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Aaron Waite Aaron Waite
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Stuck on Repeat

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Connecting the cubicle farm with gold farming

I'd like to warn you in advance: This one is going to be rife with my patented brand of pseudo-psychological gibberish. Please brace your BS meters in advance.

Today, I'd like to discuss the impulse that drives us to grind in video games. Now, I'm not talking about that nasty little dance move that creep from the local club likes to pull off when he's had one too many Jell-O shots. For the layperson, grinding is any activity in games that requires an incredible amount of repetitive action spread over a long period of time in exchange for experience, skill levels or items.

Long considered a lost art, grinding was not only expected in the early days of RPGs, it was a downright necessity to lengthen games that otherwise would be fairly short. Hundreds of hours would need to be spent running back and forth in fields, forests and dungeons, enticing random monsters to throw themselves on your character's swords in order to gain level after yet another level. As we progressed in terms of technology and gameplay mechanics, we never really abandoned grinding, we just refined it. Random encounters in 'Dragon Warrior' became strategic material gathering in 'Mass Effect 2.' Experience was added to shooters and gave new life to the genre, possibly most prolifically with 'Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.' MMOs introduced epic quest chains to obtain the most powerful weapons and armor in the game, and some, such as 'EVE Online,' actually require days and sometimes weeks to train certain skills.

Over the years, we've become masters of the virtual time sink.However, the question still remains: Why do we feel the need to immerse ourselves in repetitive, seemingly meaningless tasks for seemingly small gain?You could also answer that with yet another question: Aren't we already the masters of the actual time sink?

We immersed ourselves in our workplace long before we immersed ourselves in fantasy worlds. We deposited years of our lives in cubicles, doling out tasks that, in the large scheme of things, were just as meaningless as filling out the sphere grid in 'Final Fantasy X.' We've spent lifetimes busting our collective derrieres trying to claw our way to the next rung on the ladder, the next floor in the company high rise. Even in our hobbies, we've dedicated night after night perfecting the backspin on our golf drives, the swing of our bats in baseball, and the English on our bowling tosses.

'Now, Aaron,' you say in that exact tone you always seem to use when you mentally disagree with me, 'everything you listed off is far more productive and meaningful than grinding out my Scryer' reputation from hated to neutral by farming Dampscale Basilisk Eyes for a random NPC!'

Are you really sure?

You need to work to make money so you can live in your home, pay your bills, occasionally eat and commit to that wonderful practice of soap-based hygiene. In that respect, work is unequivocally more important.But is it necessarily more meaningful?

Your levels in 'Battlefield 3' will someday be a memory and then, soon after, forgotten. The planogram you just set up in the canned goods aisle will be torn down and rebuilt before the month is out. Every fax you've sent will eventually be lost. Your arena standing in 'Halo: Reach' will interest no one within three years. Every article you wrote about video games in a local paper will probably never be read after the week of its printing.

So why do we commit ourselves to these grinding tasks, knowing that, eventually, the fruits of our efforts won't amount to anything?

Because as humans, all we need is meaning for each moment.

And if our efforts give us meaning, then maybe someone will remember the enthusiasm of our efforts long after the products of those efforts have abandoned us.

Aaron Waite is not responsible for BS meters broken while reading his articles.

Last modified on Friday, 08 June 2012 12:49

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