According to Wikipedia, “grinding” is defined as “performing repetitive tasks for gameplay advantage. In MMORPG, for instance, it can be advantageous to repeatedly kill AI-controlled monsters, using basically the same strategy over and over again to advance one's character level and to unlock content. Grinding may be required by some games to unlock additional features such as level progression or additional items”. Although I broadly agree with this summation, I feel that “grinding” is one of those terms that can also be very subjective. Repetitious content has a specific purpose in video games, especially the MMO genre. Not all of it is tedious or egregious. Therefore, it is a question of degrees. Killing 25 mobs of a specific species may be a tolerable number. A challenge but not a task that out stays its welcome. However, double that amount a suddenly a line has been crossed. The entire undertaking now feels like it has been inflated simply to slow player progress down, which is more than likely the exact purpose of the task.
I’m sure we can all think of specific instances of “grinding”. I’ve always found the reputation system in LOTRO to be a ponderous slog and have not bothered with it in recent updates. The Delta Quadrant remains a gruelling zone to progress through in STO. Sadly, the MMO genre gates a lot of interesting rewards using this mechanic, which places the player in a difficult position. Endure something that you do not enjoy, which for many people mitigates the point of playing. Grinding does fly in the face of fun, leisure and enjoyment. Or bypass the content and potentially gimp yourself in some capacity. It’s a bit of a Hobson’s choice. The other option is to stop playing which raises the fundamental Achilles Heel of “grinding”. Developers often cannot create content fast enough for players to consume. So “grinding” is seen as a legitimate means to slow progression or return a player to a specific zone. It also presents useful cash shop opportunities. However, if this fine line is over stepped, it often results in players looking elsewhere for their leisure activities. I have temporarily stopped subscribing to LOTRO, specifically because of the Mordor “grind”.
According to games blogger Gevlon, all playable content is “grinding” and therefore any complaint against it is essentially a complaint against the very game itself. However, this is a flawed definition born of an erroneous binary view. “Grinding” is as I’ve previously stated both a subjective term and an activity that is perceptibly different from standard questing. For example, a repetitive activity may facilitate a scaled set of rewards. 50 kills may provide a bronze reward at tier 1, 100 kills provide a silver reward at tier 2 and finally 150 kills result in a gold reward at the final 3rd tier. Because the player can discern the maths in advanced and it is shown to be an equitable progression, they will undertake this arduous task but not necessarily perceive it as “grind”. However, if the developers decide to make the criteria for tier 3 to be 500 kills, then that cannot be quantified as a logically fair progression compared to the previous two tiers. Hence, the task will be seen as a grind to many players.
Gaming has developed a broad and esoteric lexicon over the last thirty years. Many of the terms are nebulous and interpreted differently. Gaming has become an increasingly broad church and I don’t see that changing in the future. Quite the opposite is likely. There are many mature gamers whose early experiences have shaped their perception of what exactly constitutes as gaming per se. However, times change and not everyone is subsequently exposed to the same conditions. Hence “grinding” is not a fixed and immutable term. One man’s “grind” is another man’s engaging gameplay. Be that as it may, I am prepared to suggest that there is a degree of commonality in the terms meaning. I actually think that the following definition by fellow game enthusiast and blogger Bhagpuss is possibly the most likely definition at present. He sees “grind” as “any repeatable activity you don’t want to do. “Gameplay” is any repeatable activity you do want to do”. And upon mature reflection, I concur.