I feel as though it is time to have my say on the overuse of the terms "grind" and "hardcore" in today's MMORPG community. We'll start with the "G word", which gets misused quite a bit. It therefore behooves us to establish a proper definition of grind and grinding before we continue. Grinding as a verb is properly defined as killing the same mobs for hours and hours, solo or grouped, with the express purpose of gaining XP. The same activity is farming if you're looking for materials, coin, or drops. Grind as a noun makes reference to the overall necessity of "grinding" in order to gain levels and be successful in a given MMO game.
All MMO games have grind, and these days if a game's grind is intense enough anyone who plays it refers to themselves as "hardcore". I do not concur. If you decide you want to play a game that has an exponential increase in XP requirement per level in later levels, then you are simply doing what you need to do to gain levels. What's so "hardcore" about that? I "ground" (?) my way to level 60 in Lineage II (back when the level cap was 70) but never thought to myself, "Wow, I am awesome at this grinding stuff... I must be hardcore!" It took months and months and months to gain the last 10 or so levels in L2, and when you'd die you'd lose 10% of your XP bar (days of work just gone). But still, all I was doing was playing normally within the parameters of the game.
This brings us to our definition of "hardcore". I define hardcore as a willingness to expend any resource and make any sacrifice in order to achieve a goal, accepting any and all risks that may be involved. You don't gain respect just by playing the game; what separates the wheat from the chaff is how the game is played. A great example from my Lineage II experience is Articula. Articula was a guild leader whose main character was a level-capped nuker. Many folks in Lineage II like to call themselves "Hardcore PvPers" due to the fact that you are more or less required to engage in PvP if you want to participate in the endgame.
The vast majority of these people are not hardcore PvPers but are rather unwilling to accept risks and endure setbacks in order to attain PvP success in any meaningful way. What made Articula truly hardcore? He was willing to expend 90% of his maxed-out XP bar (maybe a full month of grinding) in a failed castle siege attempt, where almost everybody else lost 10% then stopped fighting. He was willing to do anything necessary to contribute to the success of the siege, while a majority of supposed hardcore PvPers hung around in groups at the edge of the grass and hoped things turned out well.
I'd like to get back for a moment to grinding, and why people make such a big deal out of it in North America. The fact is that a really intense grind is not the problem with games lately. The root problem is this frothy-mouthed, rabid, almost psychotic race for max level and gear that people engage in these days. Not that I'm against gaining levels - obviously you want to be successful and levels are the only way to do that in an MMO. But it seems that the moment your character sets foot in the game world, there's this atmosphere that unless you have max levels and gear right now you're a failure at the game. Whatever time interjects itself between now and your attainment of max levels and gear is simply spent in a frantic effort to get there. It's interesting how the "I want it now" mentality rears its ugly head no matter what it is we as a collective group of people do.
Why is getting the best stuff and having the most things RIGHT NOW so important? And furthermore, why do you really think a game like World of Warcraft is so popular? One big reason is that to a certain extent it shamelessly indulges this instant-gratification fetish that the North American gamer is afflicted by. The reason grind isn't an issue in Korea is because they invest so much personal time and energy into their guilds and alliances that the attainment of levels is subservient to whatever goals the guilds and alliances have set for their members. On this side of the world we're individualists. I think that as MMO gamers we'd do well to consider thinking less about ourselves and more about the welfare of our guilds and alliances. Make an effort to contribute to something greater than just your own personal achievements.