Why Am I Doing This?
"Why am I doing this?" is the question currently posed over at KeenandGraev.com and it certainly makes for some interesting introspection and personal reflection. Most gamers have at some point found themselves carrying out some arbitrary task in a game, pausing and then musing as to why they have chosen to do something as mundane and possibly even as tedious as “kill 10 rats” or “pick up nails” (yes, I’m looking at you LOTRO). Regardless of whether such mechanics are right or wrong, lazy or “classic”, grinding is an inherent aspect of most video games, especially the MMO genre. Players burn through narrative driven quest content far too quickly, therefore there has to be systems to slow player progress down and make then repeat content. However, the point of the original post isn’t to debate whether grinding is right or wrong. It’s about what you as a player do next when you finally ask yourself this question.
I found the reply from MMO blogger Bhagpuss to be particularly illuminating. “Because” usually works for me”. Sometimes playing an arbitrary game and pursuing the most mundane of tasks is a source of relaxation for players. Not everyone is motivated by the quid pro quo of gear grinding and levelling, although these are powerful motivators. Sometimes just logging into an MMO and crafting, or resource gathering or even just touring the virtual world is an invaluable means of unwinding. Often when playing through such content, gamers will often do other things, such as listen to podcasts. Hence the game is facilitating another activity. Another common occurrence is that when players log into a game and “grind” through repetitive content, they are often logged into Discord and speaking with friends and colleagues. So viewed from a broader perspective the “because” reason that Bhagpuss mentions, is potentially a conduit to wider pastimes or social interaction.
On a slightly more serious note, the “planting crops and watering them” that Keen references in his original post, is the sort of game mechanic that some gamers will use as a coping mechanism during times of stress and anxiety. Losing oneself in a virtual world can be a very appealing prospect when one has a great deal of major real-world problems. The routine and structure of repetitive game play can have therapeutic value. I know many gamers who struggle with depression and other mental health issues who find that games provide a very stabilising influence, keeping them focused and occupied. And on a simpler level, day to day life is hard for many people for economic and logistical reasons. I certainly find a degree of comfort in the mundane at times. Pursuing such goals in an MMO helps block out the tedium and worry associated with contemporary politics.
However, we should all remember that although the question “why am I doing this?” may be a universal constant, our personal responses are subjective. As I’ve written before, one person’s grind is another’s hog heaven. Hence the point when a gamer asks themselves “do I really need to go to Splaticon IV yet again and retrieve the Sword of Kagnazax?” is different for everyone. I certainly know where my own personal lines in the sand are drawn. I view gaming very much in a transactional fashion. I do something because of the reward it offers or the amusement it affords. The moment those criteria are not met, I’ll do something else, although it took me several years to come to terms with this policy. Social obligation and the sunk cost fallacy can be hard habits to break. So overall, I think encouraging gamers to police themselves from time to time by contemplating this question is a good thing, because the tail doesn’t wag the dog.