Depending on my ability to wake up, during the week I game 60-90 minutes in the morning, none on Saturday, and a 3 hour gaming session on Sunday.  Last Sunday I anticipated my weekly 3 hour game session excited that on Friday evening I had a surprise opportunity to game for 2 hours and I progressed in the remaining stages of BioShock 2.   As I sat down in the living room's trusty recliner on Sunday morning I wondered how many hours I have remaining in BioShock 2 and inwardly I groaned.

Is the grind part of the experience? 

The game is not bad.  In fact on its own without the pressure of the entire BioShock franchise pressing down BioShock 2 is a solid game with fluid controls, a detailed environment, and (so far) an intriguing story.  Yet, a particular gameplay mechanic left me counting down the time remaining in the game, harvesting/adopting Little Sisters.  

Gaming inherently has us repeat the same mechanics over and over for hours.  Story based games are traditionally much shorter than typical releases.  Sighing out loud at the prospect of grinding through the Little Sister sequences I decided to pursue a different game and I searched for story over the gameplay grind.  The decision was close, I shelved Half Life 2 for until I beat BioShock 2 and I want to beat my open saves on a series of shorter titles before diving into the JRPG Lost Odyssey.  I cracked open Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  I am only a few hours in and I hesitate to judge a game on so little but thus far I am loving the game.  Dialogue trees allows me to shape conversations and the combat permits me deep stealth that makes me not overly mind repeating sections with wonky combat controls.

Setting up the array of traps 6 times in one level for 3 Little Sisters to harvest twice is too much math in my gaming.  

In BioShock 2, I struggle maintaining my patience when faced with a new set of Little Sisters each level.  Each level shows how many Little Sisters are available to adopting/harvesting and the number simply taunts me with the tedious gameplay I have to complete.  Each Little Sister requires three fights, one to beat her original Big Daddy and two mini-horde modes of defending her while she harvests ADAM from waves of splicers.  Despite different environments requiring different strategies for defending the position, the upcoming and multiple protracted battles in my future made me resent the game.  Each fight depleted my resources requiring scavenging in preparation for the next fight.  Sometimes returning the Little Sister to her hidey hole triggers a Big Sister battle at the exact moment that I have almost no resources.  This gameplay mechanic became a grind that made me apprehensive about progressing through levels.   

I wondered when repetitive gameplay kept me hooked and eager to return versus became a struggle finding the will to finish the grind.      

Set Piece Moments/Level Design

We all knew exiting that worm would be a bloody mess, we just didn't know how bloody the mess would be. 

As a mostly single player gamer, I play through the campaigns of the blockbuster first person shooters when I can borrow the game from a friend or rent the game over a weekend.  Certainly, blasting through massive set pieces is cathartic for moments when I need to release some stress.  Looking back, I have played most of the campaigns for the Call of Duty and Gears of War franchise.  Bullets sprayed, cars exploded, and inevitably an enemy sat atop a roof with a turret.  After awhile the games merge into endless corridors echoing with shouts and the sounds of nearby helicopters.  The grind occurs when the gameplay reaches a choke point of a seemingly never ending shootout and final victory only lands me smack in the middle of another firefight.  Replaying the same sequences only to be out of bullets and facing a new horde upon sweet victory is win I turn off the game because I have little anticipation or sense of reward for my progress. 

This cramped office space stalled my progress for over 30 minutes.  

For example, Gears Of War 2 is well known for a level that involves fighting throughout the innards of an impossibly humongous worm.  We all know that we are not leaving this worm in a sanitary fashion because this is a game with soldiers on steroids carrying a gun with a chainsaw attachment that splits regular sized enemies in half.  So even when overwhelming enemies resulted in multiple attempts in beating back the same horde (taking over turrets really helped with this problem I learned late in the game) and poor checkpoints added to the frustration but we pushed through for that satisfying explosive ending (it is every bit as satisfying as the anticipation).  Call Of Duty sets the standard for the destruction of well-known international landmarks.  You name it, Call Of Duty has destroyed it.  What I remember most is the initial shock of ground fighting in modern day suburban Northern Virginia in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and the sequences in Alex Mason's interrogation room in Call Of Duty: Black Ops.  In COD: MW2 defending the computer network in Makarov's safe house while the files downloaded was excruciatingly painful.  Only after several failed attempts was I able to drag my barely alive carcass out of the house only to be dumped in the middle of a gunfight amidst a destroyed plane yard.  I turned off the game.  As a note, I have played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 but my memory can hardly differentiate between the explosions and I have not yet played the campaign for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.  

New skill sets, if only real life let me cash in my experience points for  a "shrewd business savvy" that results in riches.

A different grind exists in action based games.  Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a 3D action/platforming game that plays homage to its franchise's 2D side scrolling roots.  Prior to Castlevania: LoS I had never played a Castlevania game.  In my play through, Castlevania: LoS has a grind typically associated with JRPGs.  Rather than grinding level ups through random encounters in the open world in order to bulk up a character in preparation for a boss fight, Castlevania: LoS features levels with hidden areas that require later game skillsets allowing the player to play through the level again at their leisure for additional experience and missed treasures.  I progressed through this game, not with ease, but gathering the level ups that I could and regularly faced with death.  Fighting, and puzzling, through the levels opened up new worlds.  In true JRPG fashion my imagination could not keep pace with the new environments that presented me with worlds that left me in awe (even if more than occasionally frustrated, I am looking at you music box and your timed obstacle courses).  The game quickly left behind the standard supernatural fare of forest haunts for werewolves and creepy mansions for vampires.            

Gabriel better run, dodge, and jump in time with that music or he will repeat this section, more than once. 

Upon facing the first real boss (boss identities are a fun discovery) I very quickly died.  Careful and timed attacks only advanced me to the boss' second form (we all I suspect have yelled at the television when we discover multi-stage bosses) and I swiftly died, not for the second time either.  I was forced to replay earlier levels to advance my health/magic meters and gain new attacks.  I love gaming but my time is limited and I was initially irritated with the required backtracking instead wanting to progress the main game.  When I returned to the boss I did not win easily but I felt accomplished in my hard earned victory and unlocking the next level was a reward well worth the effort. 

Collectible Hunting/Looting

I see the trinket, now how do I get to it?  Maybe I should shake the bloody heart like a Magic 8 Ball for an answer.  

Another type of grind that can go oh so very well or mind numbingly awful is the loot/collectible hunt.  These in-game searches are most often optional but many of us are compelled to scour corners ferretting out these secrets if not to 100% completion then for as long as we can withstand the repetitive grind.  Dishonored provides a standard collectible approach, whalebone charms are scattered throughout levels and when equipped provide passive upgrades such as faster climbing or increased health from potions or moving faster when lugging dead bodies.  Dishonored's levels are open for exploration and the bone charms reward exploration.  Richly detailed environments are great fun but more so when we have a reason to stop and stare rather than only giving into our OCD tendencies.  The bone charms are not overly obscurely hidden but are marked by a rumbling from the living heart we are carrying (admittedly a bit gross).  Yet, even when we know that the bone charm is in the room above us or locked in the vault getting into the hidden space requires puzzle solving and further exploration to gain access into the exact nook that we need.  Obsessing over the environment for a hidden passageway or vault code is an entertaining reason to slowly scan the room.  A required slow scan of a video game environment when done poorly is agonizing.  Dishonored provides us with richly detailed environments, that includes the video game time honored tradition of working faucets, with a reason to stop and stare.        

Wastelander attire may look dorky but that's "our" dork.  

Fallout 3 is the quintessential game of gear looting, collecting (or hoarding), and obsessing over those few items not in your possession.  Main quest goals are quickly abandoned for the promise of treasure elsewhere.  My main story arc in Fallout 3 is not quite completed, I abandoned my play through when a glitch impacted my ability to complete the Nuka-Cola challenge as well as my day one pick up of Dishonored.  During my wasteland antics I wandered into two of the DLC quests, the Pitt (that includes a Steel City reference with an optional quest collecting 100 steel ingots) and Operation: Anchorage (snooze fest of a quest).  I cannot speak poorly of the Pitt with its obvious reference to Pittsburgh (for all of you considering your college choices right now keep in mind that you just may end up settling down in your college town) because 'Burgh pride is a requirement if I do not want to be chased out of the city.  However, neither DLC left me wanting to wander into the other DLC stories.  Both quests immediately stripped my wastelander of her gear and weapons.  Suddenly, without the items that I spent untold hours looting, sorting, agonizing over what to keep, equip, store, and sell which all molded the Vault 101 escapee as "mine" was gone.  Stuck in new areas without my all important stuff and the ability to travel home to Megaton to stare at my pile of looted teddy bears I felt lost.  Both DLCs included stretches of corridor running and shooting that left me searching for the end in order to return to "my" character.

Attaining this image requires hours of real life time.  Are you committed?

This loot fest results in Fallout 3 as an inordinately difficult game to finish because of constantly returning to Megaton dropping off gear that I could not leave behind but left me overburdened and sidetracked my original quest intentions.  Real life hours are lost peeking into abandoned buildings, under bridges, and diverting slightly to see what is "over there" because the best loot is always "over there."  This time and attachment to what we found shapes our gameplay, not whether or not we convinced Button Gwinnett to open the storeroom for us.  The struggle between equipping the beloved Fat Man or the old faithful minigun is our obsession.  Stripped of our toys, we are left without a reason to stay in a wasteland with giant, mutated cockroaches.       

The video game grind is a rite of passage.  I remember a game in my youth (the game was on a floppy disk) regarding a lemonade stand and I devoted my summer towards becoming a lemonade selling magician, a title complete with a cape, top hat, and wand.  Now as a discerning adult gamer I have the funds and backlog to satisfy my daily changing gaming wants.  The question perpetually remains, what makes a game fun to return to?  Sometimes the answer is a return to the grind. 

Many thanks for dropping in and reading.  May this week provide you with many hours of the fun, not tedious, gaming grind.  Personally, I will search for the willpower to return to BioShock 2.     

Does a particular gaming grind make you smile in remembrance (or frown)?

Do you tend to divert from the main quest for side quests or collectibles?

What is your preferred in-game reward for completing a side quest or collectible search?

Did you collect all of Fallout 3's bobble heads (I have not but I did collect all 100 steel ingots in The Pitt)?