Monday, April 11, 2011

On Grinding in Games and in Real Life

Or, "How Minecraft Got Me to Clean My Apartment"

I have long turned to video games for the fulfillment of a variety of emotions. This is not a bad thing, and is often a viable method. They expose me to stories, allow bonding with friends from any distance, and allow me to exercise my competitive nature at a moment's notice. Recently, I found myself turning to video games for a sense of accomplishment [yes it sounds silly when I write it out].

Many games are designed to provide this feeling. Achievements, quest rewards, scoreboards, and level-up systems all are built to provide the player with positive feedback when they succeed. This feels good. It's this cycle that forms the foundation for much of World of Warcraft and other MMORPGs.

I decided to hop on Minecraft and to work on creating something awesome, which would provide me a temporary diversion until my girlfriend would be available to hang out later in the day. I was feeling pretty excited because when I was done I could show my friends what a sweet thing I had built. I remembered some of the really awesome and epic things my friends have constructed and how I was impressed with their creativity and dedication. I started gathering up resources and planning out what I would make.

But my feeling of restlessness that led to a desire for productivity was not quenched.

It was at this point that I realized that much of what I needed to do to create something cool to impress people with was purely grinding: boring, repetitive work. I was digging up a metric buttload of sand to smelt into glass to make something neat and I realized I wasn't really having fun. Then it hit me.

If I was in a mood to do something that wasn't innately fun, but would produce an impressive and satisfying result, I should go do some chores. I decided to clean up my apartment. While my apartment wasn't dirty, it was certainly rather cluttered, and I immediately set to it. I could feel the rush as I began to work, knowing that soon I could stand back in front of a nice, tidy room and smile over a job well done. I thought about how my girlfriend would feel when she came over and saw that things were in much less disarray than before.

And when I finished, I was happy.

I'm starting to take stock of what kind of gaming I enjoy these days. I think I've started to lose my taste for "persistent" games; games where you constantly work on improving a thing (character, world, house, etc). As much as I still struggle to motivate myself to begin such activities, I find that I feel happier grinding out housework and exercise or pursuing creative endeavors than grinding out levels and gear.

Addendum and disclaimer:

By no means do I wish to malign Minecraft or MMOs or any other sort of grindy game. All (or at least most) have many other factors that I find tremendously enjoyable. I hate when people use this word to describe games, so fuck me for saying so, but I think Minecraft is one of the most important games of the past few years.

Nor do I wish to imply that I think less of anyone who enjoys the satisfaction of making something cool in a game, even if it takes a long time and a lot of work. Sometimes it's purely the scope of the effort required that makes something impressive. This is purely a story of how I came to find what grindy activity gives me the greatest satisfaction in the end. If you made an awesome Minecraft castle, please do show me. To see anything that someone has really dedicated a lot of time to is beautiful in its own right.

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