Make A Game (Not) A Good One Episode 2: Grind

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Make a game (not) a good one is a series of obiter dictum that discusses the good or bad in video games. Whilst our previous episode entertains the good stuff, here, today, we talk about grind. Bad stuff indeed.

Everyone knows in their mind what grind is and how to recognise it. In a slight twist where I won’t be addressing grind itself (because it’s pointless), I have took it upon myself to try and find what causes games to become a grind and puke those thoughts over these pages. It’s not to spectacularly ‘succeed’ or save the world of games from all evil. It’s merely to share. If you feel the same way, good, let people know. If not, tough, but do remember there’s a way to comment on my delusions here too.

There is one game I personally blame for all the today’s grindfest, bar none. That game is Diablo. Don’t get me wrong, I love Diablo. It’s a deliciously satisfying, roaringly frantic journey to become a badass, even overpowered, slayer of monsters. Importantly perhaps, that description is still something that most RPGs before it considered just a component.

Story, level design, or locations of unique character gave way to hordes of bullet-sponging enemies and progress bars. The thrill of figuring out puzzles or making it through a bunch of moving platforms on first try was replaced by the thrill of ever-bigger fireworks and ‘rare’ loot. I’m not suggesting Blizzard invented this rather sinister perspective on what gaming would become. But I can’t shake the feeling it was them who opened it up to the masses. Then, along myriad of better (Torchlight) or worse (Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing) straight-up Diablo clones, bollocks followed suit.

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I could swear I’ve seen a progress bar pop-up whenever I took a break from Elite Dangerous.

Progress bars have elbowed their way absolutely everywhere. Shooters, racers, puzzlers, you name it. Content found itself locked beyond them. Mechanics were born to make them fill faster. ‘Cleverer’ companies started charging real money to skip them altogether.

Loot and loot rarity penetrated games to an extent even worse. I mean hell, it is nowadays considered ‘in’ to have rarities in loot that players collect and combine into more various-rarity loot, something that goes by the posh name of ‘crafting’. Or am I the only one that finds it utterly preposterous for even something like Elite – a game about flying space ships – to have ‘crafting’?

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Rarer loot has more and higher numbers. Also, adjectives.

That said, neither free-to-play, nor progress bars, nor loot rarity, nor even this ‘crafting’ nonsense necessarily mean the game in hand is (going to be) a grind. Mileage varies just as much as players, as people, do. Some may find the given set of activities compelling enough to repeat them over and over forever. Some see a game where it takes weeks of no-matter-how-mindless busywork to obtain meaningful loot or unlock powerful upgrades a good value for money. I will never so much as suggest taking that away from them, quite the contrary: I am glad that video games find their way to them. It’s certainly better than having to have the police wait in front of schools at class ends.

As far as I’m concerned though, I want to taste as many worlds as I can – I’ve grinded through enough video games in my time. And yeah, I enjoyed it too, why not. But these days I’m thinking, if you give me a game with 300 billion star systems, you better give me substantially more than a merry-go-round of 5 or 6 activities to fill them with. If you give me an ‘authentic’ post-apocalyptic New York, you better not even hint that the guy I’ve just shot in the face a hundred times would go down quicker with my ‘level’. Because that’s crap. Time-wasting, meaningless, thoughtless crap.

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