Quests are not a grind

29th July 2009 – 7.36 pm

From Of Teeth and Claws I find that Epic Slant has published a post apparently busting the 'myth' that games with quests are no less of a grind than those without. This piques my interest, so I take a look.

After some preamble there is a statement about what it means for a game to be a 'grind'.

The truth ladies and gentlemen is that killing monsters for experience does not equate to grinding. No matter how much someone might want to disagree with me or prove this article wrong you cannot make that statement true.

I will have to agree with him, in that the fundamental act of killing mobs is not in itself a grind. However, he continues that

the word grind simply comes from an MMO that is 'hard' or 'slow' to level.

It may be the case that the term 'grind' once held that meaning, but the use of words can change over time and it is no longer the common meaning. 'Grinding' in a game is now commonly used to describe 'the process of engaging in repetitive and/or non-entertaining gameplay in order to gain access to other features within the game.'

In its current, accepted use, to 'grind' in an MMORPG can precisely be used to describe the killing of monsters for XP, as long as it is repetitive or non-entertaining, and in my experience players only refer to a grind when play certainly is failing to entertain them. So Ferrel's declaration that he can

design an MMO that only gives experience from the slaughter of monsters and I can make it level faster than WoW

is missing the point. It isn't the speed of the levelling that makes a game a grind, at least not any more, it's merely how boring the endured activity is.

Even though his entire argument is based on a flawed premise he goes on to state that

quests do not mean easier

which may be be true. However, Ferrel then makes a salient point but unfortunately appears to miss its significance, noting that quests

just give the perception because we get to go out with a purpose.

It is precisely this 'purpose' that quests bestow on a player that means they are not perceived as a grind. Even if the quests involve some repetitive behaviour it is the breaking up of the monotony of killing mobs by dealing with NPCs that helps remove the perception of grind, by adding a perception of purpose, however keen Ferrel is to point out that

you lose time by stopping the slaughter to go back and turn in the quest.

Again, the confusion is likely to be owing to the misunderstanding of the current definition of 'grind'.

As a side note, declaring that games with quests being easier for some players

doesn't mean it is better [game design] however

is moving the goalposts. Either the discussion is about quests being a grind or games with quests being 'better' by design. The writer's shift in focus may well betray a bias that he simply doesn't like quests.

There is more to dislike about games with quests, as they apparently destroy other urges we may have.

Not only are we discouraged to explore we are penalized


if you don't get the exact right quests that all go to a similar area and then come right back you aren't leveling efficiently.

Well, perhaps not, but then it seems like a matter of definitions again, as I certainly wouldn't call getting the right quests for an area 'exploring'. I have done some exploring, and it has all involved wandering off the beaten path to find little-visited areas, or places not shown on the map. Exploring to me is seeing new and exciting sights and has nothing to do with character progression. Failing to find new quests has never marred any of my explorations. For Ferrel, exploring is more about

if the [mob level] was right you could be anywhere you pleased and there were always numerous places to go.

That could be any game at all, as I have yet to play an MMORPG that didn't have multiple available zones in which to quest, particularly with the remarkably broad and vague requirement that the mob level be 'right'. And I doubt finding the quest hubs is any more of a chore than finding an area with mobs of a suitable level in non-quest-based games, as it seems like the goals and methods used would be identical.

Finally, claiming that the quest model of gaming is absurd because you don't always get quests to save the world is not only facile but again shows a bias against quests instead of arguing about them being a grind. Starting out in an RPG nearly always puts you as an unknown and weak wannabe adventurer, performing simple tasks that develop as the character does, much as when I was younger putting dishes in the kitchen sink seemed like a Herculean effort. If we start an RPG by saving the world there would be little room for any character progression, arguably the entire point of an RPG. By the time characters have enough experience they really can seem like they are saving the world. If any fault can be laid at game design for not capturing this sensation fully it is the 'massively multiplayer' part of 'MMORPG' that bears the brunt, because it is impossible to design a game containing thousands of individuals who can all wield Excalibur without losing the sense of being a unique hero that is otherwise possible in a single-player game.

Utlimately, the argument that quests are the same as a grind resolves to what it means for a game to have a 'grind'. If we accept Ferrel's definition that a 'grind' means the game is hard or slow to level then we cannot deny his central premise. However, it should be clear that few players refer to a 'grind' in those terms—particularly when the grind is often thought to start at the level cap—instead thinking of it as repetitive or unentertaining content that needs to be endured to access other, more entertaining content. And, in the latter case, being tasked by NPCs to perform different objectives, having to interrupt active hunting to interract with various NPCs, and being guided to new quest hubs, all whilst given the motivation of a 'purpose', is exactly what differentiates a quest from being a 'grind'.

But none of this means that a quest cannot be a grind. Repeating the same quest many times, like a 'daily' quest in World of Warcraft, in order to gain reputation or a chance of a specific reward—effectively 'gaining access to other features within the game' by specific progression—is just as much a grind as repeatedly hunting the same group of respawning mobs for the same reason. But that one quest can be a grind and another not clearly shows that the property of being a grind must be separate and distinct from that of being a quest. This neatly disproves the central assertion of Ferrel's post that quests are inherently a grind. It is fine not to like quests, but to issue an emotionally charged tirade against them disguised as a dissection of game mechanics is a little deceptive.

  1. 2 Responses to “Quests are not a grind”

  2. I appreciate the in depth response to my article. Strangely it didn't come in as a ping back of I would have seen it sooner.

    I really do understand your points but obviously I do have some disagreement.

    You suggest that my definition of a grind is no longer relevant in today's MMOs and is more related to repetitive actions. I would suggest they are the same thing.

    If an MMO is "easier" than the actions to level are not requried to be repeated endlessly. Needing to kill 1000 mobs to level is going to feel much more repetitive than killing 250. As such, difficulty and repetition go hand in hand.

    You also suggest that each quest can't be a meaningful experience to everyone. I, once more, disagree. You are correct in the sense that not every MMO player can have Excalibur. They can, however, all have a meaningful existence and experience the thrill of being a hero. You cite that we all have to start out as wannabe adventures and work our way up. Why? There is no actual reason other than "that is how it is always been done." Yet when you step into a console game you can immediately be a hero. Does it cheapen the experience because your roommate is also the same hero? No, it simply doesn't. If anything you both get to talk excitedly about the same great experiences. Unique and hero are not synonyms.

    If you look at what TOR claims to be you find that it is essentially going to be very focused on each individual player via the class they choose. Playing through each class from start to finish will be an epic journey that differs greatly from the other arch-types. Story seems to be the most important aspect and plays right into this.

    Bias or not, I have to stick by my article. Quests are just as grindy and boring as slaying endless hordes of mobs. We need to do away with the myth or make questing much more meaningful.

    By Ferrel on Aug 5, 2009

  3. Thanks for the reply.

    You make some interesting points, particularly with regards to accepting the current generation of games as being 'the way it's done'. I think the idea of working up to being a hero can imbue more story in to a character, much like an origin story, but that's not to say you cannot begin as a hero as you point out.

    I look forwards to future games, and will keep abreast of the functionality in The Old Republic. Hopefully a new generation of games will be produced that can retain interest without resorting to 'the grind', whatever it means to any particular player.

    By pjharvey on Aug 5, 2009

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