Hate “Grindy” Games? Blame “Hard” Games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Etc.

Image of Bloodborne character in trenchcoat and bonesaw turned away from the viewer.
Image Source: https://www.gamedesigning.org/learn/game-difficulty/

So, a few minutes ago, I was watching a YouTube video for a gamer/commentator by the name of AngryJoe. Now, he is known for his “Angry Rants” and “Angry Reviews” for popular video games. While often fair, he does become quite “Angry” when a game is bad (esp. when it was hyped to be good by the game publishers ahead of time. Now, this is an older video in which he’s discussing prospective pricing for cosmetic skins for the sci-fi video game Anthem. However, he notes later in the video that the game is likely to be (along with other games), “grindy” (which is gamer-speak for having to multiple “quests” in order to get your character to the appropriate level to face new, harder challenges–i.e., one must “grind” those quests out to be able to grow their character). He notes, with sarcasm, that game companies claim they want gamers to feel a sense of accomplishment for their actions (rolling his eyes all the while).

Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IKs4d5oj04&t=677s
(Warning NSFW (aka “Salty”) Language

Filling Out Surveys

So the very language that AngryJoe mocks in the video about publishers wanting to be rewarded for their gameplay by feeling a sense of accomplishment is literally in the text of the surveys that game publishers send to gamers on a periodic basis. How do I know? I filled out three of these surveys just this past year alone. Some of the questions are, of course, demographic, as in what age range, what race, what games do you prefer (either a checkbox or pick your top 3), etc. However, when you get into the heart of the survey, the questions usually change to how do you play your games and what are you looking for in the game? Do play to win or to feel a sense of accomplishment, do you usually play with your friends or alone, do you go online to have fun or do you prefer well crafted stories, etc.? Gamers have told companies time and again, through surveys and their buying habits, that they prefer “accomplishment” over well crafted narratives.

The Rise of the “Hard” Game

Not to take anything from those who like “hard” games (like Bloodborne, Dark Souls, and the like), but one of the major tropes that people (pundits and gamers alike) keep saying is that gamers love “hard” games because when you finally beat the game, you feel such a (say it with me) a sense of accomplishment. By choosing hard games (in both social media — to talk about and gush over and by the success of those games), gamers have tacitly given the approval to other studios to introduce mechanics in their game that make the game “grindier” and “less rewarding” than it actually has to be. While cynically motivated to keep gamers playing their games longer, publishers can also justify their actions through the answers on surveys (answers to the “sense of accomplishment” question) and the success of other games.

I remember when Bloodborne came out, a clerk at Gamestop nearly had an apoplectic fit when I told him I was cancelling my preorder. I did so because I do not enjoy “super hard” games, so I would have just been wasting my money. However, he was so invested in the “idea” of “hard gaming” that he couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t want to pound my head up a brick wall of a game for five hours a day before making progress. Having played the ridicously hard games of the Atari 2600 era (River Raid, Pitfall) and the NES era (Ninja Gaiden, The Adventures of Bayou Billy), I’ve more than put in my time on hard games and I can tell you that the sense of accomplishment (for me) was more than off-set by the ever building sense of frustration I had when playing. So, gamers today, by through around this idea of “accomplishment” in gaming, all you’ve done is given license to game publisher to exploit this into “grindy” mechanics to lengthen (some say “pad”) out games and to push narrative further into background. So, the lesson is: think long and hard the next time a survey comes in about whether you play games for the “story” or for a “sense of accomplishment.”


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