I’ve been thinking about grinding lately. Grinding in video games, per Wikipedia, “is a term used in video gaming to describe the process of engaging in repetitive tasks during video games.” It’s an issue in gaming, of course, and there are numerous posts about that already. (I fall in the middle on that – some grinding is necessary and even enjoyable, but find a way to make it integrated into the plot. I don’t wanna always be killing 10 more rats.)
But today we had our first meeting for the Teen Summer Reading planning committee, and we had a discussion about gamification. It was a brief discussion centering around our use of bingo boards last year. The bingo boards were not very popular, and we were trying to figure out where to go from there. How did we make it “fun” without the grind?
Now, my two cents on the matter is that while the world is full of fun things, and even fun ways to learn things, the truth of the matter is that eventually you have to grind at least a little. You have to go into a place you might not want to go and do something that feels repetitive to get the experience you need to move on. Once you’re proficient, you can hop into bigger adventures, bigger challenges. Heck, you can even show other people the best way to get around that particular dungeon. But they’ll come to their own grind eventually.
When I started baking, it was boxed brownies. All the time. No variation from the instructions. Dozens of boxes of brownies over the first couple months that I was learning to bake. It wasn’t always fun, but it was nice to see people enjoying the product of my labor. Occasionally I regretted offering to make brownies for an event, but eventually it became no big deal. I could make a decent batch of boxed brownies in my 30 minute lunch from work (true story).
From what I learned making endless brownies, I figured out how my oven worked differently from the test ovens in the recipes, or how to modify it to make it fluffier or denser, how to tell by smell when sugar smells done but not burnt. I could use those skills on cookies, then cakes, then pastries. The skills built on one another, but it started with just a little bit of grinding.
We ask students to study and do homework to gain proficiency. It’s not because we think that homework is so gosh darned fun. It’s because that repetition with tiny variations help them learn. We ask for a certain number of practice hours with a supervising driving before getting a driver’s license.
Sometimes we mix the idea of “paying our dues” in with grinding, and I want to be careful here. Paying dues indicates that you have to start at the bottom for a certain period of time, which is not something I’m necessarily in agreement with.
I will, however, agree that that sometimes starting a new skill isn’t always fun – it can have its fair dose of grinding. The important thing is to make the grinding seem relevant. If we want teens (or kids or adults) to learn new skills using the library as a resource, we need to make sure that the boring parts are made incredibly relevant.
Just like the level ups you get from killing rats and looting chests let you beat the next boss, skill introductions need to have a visible and important benefit.
They’re going to have to grind. Video game designers need to make it relevant to their game. It’s our jobs as educators to make it relative to the goals of a learner.