Repetitive grinding in games is relaxing
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013
Updated: Sunday, January 27, 2013 23:01
“New Super Mario Bros. 2,” released last August for the 3DS, has something unusual for a Mario game: a near-pointless, time-consuming goal.
(Haha, yes, non-gamer masses. I know video games are near-pointless consumers of time already.)
The game asks players to collect 1 million coins, an arbitrary number if there ever was one. Completing this challenge unlocks nothing more than a new title screen. Worse yet, it’s so ridiculously high that by the time I finished the game, I was less than a third of the way there.
There’s a “Coin Rush” mode, selectable from the title screen, where you play through three random levels. The trick is that by hitting the top of the end-level flagpole, your running total gets doubled. Therefore, the coins can REALLY rack up, and it’s actually fun to challenge your own tally over time.
This effectively introduces a mechanic wherein a player does repetitive tasks over and over and OVER in pursuit of a higher score.
It’s an absolute grind. It should not be fun. BUT IT IS.
“Grinding,” among gamers, usually refers to a system in role-playing games that’s designed to artificially stretch out the length of a game. The player is presented with some sort of obstacle that they won’t be able to overcome unless they go back to already completed area and level up their stats.
Grinding was codified in the mid-late ‘80s in Japan, where companies wanted gamers to have to rent a game multiple times or keep it past its return date in order to complete it.
Long-time readers will be well-aware that I don’t generally care for RPGs on either side of the pond. But Mario got me thinking — can there be something enjoyable about this?
Video games aren’t always fun. Sometimes they’re frustrating, teeth-grinding experiences. My childhood Super Nintendo controllers still creak from all the times I practically broke them in half struggling through “Donkey Kong Country 2.”
But sometimes, they’re relaxing or even cathartic. It was no accident that I’d often find myself turning on a podcast, kicking back and collecting some more coins without really thinking about it.
Aside from listening to something else, I’ve found you can reach a near-meditative state in doing something repetitively and doing it well. When I was a teenager, I would often play “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” and let my mind sort out whatever was going on.
There’s a certain zen to grinding, and while I’m still unlikely to enjoy a game that expects me to do it for completion’s sake, I definitely see the appeal.