Strong opinions, weakly held

Why people grind in games

Clive Thompson explains why people accept and even enjoy the grind in games:

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.

I have often thought that this is the main allure of games. They offer a simple model of real life where the incentives are perfectly clear. It’s a refreshing break from the complexity of human relationships and human endeavor.


  1. This is why my young son likes to play games (nickjr.com, pbskids.org, etc) on the computer so much – the games are a familiar universe where the rules for success and failure are clearly defined.

  2. Ooo, “abstruse” is excellent.

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