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Gaming To Hell In A Handbasket

The trials, tribulations and musings of an MMO veteran trying to find the next holy grail.

Author: Strayfe

Whence Cometh "The Grind" - A Tale of Two Formats

Posted by Strayfe Thursday November 29 2007 at 3:15PM
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I grind two mobs in the morning; I grind two mobs at night.

I grind two mobs in the afternoon; It makes me feel alright.

I grind two mobs in time of peace, and two in time of war;

I grind two mobs before I grind two mobs; and then I grind two more.

Um... yeah... but why?

Good question.

In order to comply with the unofficial rules concerning blogs on MMORPG.com, I began my blogging career by pointing out the obvious.  World of Warcraft is the top dog right now.  Other companies are trailing along in its wake, generating facsimiles thereof faster than it would take me to level from 1-60 after the most recent patch.

Today, I will attempt to explain how the RPG in MMORPG transformed from Role-Playing Game into Repetitive Pointless Grind.

You see... when a male MMO and a female MMO meet... oh, wait... wrong story.

*cough*

Anyway! 

The vast majority of MMOs take place on the PC.  The vast majority of story-driven, single player games take place on consoles.  What happens when worlds collide?

Way, way back in the 1950s,  1960s and 1970s, there was no such thing as the "personal computer".  Computers were gi-normous, taking up 237 rooms, and they communicated with humans through the use of punch cards, which required a masters degree from MIT to operate properly.  Well, it's fairly safe to say that you needed to be a reasonably sophisticated, record-breaking genius to operate one.

Computers spawned intelligent people in those days.

When computer games came along in the 1970s and 1980s, it would stand to reason - said intelligent people needed intelligent games to entertain them.  And thus the original contingent of PC RPGs was born.  Games such as Wizardry, Ultima, Dungeon... the old school games that your father, or maybe even grandfather can tell you about if he was nerdy enough.

In those days, RPGs were HARD.  I owned a 386 with the original Wizardry, and I remember being absolutely flabbergasted by that game.  I had to make my own maps with graph paper, write down facts in a bloody tablet of paper, and generally tear my hair out to get anywhere whatsoever.  Gaining a level was cause to declare a national holiday.

Thus, for a long time, PC RPGs evolved down that route, staying true to their immersion and difficulty.

Then came Mario.

Yes, I know Atari came before Mario.  I know all about the Magnavox machine, and all the other half-ass attempts at a console system, but lets face it, the console boom began with Mario and the NES.  Developed in Japan.

Many Nintendo games were focused more on being simple and fun.  Accessible.  Mario-ish.  Sure, there was still the occasional game that made you want to stab yourself with a letter opener, but for the most part, Nintendo games weren't horribly difficult. Then came the SNES and Sega Genesis, taking that a step further.  Then the Playstation, N64 and Saturn.  You get the picture.  The console systems were and are far cheaper, and far more easily accessible as entertainment than a gaming-quality PC.  Those of us who were born around the time the NES was released grew up with consoles first, and PCs later.

But Strayfe, what the hell are you talking about?  What does this have to do with the grind?

I'm getting to it.  That sort of impatience is a symptom of the console generation.  The gimme-now generation.  The ADD generation.

The Squaresoft generation.

Uh oh.  He done screwed up now.  NOBODY MESSES WITH MY SQUARESOFT BLARGGHLARBLARGH OOOGA BOOGA!!

To be frank, I wouldn't be surprised if quite a few of you quit reading after that comment.  Squaresoft is hailed as the face of RPGs.  The company that can do no wrong.  The company that brought RPGs to the mainstream.  They are.  To suggest that there could be anything wrong with Squaresoft is to draw the wrath of untold numbers of the most rabid fandom in gaming history.

Every Tom, Dick and Harry has heard of the Final Fantasy series.  The loveable characters.  The linear, take-you-by-the-hand storyline.  The mushy love stories.  The cutting-edge graphics.  Final Fantasy is an endearing series that I myself have thoroughly enjoyed for 15 years now.  When I sit down to play a console game, I look forward to those exact things I just pointed out.  The characters, storyline, love stories, cutting-edge graphics.  When I sit down to play a new Final Fantasy, I never expect any sort of immersion or worldbuilding.  I never expect to be able to roleplay, or to create my own character for the game.

PCs became popular.  PCs are everywhere.  PCs are 'normal' now.  Gaming became popular.  Gaming is everywhere.  Gaming is 'normal' now.

Games aren't just for nerds anymore.  There are now those who can simultaneously enjoy a rousing hour or two of gaming and still manage to sit in direct sunlight without melting.  Why?  Because gaming tropes don't apply anymore.  Final Fantasy appeals to a broad audience because of how basic it is.  Final Fantasy made Squaresoft a lot of money.

One of Final Fantasy's most prominent features? 

The Grind.

How many times have you sat down to play an FF game (or any recent console RPG), have been enjoying yourself immensely, only to run into "The Boss".

"The Boss" is that one giant monster that you suddenly can't beat.  Everything has been going fine, and now you can't get past "The Boss".  You try every strategy you can possibly think of, but "The Boss" keeps slaughtering your ragtag band of teenagers, again and again, and yet again.  So what can you do?

The Grind.

The Grind.  You kill two mobs before you kill two mobs and then you kill two more.  You do it to level your characters.  You do it because you have to in order to beat "The Boss".  You do it after you beat "The Boss".  Why?  So that when you run into the next incarnation of "The Boss", you can stomp on him too.  Suddenly, it makes sense to just sit there and grind out another 50 levels to get to max level.  Then nobody can stop you, right?  Right?  75 hours later, you're at max level.  No "The Boss" will stand a chance against you.

Congratulations, you've just participated in The Grind.

Fascinating, no?  But wait... there's more!

This has become an enduring tradition in all JRPGs.  You have levels, you have "The Boss".  Grinding became such a norm that companies began trying to compensate for it.  JRPGs began to make "The Super Boss", a Boss so difficult that even if you grind to max level it's still a challenge.  So how did gamers respond?  By grinding.  Unable to grind levels anymore, they began to grind skills, or magic... or abilities...

Or gear.

Or that, yes.  When you can't grind out levels anymore, your only option is to head out and snatch up the absolute best gear for every slot on every character.  Lets see "The Super Boss" stop you then, eh?

The biggest fans of Final Fantasy and JRPGs are obviously asian.  Thus the J in JRPG.  When PCs became more mainstream, when gaming became more mainstream on PC, when MMORPGs began to emerge from the ever-expanding pile of games, they jumped on the bandwagon too.

So, if a rabid fan of Final Fantasy, of "The Grind", "The Boss", and "The Super Boss" makes an MMORPG, what do you get?  Why, all the asian grindfests that everyone complains about on the General forums!  The free to play, standardized, bore-you-to-tears, single-minded MMORPGs, which espouse all the bad things from Final Fantasy and JRPGs while offering NONE of the good.

You see where I'm going with this?  Asians aren't the only fans of Final Fantasy/JRPGs.

Not at all.  Not by a long shot.  Final Fantasy is famous worldwide.  It's famous with console gamers.  JRPGs are famous with console gamers.  Console gamers are used to easy, repetitive, simple gameplay. 

PCs originally required a good bit of intelligence to operate.  PC games required the same intelligence, because anyone with a PC was assumed to be intelligent.  PCs are now more mainstream, becoming moreso every day.  More and more console gamers are also PC gamers now.  Game developers must try to satisfy both markets.  MMORPGs must try to satisfy both markets.

The original old school PC gamer market wants immersion, depth, roleplaying.  They want their characters to stand out.  They want to become part of the world.  They want to use their intelligence to become someone else.  They want meaningful PvP.  Meaningful interaction with the world.

The console gamer wants the simple gameplay that they're used to.  They want easy advancement.  They want an easy way to compare themself to other gamers.  They want "The Grind" so that they can beat "The Boss" and brag about it to their friends.  They want the "Super Boss", so they can have something else to grind for, to set them above the people who are only capable of max level.  They are achievers first and foremost.  They want something new to accomplish, another level, another power-up, another new weapon, another new opponent.  When they run out of ways to achieve, they put the game down.

Developers realize this.  Blizzard succeeded in making the first MMORPG to appeal to the console crowd.  In playing World of Warcraft, some of the console crowd has become exposed to those like-minded to the original PC group.  Those that want something more.  The two types of gamer will mix and match, some will change their views to one side, and some to the other.  Ultimately, the two types will mix, and then we can look forward to games targetting gamers, instead of games targetting just console gamers, or just PC gamers.  

Eventually, the consolers will tire of the MMOJRPG model and they'll look ahead to the future.  Until the integration of console gamers and PC gamers is complete, we can expect a divided community.  There's no reason to fight over it, no reason to argue with the other side.  When all is said and done, there won't be a division anymore.  It'll just be gamers, looking forward to games made for gamers.

And in that future, all gamers win.

BadSpock writes:

For a first entry into the world of MMORPG.com blogging, that was excellent.

A very good read, thank you.

Can't really find anything to disagree with. Maybe I have to read it again... must.. argue... about.. something.... :)

Thu Nov 29 2007 3:26PM Report
vajuras writes:

I'm not sure if I agree I think console RPGs blow away MMORPGs its not close. Even in Final Fantasy 13 I have the freedom to design all of my characters (yes FREEFORM player created Classes) and I can make an Impact to the universe. Mass Effect and elder scrolls oblivion are by far some of the more complicated RPGs out blowing away MMORPGs. Decades ahead.

FF7 blows away WoW in every way. We 'lost' characters permenantly. How many mmorpgs have any form of permadeath whatsoever? Very few. The equivalent in my eyes is at least losing armor- something 95% of wowbois would cry a river over.

Its not our fault MMORPG developers have little imagination beyond taking one element from RPGs- yes just one element: character progression

MMORPG is missing:

- Impact

- Story (central storyline)

- True role playing where my actions can involve consequence like we see in Jade Empire

- Immersive combat (some are finally integrating that).

- Loss (yes in RPGs it is common to lose party members forever).

 

Yes they are linear but they are single player RPGs. None of us came to mmorpg expecting to see our beloved Genre to get DUMBED down. MMORPG is a bastard stepchild of RPGs.

Thu Nov 29 2007 5:21PM Report
Pepsipwnzgod writes:

so long it's gotta be a thumbs up :D

Thu Nov 29 2007 6:40PM Report
grimfall writes:

Interesting.

Not correct, but interesting.

PnP RPG/Wizardry/Ultima/Bards Tale/SSI DnD games/Baldur's Gate/Ultima Online/Everquest

Grinding is just a function of stretching out gameplay to stretch out the $10/month fees.  Play Oblivion and Mass Effect 20 hours a week for 5 years, then get back to me.

Fri Nov 30 2007 5:28PM Report
pixledriven writes:

I know I'm a few days late on this... but I just want to point out that you missed the Sega Master System.

I agree that Nintendo basically created the console boom. Massive marketing campaigns will do that. However, Sega released the Master System first, dammit. And thier 8-Bit console was not "half-assed," they far exceeded the NES is most every way, both in system and game performance.

Just compare Final Fantasy (yes, the first one) to Phantasy Star (also, first one, not this PSO bullshit they're peddling now) and you should see what I'm talking about. Final Fantasy ... yeah, great game.. When Sega developed Phantasy Star they decided to see exactly what those 8 bits could do .. and it shows.

Wed Dec 05 2007 4:37PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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