Much of life consists having to deal with and overcoming opposites. One of these opposites is what’s known as the “grind”, to grab a term from the gaming world. The “grind” is usually used to describe any activity that is repetitive and tedious. However though in the world of gaming and gamification it is a necessity to juxtapose something more positive against it, and make that stand out more.
This juxtaposition of the grind and say a reward is a power that parallels, and opposites can offer you. To gain the best image of what this entails, just think of narratives and storytelling practices, where parallel narrative lines occur in a single story. An example that everyone knows by now is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Even if you’ve only seen the films by Peter Jackson, you can see how jumping between different parallel stories works.
In the Lord of the Rings, you could almost say that thanks to the parallel storytelling, the forced absence of one side made you yearn more for another narrative line. I know for me personally, that the narratives of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli were fun and that the ones with Frodo, Samwise and Gollum were the grinds.
As we all know though, experiences and daily activities also have the opposites of the grind and fun. As you can see from the narrative example, having this split is needed, as too much of a good thing no longer makes it good. We know this from our favorite foods, drinks, etc… This is also a concept that very familiar in gamification, and that’s Scarcity. The split between fun, or the reward and the grind, can be seen as a form of adding scarcity into an experience. But we’ll explore Scarcity in gamification properly in a future post.
One thing that needs to be cleared up early, is that the grind is always seen as something negative. As an aspect of a game or gamified experience that should be avoided or removed. This isn’t entirely correct, the grind is strictly speaking not fun, and should be minimised as much as possible. But it is a necessity to allow for progress and learning. Without it, the reward can’t be achieved.
Parallels and opposites: The purpose of the grind
The reward or goal is the end result of your actions, but you need a way to get there somehow. The activity can be many things, but often you need to use the grind to be the activity. Change the mindset that it’s something to be avoided, but rather as another tool in your set to allow a player to move from one stage to another. It’s another path that they can follow on their journey.
The grind that the player follows then, has a purpose. They may feel it is tedious and repetitive, but it has a very important purpose. It is the path where the player practices all the things they have learned. It is the practice arena for the challenging and fun parts that the player will inevitably encounter. Without this time and space for the grind, the player doesn’t learn.
So, we know that the grind is designed to be repetitive and teach skills, we also know it serves as a juxtaposition for the enjoyment of the final challenge. But now you’re probably saying that that is all well and good, but surely, it’s still tedious even though its necessary. Well, yes and no, you need to introduce the grind at the rights to ensure it doesn’t become too tedious and boring. The grind is not only there to train the player, but it’s also there to give the player a moment of respite between challenges. The grind also serves as a period of mental rest in the player. You could argue it’s almost a period of meditation or mindful reflection, that occurs between short bursts of high tension, stressful, challenging situations in the game or gamified experience.