I don’t have many friends but if you were to ask them about me, they would tell you a handful of concrete and solid facts about me that haven’t changed in nearly 2 decades about me. I am a tinker, I like the smallest of details when it comes to the things I enjoy, and lastly, Grinding has never turned me away from playing a video game in those 20 or so years of my life. An oddly specific detail for me to bring up in any context but one that makes especially more and more sense. Having gone on an RPG grind binge over the last few weeks in Octopath Traveler, and most recently a five-hour gaming marathon of a Dragon Quest VIII on the PlayStation 2. After sitting on my couch for all those hours often times staying the same area fighting the same monsters, seeing the same hills, doing the same actions, I realized something that I have never been able to quantify about myself.
To help elaborate on this I think it would be best to tell a story about myself in the fifth grade, it was my birthday and my parents had come through and got me EXACTLY what I wanted. A Gameboy color, Pokemon Red and Blue, and a Link Cable. Needless to say, that was easily the greatest days of my life and would probably never be quite replicated. As I went into my adventure I soon hit a roadblock that my childhood mind couldn’t quite put its mind around. My Charmander had absolutely no chance against the hulking behemoth known as Onix. Death after death, failure after failure, I was close to giving up but something clicked in my head.
“You need power”
So I found the nearest area I could gain exp and I stayed there and fought the same monsters over and over again my brain turned off, hours turned into days, and I soon came back to Brock, leveled and ready to take him down. I made quick work of Geodude and smashed his Onix to pieces, it was a grand victory for me. Needless to say, overcoming such an obstacle was a needed victory in my childhood mind. It’s the same victories that often times bring us to the greatest heights. That felt good to read didn’t it? You have a smile on your face, I can feel it. However, I didn’t tell you the most important part of this story.
My Charmander had become a Charizard.
Yes, I leveled over and over again till my small starter pokemon had fully evolved before ever actually beating Brock. And yes this took a very long time, and yes I could have easily captured any number of super effective pokemon and made this fight easier. I could have restarted my game and picked a different starter, but I didn’t. Somewhere in that rat’s nest of a brain of mine, I found the sensation of grinding to be rewarding. That feeling of climbing a ladder and eventually reaching the top to be something worthwhile.
Yet, here I sit in the year 2019. Role Playing games are being scaled down, Exp is lessened, the grind is disappearing. Even great games like Final Fantasy XV have taken away some of the thrills of the grind by making it part of side content. Gone are the days of staying in the area and getting Exp in games like Pokemon for each of your teammates, now every pokemon gets Exp whether they fight or not. Fights get easier, it means less, power is no longer a ladder you have to climb but more like an escalator that you simply ride till you get to the top. My old ass can’t help but wonder whether or not this was, in fact, a mistake.
When I play a game like Dragon Warrior, I want the fear of death, I want the terror of knowing the monster could possibly take me down to drive me forward. Maybe I am stuck in the past, games have to grow and evolve and I should as well, but what makes this even more depressing for me as a gamer and as a nutcase is that now because of my habits, my obsession with “Just one more level”, I feel almost invincible in any RPG I play. In some ways, I have the “Reviewer Mode” built into myself when it comes to games. The puzzle is no longer how to beat a boss, its how to beat the system itself.
I don’t write this simply to masturbate about my gaming skills or my compulsion, because god knows no one WANTS to brag about an addiction. I say all this to paint a picture of myself and where I am mentally when I game. Those small gears that turn and crank away as I sit on the couch for hours or when I am at my desk preparing for another video recording. Its all the same thing to me. It’s about the system, it’s learning to figure out how the game works, how it thinks, then beating it my way. Really that’s all its ever been about for me, taking control of something that is not supposed to be in my control. Trying to bend it to my will.
Not everyone can handle the grind, but those of us who can, know the one simple truth.
The grind feels good.