S2: E30 | Understanding the Video Game Grind

Daniel A. Kaufmann, Ph.D
Dr. Gameology on Twitch & The Gaming Persona Podcast
Owner of Area of Effect Counseling

The video game grind can keep players endlessly engaged. This episode, Dr. Gameology and Jenny review some of the most notorious current games that use grinding mechanics to extend gameplay for their players.

Gaming Library:
Disgaea, Man of Medan, Until Dawn, Little Hope, Elden Ring, Sea of Thieves, Final Fantasy XIV Online, Nier: Automata, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Valorant,  Minecraft, Stardew Valley, League of Legends, Street Fighter 5, Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius, Final Fantasy VII, Farmville, Evony

 

 

Dr. Gameology on Twitch and other social apps, and at Dr. Gameology.com. And you can find me on this show every week. The Gaming Persona can be found anywhere Podcasts can be found. So Jenny, what are we talking about from the world of video games today?

We are going to be talking about grinding mechanics from a player’s and game design point of view.

Oh, good. So Jenny, are you going to handle the players or the game designer point of view?

Most likely the players?

Wait, you’ve never made a video game?

No….

What nonsense is this!? What podcast did I show up for?

 

The Ordinary World

 

Let’s do the Ordinary World where we share everyday life. There are games. That was a graceful segue if I can just pat myself on the back. How was your week with gaming this time around?

Well, I didn’t play any games. This week, I was in New York for a couple of weddings. I am hoping to be back playing Final Fantasy on a regular schedule starting tomorrow. So I’m excited about that. I was in New York; I had a bunch of weddings and one of the weddings that I had recently. So the groom. So normally, when I talk to my clients, I asked them, like, is there anything special going on during a ceremony that I need to pay attention to that like might be out of the ordinary or? And most of the time, people are like, no, it’s standard, whatever. And this around, I asked the same question. They were like, no, no, everything’s standard. And then like, towards the end of the call, they were like, oh, yeah, we’re doing a Star Wars Medal ceremony during our ceremony. And I was like, oh, what? I was like, this is really cool. I’m so excited about this. So the groom gave medals to each of his groomsmen as they were walking up the aisle, which was awesome. I thought it was a really fun way to incorporate his nerdom into one of his very special days. So that was cool. And then also the same exact wedding, their cocktail hour, all of the songs that they played during the cocktail hour, they were all instrumental versions of video game songs. So it was kind of fun. So I started to hear a song that sounded familiar to me. And I was like, “This is the song from Zelda, I’m pretty sure.” Then I was in a conversation with the groomsmen and the groom. They named a different song that they had heard earlier from a different video game. He said he had a whole entire list. He made a spreadsheet of every song he wanted to include, and it’s on a Spotify playlist. So I’ve already asked him for this playlist so I can listen to it while I edit or something.

Wow, that’s really cool. I also tend to use video game soundtracks and different playlists that focus on music that’s made that way for when I have to lock in and get to my flow channel. So that’s one of the main recommendations I make for people.

So for me this week, I’ve kept my stream schedule. I’ve played a different game every night on the channel. I was able to play Disgaea last week and had Gene on the stream with me the whole time in Discord. So it was the two of our voices interacting while I played that game for the first time. It was interesting. I know I would not have liked it nearly as much if I was playing it alone. So that was really cool, that Gene was able to jump in and do that, because he’s a fan of the series and helped me to pick up on things where I would have been confused for a lot of minutes. Being confused and stuck when you’re trying to be an interesting game stream on Twitch are not two things that you want to go together, unless you naturally are hilarious when you get stuck. I don’t know that I’ve perfected that. I think I’m better at that than I was a year ago, but I still have room to grind on that particular stat line. I also played Man of Medan, which is another horror game with decision-based playstyle. I was able to get off the ghost ship with zero deaths. That was the first time I’ve ever played that game, so that was cool. It’s a neat game, because you start out being these college age and teenage mix of people that are on a boat in the ocean to go and dive into the wreckage of an airplane. But some kidnappers board you that night and take you to a ghost ship. Then they force you to go on the ghost ship. They weren’t planning to go there either. It’s just this big, derelict ship. Maybe there’s something valuable inside it. Things happen that cause a horror movie plot to occur. It involves you seeing ghosts and monsters and dealing with some things that could be quite dangerous.

It was a lot of fun, but one of the things that I was able to do for a mental health moment in that game and then the next game in that anthology (which I also started the next evening), both feature very strong character moments where a drunk person is terrible. So I did a mental health moment about alcoholism and how it’s terrible. I don’t usually get to do mental health moments because they’re focused on what we’re seeing in the game. So usually, I have to engage in metaphorical connections, where this is what we saw in the game. This is how we use games to live a healthier lifestyle and improve our mental health. It’s very much like the conversation we have on our show. Last week, the three of us talked about positive life skills that we learned, mostly or significantly from video games. In this instance, the lesson was that being a bumbling fool who treats everyone like garbage is a bad idea. Sobriety can be an amazing experience. For the for the ghost ship game, you arguably could say they do not even get captured if the drunk guy doesn’t do what he does in the first chapter of the game. In the second game I played, which is called Little Hope, you start out in this family house. There’s a drunk dad who’s treating everyone terrible and just sitting on the couch and getting more drunk. Of course they have an adopted demon daughter who gets upset at the dad. Then the mom is also more of an “escaped leave me alone” type. It’s like the 1960s, so parents are like parents were in all the stories that are set in the 1960s. Anyway, the demon girl burns the house down with all of her siblings in it except for the one you are controlling. They all die. It’s mostly because the dad came home drunk and continued to be drunk and got more drunk and acted like a jerk while he was drunk.

 

Video Game Grind: The opening sequence of Little Hope shows a family devastated by dysfunction and the presence of supernatural forces.

 

Wow, wait you played that just recently?

Yeah, both games over the last week on the stream channel.

That’s an interesting game.

Well, yeah, but it turns into a horror story after that, because demon daughter…

Have you played this before?

No.

It seems familiar to me. But I don’t know from when?

Well, there’s Until Dawn. That’s a game that I played years ago where you are in a cabin in the woods and there’s a slasher killer. Then there’s some monsters that are real, trying to kill you. That could be it, I mean, they’re all by Supermassive. They make horror games that could be movies, but you play them and make decisions and you get a series of characters killed or help them survive. Last night, I played more Elden Ring on stream and beat about four boss fights on the stream. We died six times, and we have a fail counter. So that’s how many “important lessons” I learned.

That’s great!

The first set of things to kill me were these two giant hands that just started crawling across the ground to crush me. They got really handsy with me, I couldn’t handle it.

 

Call to Adventure

 

 Okay, Ordinary World is over, so let’s do the Call to Adventure: where we get into our topic for the week! Alright. So grindy games, Jenny. One of the things that I think is really interesting about advertising for entertainment, is if you’re the person who’s proud of the activity that you’ve created, and you say “most addictive game” on the computer, or on your phone, and you put balloons and stars and comments on the screen and happy faces, that’s a good thing to say, right?

I guess.

Yeah, but when you talk to a person who takes life way too seriously, and helps people who are sad, be less sad and overcome the deepest darkest sadness that can happen, saying “most addictive game” it’s like warning signs, red exclamation points, stay away, do not download do not install … The Dark Side! So grindy game mechanics are actually a big part of why games are viewed as either addictive or fun, or huge time sinks. We have a lot of information about grindy game mechanics that we can include today. Since we’re just doing the original part of our conversation, which is the call to adventure, what kinds of things in games that you play do you notice that could be called a grind?

Depending on the game, grinding isn’t something that’s really fun for me unless I’m grinding for specific things I want. This could be something pretty like a mount or an achievement. So I when I played Sea of Thieves, I got “Pirate Legend,” which is like a status that you get when you reach a certain level. There are different factions in the game that you have to do quests for and just grind out the same kinds of quests over and over and get experience points to reach a certain level on each of the different factions. So that was probably the longest grind that I ever completed. It took many months for me to do, and it was fun because the different quests that I was doing was with my friends. All my friends were also grinding to reach pirate legend status. Once we got pirate legend status, then it unlocks like a whole other part of the game where you can do different quests that only pirate legends can do. You can get certain gear that only pirate legends can have. You can make different outfits and things like that. That’s my longest experience with grinding. Then of course in Final Fantasy we were grinding for mounts for a while, although I am the RNG Goddess, so I don’t have to grind too hard for that.

Mm hmm. You know, while you’re describing your Sea of Thieves experience, I’m thinking about all the things that I do in video games that maybe wouldn’t jump out as being a grindy experience. Anything that makes gameplay repetitive where you’re encouraged to do it multiple times, and the goal is set to make it a less than certain result that if you complete this, you will get “this or that” could be called a grinding mechanic. I remember the dress for black mage that I wanted the most from the Nier raids in Final Fantasy XIV Online. One time takes about 45 minutes if you don’t have any raid wipes where everyone dies. It’s one of the 24-man raids. So if you die, we’ve talked many times about how hopefully the tank and a few of the healers know what they’re doing, they can bring you back, no big deal. Then there’s a percentage chance after a few of the bosses, not all seven of them, a few of them, that the dress will be one of the drops. So if there’s other Black Mages, summoners, or red mages in the group, anyone who can wear that set of gear, you’re competing against them if they want it. Whoever rolls the highest number from 1 to 100 gets to have the dress. If you don’t get the dress, and you really need the dress, and you want the dress, and you need the dress, because you’ll die without the dress…then you will play Puppet’s Bunker again and again… And again. Even if you don’t want it, but you want the dress, you don’t want to play Puppet’s Bunker but you want the dress? Yes. That is a grindy mechanic.

 

Video Game Grind: By repeating activities over and over, a player gets a chance to roll for the loot. These can be impressive weapons, outfits, pets, or other cosmetic items that show what the player has been able to accomplish in-game.

 

That grind is in my Nier future!

Oh yeah? Nier?? Yes, so many high-quality dad jokes on our show. I love it. Me too. But I’m also going to point a finger at Mario Kart. Jenny, are you ready for this? Okay. When you select your cart in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you select the cart, the wheels and the glider. If you want to have all the options, you have to win all the cups at many different difficulty levels, and you have to collect coins. You also have to defeat time trials against the Nintendo employees and their ghosts runs. I remember specifically, it didn’t matter if I get a gold a silver or bronze. I just needed to win a trophy and collect coins during the races. The number of coins you’re carrying at the end of the race go into a counter of how many coins you’ve collected all time. Some of those wheels and some of those gliders are connected to your coin total. Okay, doesn’t that sound terrible?

Yeah, that sounds awful.

I did it though because I needed to complete my collection of cars so that any car that is possible in the combination, I can create it.

Wow. Yeah, it’s definitely a grind.

So it’s not just repetitive gameplay. It’s also completing lists and receiving items. Can you think of any other kinds?

I guess I was trying to think of what the pirate legend grind would be considered.

Yeah, what are you trying to do there? Is it a mount?

Oh, no, it’s you don’t mount anything into this pirate game. I mean, you mount a boat, I guess.

Oh, that’s a strange choice?

You know, in the pirate legend grind, you are completing quests, and getting experience points for each faction.

Okay, so this is an online game. Correct. So, you’re connected in the virtual world with other people. Do these quests rely on RNG? Or is it something that you take your character there, you do the quest, you get the reward, and then you just need to do that X number of times.

Yeah, it’s more like you do the quests thing is there you do an X number of times. The only variable in that game is that it’s PvP. So you could very well do an entire quest line and then get attacked at the end of your quest, and then they steal everything and you can’t do anything about it. You must be good enough to defeat them.

Well, that brings us to other kinds of grinds. There are competitive grinds, where it does rely on how you stack up against other players. Then there’s active versus passive qualities to the grind as well. So active ones, you take your controller or mouse and keyboard. And the action that you’re doing in real time leads to you carrying out the activity. Background grinds (or passive grinds) are things where you hit the button, then you can go do something else because you really just need time to happen. Then you decide to push the button for that thing again. Then you just need time to happen. So it’s like the difference between cooking over a stove and microwaving your meal.

I was going to say that reminds me of crafting and SWTOR (Star Wars: The Old Republic). You have to send your companions out to find items for you. Then you can come back to it later.

Yeah, that’s passive crafting. That can be a grind because you have your crafting ability. It goes up every time you complete something. You can go play and be a Star Wars hero in some other way.

In Final Fantasy XIV, though, crafting is an active grind. Your character actually has to kneel down and use their tools, whether it’s a needle, or otherwise. Okay, well, I’m a weaver. So I actually don’t know what you call anything else. You actually do the blacksmith work to the Iron Works to create armor and weapons and things. You actually control the skills to do that well, or do it poorly. So that game has crafting as an active grind?

There’s also the luck of RNG. There’s online. There’s with a team or against other players. There’s active and passive.

 

Road of Trials

 

So let’s go on the Road of Trials where we face our challenges and discover our strengths! So Jenny, while I was preparing for this conversation with you, I decided to look up as far as modern games go, what are the grindy-est games that just have no shame? They are saying, “Oh, you want to play me? Well, you better sit down for hundreds of hours and enjoy!” Yeah, so I picked a few we’re not going to talk about this entire list. The list can be found at TheGamer.com. It lists 15 games, and we’re going to talk about a handful of them. I’ve picked them out for specific reasons, because of what each of these games represent for me as a mental health professional who likes to talk about the psychology of video games. So would you like to take the first one? I think you’ve played this one a few times.

So the first game on the list is Final Fantasy XIV! I mean, it’s not the number one grindy game, but it’s on our list to talk about. It’s an MMORPG (So that in and of itself means there’s going to be some grindy elements of this game). Some of the notable things that are in this game are grinding for the ultimate weapons. They require weeks of grinding to perfect them. We have a couple friends of ours that have done some of these grinds and gotten these ultimate weapons which are all really cool to look at (to be fair). You have to level all your different classes a lot of times. People like to have all their classes at max level. People that are not me that that only have two and a half-leveled classes can do this more easily. Then there there’s climbing ranks in PvP, which I have yet to play PvP. There’s a bunch of things that you can do to grind in Final Fantasy. For me. I grinded for the mounts. So I wanted all the horses – all the different color horses – and we had to be grouped up a few nights and made sure that we all got the mega horse at the end that combines all of them.

You’re making me think of Power Rangers right now. Like the horses are the arms and the legs and they combined to form this really terrifying… God Horse!

Yeah, a God Horse. For me, that grind was really not that hard because I won every single horse on the first try, except for one of the ones that we were hoping for. So it’s a meme at this point how easy it was for me to get those mounts.

No, the real meme is the look on my face every time you explain this to people, because I’m the person who had to kill a few of those bosses over 30 times for the mount to drop.

Yeah, yeah, that’s a heck of a grind there.

Also, those bosses have very high powered moves for the Blue Mage class to learn. As the blue mage, you don’t learn moves by leveling up or gaining experience. You learn moves by fighting an enemy that has that move or that spell and then surviving the battle and downing them. Depending on how many blue mages are in the group, the percentage chance that you will actually retain the knowledge of how to do that move yourself increases. Blue mage is an extremely grindy class to play.

Yeah, that’s, that’s a whole different category of grind.

Yes, but it is really fun to play. Once you have collected enough moves to fill up your bar, you are this extremely wacky class that has no logical consistency as to what it’s capable of. You can tank, heal, and DPS! You can raise people; you can be whatever the dungeon needs you to be. All you have to do is plan ahead and drag the spells out of your blue mage spell book and put them on your bar. So there’s a reason you can’t play this class at the current end game content. Every other class in the game can go to level 90. This one cannot. If blue mage was allowed to do savage mode bosses, you just load up eight of them and everyone would have battle res for everyone. Everyone would have double the DPS by using certain magic spells that align you with the DPS teammate and then double your damage (because you’re technically not a DPS until you do that).

 

Video Game Grind: The Blue Mage class knows no limits in Final Fantasy XIV Online. It learns by experiencing dangerous battles, and players must search the lands tirelessly to teach their mage the most powerful skills.

 

Oh man, we should have a whole episode about the Blue Mage class.

It really is a special class.

Special in all the different meanings of the word! Speaking of the next game on the list is Valorant. So Valorant is a multiplayer battling game. It’s a shooter. I have never played it. It became highly popular as soon as it released, I think a few years ago now. As soon as it released, within two weeks I started getting clients who had people in their life that said “I’ve thought you had video game addiction for a long time, but now there’s no question you do. You need help.” So this game became one that I would end up doing a lot of therapy sessions about with people, and try to help them figure out what does healthy gaming look like when this is a game that you’re really into? Then talking about all those life areas that keep coming up in all our Gaming Persona episodes. Can you be great at Valorant, but also five or six of the other life areas? The fact that this game showed up on this list doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s very competitive. If you stop playing then your ranking is going to go down because people will pass you up. There’s a time limited factor. You want to place well in the season that you’re currently in. If you start winning, that feels like momentum. It feels like a chance to climb the leaderboard. So you can’t stop now.

Yeah, you’re in the Winning Phase.

Yeah, you’re in the Winning Phase, just like with all the other addictions. Now, I do believe by the way that you can play Valorant and live a successful life that achieves what you need to in other life areas. The only reason I shared the therapy anecdote about it is the grindy game mechanics can be nasty. Video games are designed for us to want to play them. They’re entertainment, and they’re fun. They have mood boosting and escapism kinds of qualities to them. If we turn to those too much, we might get to a point where we want to pass our classes in our college semester, but we also really want to play Valorant today. So I guess there’s always a little bit more time when I could study, so we’ll just keep playing Valorant. With that kind of mentality, the time disappears until there actually is no more time for you study. When that happens, you better hope that the professor put a lot of Valorant questions on the final. Just for everyone who’s wondering, the professor did NOT put Valorant questions on the final.

 

Video Game Grind: The Winning Phase convinces a player they have a chance to win the ultimate prize. This leads to large amounts of time and resources being spent inside the game of choice.

 

Would you like to do the next game, Jenny?

Sure. So the next one we’re talking about is Minecraft.

Minecraft.

It’s a very grindy game. The whole point of the game is harvesting resources and doing things with those resources. So that’s a lot of what grinding is… doing repetitive things over and over so that you have enough resources to get the big, nice thing. In this particular game, defeating the Enderdragon is like the big bad. So you’ve got to put a lot hours in to be able to do that.

Jenny your description made me curious about how Minecraft is doing in the grand scheme of stream life. Right now 87.6 thousand people are watching Minecraft!

Yeah. Oh, yeah, it definitely is something that kids are into. I have a lot of experience with kids who watch people play Minecraft all day. It’s entrancing. I don’t know what it is about this game, but there’s so many YouTubers and so many streamers that just go nuts Minecraft and have a lot of fun with the emergent type of gameplay you can create once you have the game unlocked.

Yeah, the leading streamer right now has 13.8 thousand viewers. Yeah, people are watching Minecraft. There are a lot of people actually right now besides just that. There are three rows of streamers that all have over 1000 people watching them… four rows… five rows of streamers. It keeps going… it keeps going, Jenny. So that’s a lot of people.

The youtubers that I’ve watched when I was hanging out with some of the kids that watch it, they just watch since it’s such an open game. It’s an open world, so you can do so much with it. I’m thinking specifically of this one streamer that was collecting different types of dragons. And he just made a bunch of dragons. And he had his whole map was just full of all these different dragons. He did all these crazy things and it’s just fun. It was a fun YouTube channel. So it’s very entertaining. So you can see why people are drawn to it.

Let’s just add one more ripple to the Minecraft discussion. Everyone in those lists, they all look like they’re not children who are streaming.

Yeah, the streamers are all adults.

Well, I’m going to go to the next game, which is Disgaea. Disgaea is a game where it seems like you build up a team of anime style fighters that move across a grid like chessboard. It’s not all flat. It’s a battlefield. So there’s ladders and bridges. There are pits and it’s an anime style battle of your team versus the enemy team. You take turns choosing your moves. It’s a tactical strategy, board-based RPG. It’s pretty funny actually. I’m playing as a zombie kid who is trying to kill the God of Destruction, or something like that. I’m really edgy, and have no respect for anyone it seems. Every time I die, I come back to life at level one for my character, but I’ve retained the skills and abilities and experience from the previous levels. So your main character can level up to infinite levels. Your other party members can level up to level 9,999. When you complete a battle, early in the game you’re usually leveling about 35 levels from the EXP you gain from one battle. So when I say that the level cap is 9,999, that is not leveling like in an MMORPG or in a Final Fantasy game. That is “Let’s have the EXP flow, and let’s make the numbers really big!” If you enjoy leveling up, this is the game for you because you get to level up a lot with every little thing you do. The level cap is far away because of that as well. I also think Disgaea has a really neat vibe. The soul of the game is kind of corny anime funny. I’m not very deep into the story, so I don’t know how long it’s going to stay as funny and entertaining. Also, the character design is cool. I can definitely tell the game is designed for there to be a story. You’re really supposed to fall in love with playing the game, because there’s different challenges in board battles that you can do that are disconnected from the main story. You can always just do battles on a board you’re familiar with to level up more and then come back to the fight where you’re stuck because your stats are not big enough.

Disgaea is a great game to play if you want to be a zombie kid trying to kill the God of Destruction. The chance to change fate is a key concept in many video games. Click To Tweet

The next one is Stardew Valley. So I don’t know much about Stardew Valley. When Daniel asked me if I knew the game, I was like, isn’t that Animal Crossing?

Yeah, they are compared to each other a lot.

Yeah. So it is not Animal Crossing. It’s an open-ended country life RPG game. So you have a farm plot in Stardew Valley, and you have a few coins and some tools. You level up from there. So, it’s similar to Animal Crossing, and that there’s a community and there’s a town. Your goal is to restore the town to greatness because it’s been deteriorated. So, grinding is what it’s about. You have to grow crops you have to explore. You have to manage your farm. It is the most popular game in this list. It’s definitely something that people spend some time playing.

It has some great relaxation and mindfulness qualities as well. The entire point of the game is to do things repetitively in a low stress kind of environment.

Yeah, a lot of people I remember playing this also liked Animal Crossing from the boom at the beginning of the pandemic. It’s relaxing. It’s super chill and easy to get sucked into.

 

The Ascent

 

 That brings us to our final segment of new information – The Ascent – let’s elevate the topic.

I was able to find a thesis that is about grinding mechanics and video games. It laid out the concept in a really simple way. There are seven different styles of grind.

 The first one is the MMORPG grind. This was actually mentioned about 10 minutes ago when we were talking about the horse mounts in Final Fantasy XIV. MMORPGs are games that are designed to be massive, and to be games that you never truly complete. There’s always another activity you can do. There’s always another bar of experience or credentialing that you can fill up. You’re never done. These games are designed for people who are willing to play most of the day every day to still have things that they can do. The MMORPG grind is one style of mechanic where you just put many activities into a virtual world and say, “this is how long it will take.” If you do it well the entire time to finish it, or if you do it poorly the entire time it will take longer, so good luck! Developers are trying to create a world that operates the same way as real life. The reason MMORPGs are like this is because, for example, when we go to college, we’re usually going only to get one degree so that we can be competent at one kind of job after college. This way we can live in one house, and have one city that we do most of our life. In MMO games, the reason they take forever and you never finish them is because it would be like going to college and saying, “I want every degree college offers so that I can work in every job for every corporation in all 10 of my favorite cities.”

What do you think of that description of MMOs?

I’ve never thought of it that way or compared it to life in that way but that is exactly what it is like.

Right? So if people are down on MMO games, it’s because they’re not realizing that if you’re judging it that way, you’re not understanding what the goals actually are. It’s designed for you to pick a job, master it, beat the bosses you want to beat at the level of difficulty you want to beat, and then go live your life. The reason it becomes so impossible is because a lot of people who play them add more goals. Every time they complete a goal, they add another goal into their mental headspace. Before you know it, you have turned the game into your life because there’s not a point where you stop adding more goals to your list of things you find interesting.

The next one is the ladder grind. This is the type of grind that you’d find in a game like Valorant. Or maybe even PvP in MMOs, too.

League of Legends also.

It’s found in competitive games with ranked leaderboards. So this is this is the grind for players that are ranked in fighting games as well. It doesn’t have to be fighting games either. Just games where there are matches that you’re competing with other players and you’re trying to climb that ladder.

Yeah, we actually sidestepped becoming sucked into this a couple of weeks ago when we did our Street Fighter V episode. We had the opportunity to join ranked matches. If we had done that, it probably would have been the final episode of The Gaming Persona.

Oh, goodness. Yeah.

I would have said “Jenny, I can’t record today. I have to get to the bronze tier of Season 47 of Street Fighter V.”

Yeah, I mean, that’s a real thing. I’ve never played ranked PvP or any sort of fighting game ranked because that is not my jam.

Also, there was ranked PvP in SWTOR, but they had weapons that were locked into qualifying at different tiers. Then using your currency that you earn from the ranked victories in different ways, these weapons were visually cool. Using them is automatically a status symbol that you are a BAMF in that game space. If you don’t get the right number of points, or the right number of PvP coins by a certain date, then you lose your chance to get that item possibly forever. You never know what season they’re going to bring it back. That Super Fire, Green Acid Lightsaber that you wanted, that’s why people play. It’s not because they necessarily want to. It’s because if I don’t get an extra 3000 PvP ranked points before Thursday at 9pm Pacific time, I will not have my lightsaber that I’ve been waking up in the morning trying to earn every day for the last nine months. It’s kind of like coercion or player manipulation.

Yeah, it does feel kind of icky when you talk about.

Yeah.

The next one is the background grind. These are optional things that players can do in the background while they play the game in other ways. It is like crafting, and we’ve talked about that already. So, let’s go to the next one.

That sounds like a fun one.

The gacha grind?

Yeah. Do you know what this is?

No, I don’t.

This is like one of the big topics in mental health conferences when they want someone to talk about video games. If you don’t mention this, you’re going to be forced to talk about this in the Q&A.

Oh, okay. Yeah, so this it seems like this is like gambling. So those mobile games that you play… would this be like a type of like Candy Crush?

Where you’re trying to get the cool new dragons and in order to do that you have to play so many levels, and you have to grind so much to be able to get these rare characters?

Yes!

Yeah, in fact, the conference presentation that really put me on the map as someone that people want to have talking about video games was about a gacha mechanic in the game Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius. One particular person who posted their story on Reddit about how this game ruined their life, and I took that Reddit post and looked at the patch notes for the game to see when the loot boxes were available for the entire history of the game up to the point of that Reddit post. I put the timeline together of what characters he was trying to get and how much money he spent in order to reach the total amount that he that he blamed the game for him spending. The whole thing hinged on every couple of months, one of the most famous Final Fantasy characters would get added to the list. This is a game with a setup where you’re doing classic Final Fantasy fights. You have a team of four people, and you’re fighting these big bosses in Final Fantasy dungeons. The nostalgia is huge in this game because the pixel style is really Super Nintendo-esque, but with elevated Super Nintendo graphics. So the explosions look like they’re higher than Super Nintendo, like an iPad game would be because iPad / iPhone is what this is played on. The character that got him at the end, where he got caught and had to stop playing the game, was Cloud from Final Fantasy VII. The odds of getting Cloud to open from a crystal pack that you’re paying real money for was so low that he spent over $3,000 into the game to try to open packs for Cloud (or something like that). That’s a gacha grind is you can earn a little bit in the game to try to get these cool things by dumb luck just by playing for free. If you want a team that is truly viable and can clear any content in the game, you’re going to have to spend a lot of money.

A lot of a lot of mobile games are designed to where you have to pay for them, and are also just not enjoyable.

All right, we have two more Jenny. Have you ever played Farmville?

No, that one didn’t get me. Candy Crush got me, but that one did not.

Well, number five is the social game grind. So social network games… I don’t remember when this craze was, but it was years ago on Facebook. There’s a game called Farmville, and games like this, they’re very repetitive and you have to return daily. The timer is reset in real time to be able to farm and get your crops, and one of the big things about Farmville was recruiting your friends to play the game. I do remember a time where I had many friends who played Farmville and I would get messages from many people per day asking me to be their friend on Farmville because you get rewards for having a lot of friends in the game.

So like referral codes, ruin all your friendships and will give you an extra farm.

Yeah. You’ll get an extra ear of corn or something. I don’t know. Yeah, so it was designed to annoy your friends, and also to get other people to play it in terms of the game design. That was a way that they got so many people to play, because it was just free marketing for them via Facebook Messenger.

Stardew Valley has some great relaxation and mindfulness qualities. The entire point of the game is to do things repetitively in a low stress kind of environment. Click To Tweet

So the incremental game grind is a grind where pushing the button gains you currency, and that’s the whole game. What this means is, you have a game where you just need to have it open. Then, you just need to pay attention to time. Every five minutes, just go in and click the thing. Get back to what you’re doing. It’s a passive grind. What happens is it causes the game to become a constant part of your day.

Yes, Evony is like this.

Yes, you start thinking about your entire morning as “Well, I’m going to do something that’s actually important, but every seven minutes I have to remember to go and press the button again, because that will maximize how much I earn.” So when I actually can sit down and play it for my lunch break, I’ll have enough crystals to actually play for 20 minutes, something like that.

The last grind is one that I have become very familiar with through Elden Ring. It’s called the lone grind. Now, this is listed as single player only games, but I don’t think they have to be single player only. I think they can be games where you can accomplish the majority of the things just fine alone. Because of that, multiplayer options, and internet connectivity are optional. That’s what Elden Ring is. Really, what this is, is you fight enemies, you gain EXP, and you level up all by yourself. It’s not social. There’s no team strategy. It’s just you, in the game, playing. If you’re driven to have your character at max level, or to gain certain weapons, then it’s kind of like the MMORPG grind, but it’s without the online component. One of the one of the first grinds I ever remember doing is in the Kingdom Hearts games back on PS2. I would want Sora to be level 99 by the time I reached the end of the game, and I would want him to have the Ultima Keyblade. So that means I would have to go track down certain enemies and kill them and get the random chance that they’ll drop the components that I can give to the Moogles and then the Moogles will be able to synthesize the Keyblade for me. then I will have max level Sora with a max power Keyblade, and that makes me the most powerful I possibly can be. Now it’s time to go defeat Xehanort; the final boss of the game. That’s just what I am as a game player, is I’m very willing to engage in the lone grind.

That’s another one where I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it.

You don’t play JRPGs just for fun so you can deepen your awareness of video game mythology?

 I sure don’t. That’s why you are Dr. Gameology.

Yeah, that is why I am THE Dr. Gameology. I just wanted to take that the the way that other universities you’re not fond of do.

The Lone Grind is when you fight and level up all by yourself. It's not social. There's no team strategy. It's just you, in the game, playing. Click To Tweet

 

The Return

 

Anyway, let’s go on the Return, where we go back to our daily lives and take our next step forward. So Jenny, we’ve talked about all the different grinds. We’ve talked about it academically. We’ve talked about it from our own experience, and we’ve listed some games. So, what do you think you can notice about your connection with video games for the next week now that we’ve had this talk?

Well, I’m looking forward to grinding for Nier raid pieces. It just reminded me that it’s why I started playing the game, or at least in a real way. It’s my ultimate; it was the first goal that I’ve ever had for my Final Fantasy (character). I’m here like a year and a half into playing, and I still haven’t reached this goal. So I’m really, really excited to grind for the same gear that you said you grinded for, for I don’t know how long.

Yeah, I got it after three or four runs through that dungeon, which isn’t so bad, but it is an investment in your time.

Yeah, it’s a few hours,

If you could, when you get a chance to play, message me a couple hours before you do because I also have a shirt from the Nier raids that I would like to collect for my Samurai, and maybe we could bundle those two quests together.

That sounds good to me.

Oh my gosh, we didn’t even list the “grading papers for online courses” grind, Jenny? So that’s the thing I’m going to take with me. It is that when we talk about these things, from video games, it’s because we’re noticing that they work in ways that motivate us and draw us in. They can also be helpful for us to understand how our mind operates and connects with other kinds of activities that are completely different than our video game habits.

Yeah, and the editing grind is intense right now.

Yes, both of us on the show today (And I’m sure Gene in his work has things that are quite similar, probably involving spreadsheets), we have these intense, lengthy activities, where it really helps for our mind to enter the flow channel, lose our dreary focus on time and just let time, flow through us and exist while we complete the task at hand. If we need to make something with that activity, like a playlist, or like a phone call, I do that with Jenny all the time when I have to sit down and just grade papers, and I’ve had enough. I think video games, whether it’s the lone grind, or whether it’s the social or gacha grind, [hopefully we’re not gacha grinding too many things because money is limited and your mortgage will go up way before your earnings will everybody] but games are telling us lessons about life. These grinds are all hints at how to push ourselves to do things better, when the only choice we have is to walk in and make things happen. And Jenny, you said something that sounded funny, but it was actually probably the best point of the whole episode is there is no Dr. Kaufmann without Sora and that level 99 and the Ultima Keyblade. It’s because of grinding mechanics that I just see the stack of papers – Like it’s the Puppets Bunker and there’s a dress that I want that’s called “there’s no more papers left.” There’s a there’s a Keyblade that I want to earn that is called “another cup of coffee.” I just wind up with things in my day metaphorically so that it feels like a challenge that if I have the right mentality, then I’ll just do it until it’s done, and get that level up fanfare!

That is a good application to our life.

All right. Well, in that case, I have a final question for everyone to collect from our show today. Enjoy the grind and Continue the Journey.

See you next week.

Important Links

References

Kaufmann, D. A. (2018). Loot Box RNG: A Case Exploration of Video Game Gambling. Presented at Southern Region Problem Gambling Conference 2018.

Perdomo, P. (2021). Grinding from a Player’s and Game Designer’s Point of View. Student thesis, DiVA. http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:mau:diva-43306

TheGamer.com (2022). The Best Games With The Most Grinding. Retrieved from https://www.thegamer.com/best-games-most-grinding/

A Whale of a Tale: FFBraveExvius. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/FFBraveExvius/comments/7jmezv/a_whale_of_a_tale/

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