Mechanics Monday: Grinding

Hey, welcome to Mechanics Monday! A weekly piece where I discuss various game mechanics. Today we will be talking about grinding and it’s history, rise to popularity and more importantly how it affects the games it is implemented in.

Where did ‘grinding’ begin?

The concept of ‘grinding’, which is doing repetitive tasks in hope of gaining a reward at some point is actually quite old and predates video games by a large margin. In a study by Burrhus Frederic Skinner (Or better known as B.F Skinner because the guy had some top tier drops in the name department)  in which he invented what we know as the Skinner Box. The Box had a lever in which at random intervals would drop food when pressed. Skinner noticed that the promise of eventual food would keep the mouse pulling the lever. This applies to many games in many different ways. Most popular in MMORPG’s and slot machines.

What made it so popular?

Since the technique was used in slot machines most would agree they made it popular. An extremely popular example of this type of technique is World of Warcraft. In World of Warcraft players can take on raids for the chance of getting better loot. Running the raids is equivalent to pulling the lever, and the gear is the players treats. Grinding in Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) is also a common game mechanic. In JRPGs the player usually fights monsters to grind for experience, which will let the player level up and become more powerful. This makes the next ‘big’ fight easier.

How does it affect gameplay?

Grinding primarily extends gameplay, allowing you to spend more time with the game. This is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on a ton of factors. Such as how fun the gameplay is, your personal opinion of it, etc. With gaming media grinding has a love/hate relationship. In Final Fantasy grinding is sometimes given as a negative “It’s so grindy” while in games such as Destiny it is told in a more positive light “Players grind for gear in strikes” for instance.

Overall grinding is a much more polarizing mechanic, often being used in both positive and negative connotations. It has also been around a long time, and one of the many mechanics game developers employ that have scientific backing to be effective.

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