Grinding

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The repeating of simple actions many times to collect resources or complete goals.

Games often only let players choose what to do from a small set of possible actions. Even so, the choice of which action to perform can make the gameplay interesting or can the challenge of succeeding in performing the action. However, some games require players to, at least some of the time, repeatedly perform actions that are trivial to do so many times that the primary challenge becomes to endure. This type of gameplay is called Grinding.

Examples

Games that require players to collect resources for later use, e.g. Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and Eve Online, often exhibit Grinding since the actual looking for the resources and collecting of them is rather easy to do but is something that needs to be done a lot. The satirical game Progress Quest critiques these kinds of design by being a game where the computer does the Grinding for the players, leaving only the minimal character creation in the beginning of the game in the hands of the player.

Games with a high level of granularity in the variables and elements in the game world, e.g. the Hearts of Iron and Europa Universalis series, can easily force players into Grinding just to set all parameters correctly or move all their units.

Some games keep count of simple actions performed by players and reward them with achievements when certain levels have been reached, e.g. Pharm-Assist for giving a total of 10 pain pills to other players in the first installment of the Left 4 Dead series and Master Smasher for breaking 1500 containers in Torchlight. Although these would have been repetitious if they had to be done consecutively, they are typically spread out over the gameplay and only become Grinding when players focus their gameplay on getting the achievements.

Using the pattern

Grinding may not be a pattern that players necessarily wish to have in a game, but it can be needed to provide actions to do in Unwinnable Games or in games with Persistent Game Worlds that should not evolve over time. The main challenge with designing Grinding is providing Rewards that do not advance players position in the game globally, which typically leads to the Rewards being either Illusionary Rewards or Social Rewards. A case where the possibility of Grinding can be seen as positive is for games which wish to offer or encourage players to engage in Pottering.

A concrete way of creating Grinding in a game is to require the Collecting of Resources, as for example done in Minecraft or Slaves to Armok II: Dwarf Fortress. To avoid them having too much impact on the game progression, these resources can either be worthless or have Diminishing Returns when changed into something else through Converters or Crafting, but engaging in the latter can become a form of Grinding in itself. If there are many types of Resources or many individual Resources that have to be interacted with, Grinding can occur through the combination of Resource Management and Complex Gameplay. This second option may be combined with the first it players can amass large number of Resources or can be present simply by the game giving the Resources to the players. Combat against great numbers of Generic Adversaries is yet another way to create Grinding. Reward Widgets are a way of introducing Grinding without necessarily adding more Rewards since collecting Rewards after they are given becomes a task when this pattern is used. Modulating Reward Widgets with Time Limits before they are automatically collected makes the Grinding optional.

Player/Character Skill Composites can create Grinding since it offers players the opportunity to spend effort on getting better Tools and Abstract Player Construct Development or Character Development rather than developing Gameplay Mastery. This is of course even more likely to occur if little actual player skill is required.

On a higher level of abstraction, Red Queen Dilemmas can provide Grinding by mitigating players' progress by matching it with Ever Increasing Difficulty, a design solution found in both the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons and in World of Warcraft. Encouraged Return Visits allow Grinding to occur between play sessions when players need to return to the game simply to perform trivial actions. Promises of Unlocking future game content is often an explicit motivation for players to keep Grinding. On a meta level, Grind Achievements can encourage players do perform Grinding due to the promise of receiving specific Achievements if they do so.

Given that Grinding is often undesired there are many design solutions that remove or mitigate them without removing the actions underlying them, e.g. supporting Clickability or Repeat Combos, having Time Limits, or injecting Ephemeral Goals throughout game sessions. However, sometimes it is also desired to make these underlying actions optional. Quick Travel and Quick Returns are one example of such solutions used to avoid the Grinding of travelling through already explored parts of the Game World. Mules are AI Players specifically designed to avoid people having to do the Grinding by letting them do it instead. Related, Non-Player Help lets others than the players perform actions that influence the game and thereby lessen any potential Grinding.

Some Extra-Game Actions can give rise to Grinding. Specifically, saving and loading game states as a way of min-maxing gameplay can become a form of Grinding, so as one particular example Save Scumming can give rise to Grinding. These types of Grinding cannot be addressed in the same way as other types if deemed a problem; designer instead need to consider how to reduce the benefits of the Extra-Game Actions.

Consequences

The main consequence of Grinding is to create Repetitive Gameplay. Give that Grinding typically is experienced as a form of labor, it also adds Excise to a game. Even if Grinding is not perceived as enjoyable by players, having completed a goal based on it (e.g. Grind Achievements) does provide a basis for a sort of Game-Based Social Statuses.

Grinding undercuts players' Value of Effort if they realize that they are performing actions with little effect on the gameplay progression (they may of course consider the social or other extra-game consequences justifying this). If they do not perceive that the actions do not further their progress, Grinding instead supports an Exaggerated Perception of Influence.

Given the nature of the Grinding activity, it can support Casual Gameplay but works less well with Challenging Gameplay.

Relations

Can Instantiate

Casual Gameplay, Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Excise, Game-Based Social Statuses, Pottering, Repetitive Gameplay, Rewards, Unwinnable Games

Can Modulate

Persistent Game Worlds

Can Be Instantiated By

Abstract Player Construct Development, Character Development, Collecting, Crafting, Encouraged Return Visits, Extra-Game Actions, Generic Adversaries, Grind Achievements, Illusionary Rewards, Player/Character Skill Composites, Red Queen Dilemmas, Reward Widgets, Save Scumming, Social Rewards, Unlocking

Complex Gameplay together with Resource Management

Can Be Modulated By

Converters, Crafting, Diminishing Returns, Repeat Combos

Possible Closure Effects

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Potentially Conflicting With

Challenging Gameplay, Clickability, Ephemeral Goals, Mules, Non-Player Help, Time Limits, Value of Effort

History

New pattern created in this wiki.

References

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Acknowledgements

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