Finding Comfort in the Grind

How MMOs can help us get through hard times.

Whenever I have enough free time to play video games that aren’t review titles, I turn to Final Fantasy XIV. I’m still not caught up on all of the content–I’ve just begun Stormblood–but most of the time I’m not even working on the main quest line. The first thing I do is check the Party Finder, a place where people gather up some like-minded folks to beat up some boss creature, or sometimes just get through a dungeon. Many of these are for mounts or a checkmark in a book for some extra goodies.

I don’t really gain much from joining these parties–after all, since I’m not max level, I don’t have much use in making my armor look good, and most of the time the mount grinding parties are grinding for items I either don’t need, or had the luck to already grab. But instead of pushing forward with Final Fantasy’s frankly good plot, I just travel around, completing tedious daily quests while helping others beat down Ifrit for what must be the 25th time.

Why you may ask? Because life is hard enough, and sometimes it’s comforting to turn off your brain and do menial, grindy tasks.

Video games can be a great escape from the stress of everyday life, but it’s obvious that you can’t just veg out and play games. Most video games require hand-eye coordination, at least a bit of concentration, and the will to pick up the controller and turn the game on in the first place. I love them, and they’re still my main hobby, but there are days where I’m so tired that I’d rather continue watching Bob’s Burgers than boot up Soulcalibur VI.

But also, I’m not much of a couch potato. I want to be doing *something* to occupy my mind, and while vegging out to TV is great, most of the time it’s not enough to stop my mind from wandering and causing stress, as minds do. Delving deep into a game that requires my focus is going to be too much… but I need to play something. After all, I always want to continue writing, and playing any sort of video games makes me feel like I’m being productive, even if that’s not actually the case.

When I get in these moods, it’s time to grind and do those boring, tedious sidequests that most gamers balk at for being unoriginal and a pain. I’ve already written about how these sidequests have a place in gaming earlier this year, but there’s a big difference between the fetch quests of Final Fantasy XV and the myriad of different, sometimes even more tedious, tasks that can be done in MMORPGs.

MMOs have the normal main quests and sidequests, but there’s always so much more you can do, a side-effect of wanting to keep the subscriptions of max level players. You can grind for better gear for min-maxing, grind for stuff to look cool, or even ridable animals to show off. f that’s not your thing, FFXIV also has building up various beast tribes with daily quests, joining one of the military units, or just picking a new class and leveling it. You can do none of those, and just sit around and play Triple Triad… you might want to grind some bosses for some powerful cards, though.

Final Fantasy XIV gives you so much stuff to do, it can be overwhelming. However, there’s a lot that can be done without complete concentration. Eventually, I settled on doing as many very easy, but very mundane beast tribe quests while waiting for good mount grinding parties came up in the Party Finder. I would only put effort into moving on with the story if there was nothing party wise popping up.

This was pretty contradictory to why I resubscribed to the MMO in the first place, though. I wanted to finally catch up on the story, being halfway through Heavensward and still having an entire set of post-expansion quests and Stormblood to get through. But then life started getting tough, and even going through the lengthy cutscenes and new dungeons were too much for me to handle. The FFXIV community is generally kind to players that don’t know instances by heart, but at the end of the day fighting Shiva 10 times over with a party 20 levels over the average is preferable to walking over and talking to Alphinaud for the 37th time.

Fighting older bosses while overleveled doesn’t require too much effort, but there’s enough that you need to keep track of to make it not completely mindless. Many enemies, such as Rumah and Ifrit, require you to stop attacking the boss and focus on other enemies that pop up (also known as ‘adds’, an MMO term I just recently learned), or face a party wipe. Leviathan can knock people off the stage, causing them to die and be unable to be revived. But other than remembering “stop hitting them at this point, move to the right at that point” it’s really the same thing over and over.

It’s calming, even, to go through the motions of a fight you know, after you learn it. You can’t completely turn your brain off, as you need to be able to react when you need to and handle the occasional hiccup or mishap. But, you don’t have to think about how to tackle a new dungeon with an always impatient tank or watch 20 minutes of cutscenes in order to warp to another area and do it all again.

This isn’t a knock on FFXIV’s main plot either–quite the opposite, in fact. Heavensward, in particular, has an incredible plot, full of excitement, tragedy, and political intrigue. I’ve enjoyed the various subplots as well, which introduce new characters and wrap up plotlines before getting into Stormblood. But that also means that they are deserving of my attention. If I’m just skipping the cutscenes, then frankly what’s the point?

I’m just glad I have the option. Having to just push forward with the main story, when I don’t want to, is never fun. It’s great to just sit around and grind things out instead, even if I don’t actually need a shining, magical pony… or whatever Kirin is. And when I have the energy to go back to working through the main story and catching up… well, provided my subscription is still active. That’s the fun in gaming–no matter your mindset and your preferences, you’ll always find something to do.

By Elizabeth Henges

I'm actually an accountant, but I like being a multifaceted nerd. I enjoy writing about nearly anything, but I'm partial to video games, cats, and trying to find neat little doodads.

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