As a gamer, I've always been fascinated by how gamers in general can spend hours upon hours in front of the computer playing games. Here's an insightful article found in Wired.com with a halfway plausible explanation. Do you agree?
Back to the Grind in WoW — and Loving Every Tedious Minute
By Clive Thompson
Last week, I finally decided to start playing World of Warcraft again. And you know what that means: Exciting medieval adventures! Chess-like strategizing with guildmates over raid techniques!
And, of course, grinding.
Hours upon hours of mind-numbing grinding.
Even if you've never played World of Warcraft -- or any role-playing game, online or off -- you are probably familiar with the concept. To "level up" your character, you've got to gain experience, and that generally involves doing a few simple tasks -- mostly "killing stuff" and "collecting stuff" -- over and over again.
When I rolled my new Paladin, I had to spend the next eight hours planted at my desk, repetitively clicking through the same tasks as if I were an industrial robot making car parts on the Chrysler line. I slaughtered wolves, bears, a few more wolves, some creepy little Kobold humanoids, then -- hey -- some more wolves. I rooted around in their corpses for random junk. (Woo! A candlestick!) Then I did it again. And again. And again. Until 3 a.m., actually.
This is of the most-prodigious mysteries of the gamer soul. Theoretically, we love multiplayer games because they offer a dramatic alternative to our shades-of-beige meatspace lives. They let us cast off our mundane existence and become a colorful, empowered hero. And what do we do with this second life?
We behave like obedient workers in a Soviet collective outside Stalingrad, circa 1971. Comrade, your job is to collect potatoes. For seven years. We pay $20 a month for this privilege.
What the hell is wrong with us?
There are several obvious explanations for why we grind. Partly, we know that the game gets interesting only once you're powerful enough to fight the bad-ass monsters. We'll endure whatever hazing necessary to get there. We'll grind until the sun explodes.
There's also the addictiveness of it all. And as I've argued before, WoW -- like many RPGs -- was designed to replicate the emotional logarithm of heroin. You reach level 2 quickly, level 3 a bit less quickly, and levels 4, 5 or 22 less quickly yet -- but it's such a blast each time you level up that you can't stop the party. You'll kill yourself to feel that hit one more time.
These explanations are all true, more or less. But I actually believe there's another reason we're willing to spend 20 hours a week grinding, and it's far weirder.
It's because we love it. We love grinding.
We cannot get enough of it.
Why? Because there's something enormously comforting about grinding. It offers a completely straightforward relationship between work and reward. When you log into WoW, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you just plant your ass in that chair for long enough, you'll level up. It doesn't require skill. It just requires putting in the time. Play 10 hours, you'll do better; play 50, you'll do better yet; and yet more so with 500 hours.
The thing is, almost no arenas of human endeavor work like this. Many are precisely the opposite, in fact. When you go to your job at the office, there's little or no linkage between effort and achievement: You slave like a madman all year long, only to watch the glad-handing frat guy hired two months ago get promoted above you. And if you're a really serious nerd, the logic that governs interpersonal relationships -- marriage, kids, your parents -- is even more abstruse: Things can actually get worse the more time and effort you put into them.
But grinding? Grinding always works. Always. You get a gold star just for showing up. This is a quietly joyful experience. It feeds our souls, as well as our sense of justice and fair play. We grind because we can't believe what a totally awesome deal we're getting handed here, often the first time in our entire suck-ass put-upon lives.
Granted, a game based around grinding tends to privilege those with huge amounts of free time, which of course means younger people and robots and gold-farming guys in China (who, incidentally, are sometimes getting handed a much better deal than they'd get in a comparable meatspace job). And here's the inevitable caveat: I realize that WoW isn't only about grinding; it encourages teamwork and cooperation and strategy and woof-woof, meow-meow.
But let's not kid ourselves. There's a lot of grinding going on in that game. Like, right now. Seriously; go log on and check. I'll wait right here. It's cool.
Grinding is idiotic, but it will never go away, because it sustains us. When we're exhausted by things we can't understand, we take solace in things that are what they say they are. Our video games may be idiotic, but at least their idiocies are consistent.