective ways to grind the stuff we were aiming for and got started. That lasted for probably 3-4 days before my buddy had enough and needed a break, I followed pretty quickly a day or two later. I won’t lie, I actually felt disappointed in myself for not being able to continue with it. I thought back to the gamer I used to be who probably could have easily sat there and done it half awake for twice as long at a stretch.
We both loved the game, we both had stuff that we still wanted to acquire and content we still wanted to play so what was wrong?
What our conversation on Saturday crystalised for me was the answer I hadn’t managed to come up with when we finally quit The Division and moved on. I was happy with where I was at the endgame before we tried to dive head first into that weeklong grindfest. That didn’t stop us from trying to force ourselves to enjoy the grind as much as we did a decade and a half ago though much to our detriment. Had we not participated in that Global Event I’m fairly sure we would have continued playing and may even be still playing it now, although less frequently. We wouldn’t have progressed nearly as fast or probably ever ended up with the optimized top tier loadouts that we really wanted but as I realized on Saturday that was perfectly fine. Going that route would have meant that we would have more naturally moved on from the game instead of the rather abrupt derailment we suffered. I can’t help but look back and feel like we left on a sour note through no fault of the game or the developers. Just by not really accepting or knowing the gamers we’ve become.
So where does that leave me as a gamer and a person?
The introspection over the last few days I think is definitely a positive for me as I now better understand my relationship with endgame grind. I certainly do still enjoy it to an extent and I don’t begrudge any developer who use it nor the gamers who are truly devoted to it. I do think that personally this realization will help me stop shipwrecking myself on games that I really love but eventually leave feeling like I failed to get everything I could out of it. Unfairly tainting a great experience forever.
Tying my enjoyment of a game to my inner neurotic completionist or worse my overly competitive nature has made some of my experiences undeservedly awful. It’s long past time that I made a concerted effort to grow past that and understand when I am satisfied and ready to move on.
Right now my friend and I have picked Vermintide 2 back up and we are enjoying it immensely. I think this will be my first real test of knowing when my expectations have been fulfilled and I can shelve it where it belongs alongside some of my favorite gaming memories.
Till next time, happy conscientious gaming!