Sometime early last year, when I started to get back into miniatures wargaming Agoners’ own Navan made a comment to me about how he knew so many people that seemed to get ‘addicted’ to painting models, and he wasn’t too sure of the attraction or why they got just so into it.
It’s something I’ve thought about a lot of the past couple of years and I think there’s a few really interesting aspects to this that really crossover into other gaming topics we’ve discussed a lot here in the past on Agoners, as well as the general psychology of it.
Vive la différence
I did surprise myself even how much more I’ve enjoyed (& still enjoy) the process of putting together miniatures, preparing, modelling, painting etc “this time around” – I’ve been into this hobby a few times in the past, but never have I gotten so much out of the actual physical models side of it. Part of that is a commitment of my own to specifically appreciating the non-digital nature of this kind of gaming, and celebrating these differences more these days. As someone who’s played, and continues to play a lot of videogames, it’s really interesting to do something different but that still generally falls within many of the things I enjoy about gaming in general. It’s extremely different even to physical card games or board games I’ve been into in the past, as none of them have this ‘creative’ component to the same degree.
I also think a part of this is likely because I’m older and perhaps more patient when it comes to modelling and painting than I was when I was younger. And whilst I definitely don’t have the free time of when I was a teenager, due to changes in my work-life balance, I actually also have a bit more time to devote to this than in most of my previous working life… so, that all suits me. However I still think the biggest part of it is finding it somewhat refreshing getting away from computers and videogames for some of the time for me.
It’s tempting to make a point here about “lockdown life” and the general effects of Corona virus on the world in 2020 here too, but I actually don’t think much of that would apply to my miniatures hobbying that wouldn’t also apply to videogaming or any other ‘indoor’ activity I can do in my home, so I do not think it’s especially relevant here. The main effect has been ‘giving’ me more time to potentially spend on my miniatures (but also online video-gaming etc.) due to the removal of lots of other avenues of entertainment and socialising and such that I would normally be doing. But in some ways the pandemic has made my miniatures wargaming hobby also suffer a lot, since I’ve not been able to play any of the games I had been planning to get to this year, having reached all of my original painting goals, almost precisely as the effects of Covid-19 hit the UK. (I literally had a wargame planned with a friend for the first weekend of sort-of-lockdown here that I had to immediately cancel, and 6 months later we have still not been able to play).
Finish the fight
Another thing I’ve touched on in previous posts about is the extreme ‘Zeigarnik effect’ I get from working with my own collection of miniatures. There are a few aspects to this, but one summary for this psychological effect is “the tendency to complete things that were left incomplete” which definitely seems to apply for me. My collection of models is one I started long ago when I was a teenager, and I’ve enhanced that feeling of ‘completing things’ I started long ago even more by setting little goals for myself like painting up the relevant models for old armies I used to play with. You might think that ‘finishing’ things 25+ years later wouldn’t really classify as part of this effect, but given how much of a penchant I have for delayed gratification as a person, and my willingness to be patient with these things, I can really feel how it does reflect the feelings of satisfaction I get. Of course this same effect can be applied in some ways to completing video games or getting ‘Achievements’ etc in videogames, and I will come back to the differences in this later.
Buying and “collecting” something can be a fun aspect of the miniatures gaming hobby in it’s own right. I’ve gotten so into this side of things that, as you might have noticed, I’ve written some articles for the Collecting Green site about Orc & Goblin miniatures and painting them etc. I’ve also joined the voluntary 9th Age “staff” as part of their ‘Product Search’ team, and just about every week (if not every day at times!) I spend some time to update and maintain their library of Orc & Goblin miniatures that are available around the world. I’ve found this aspect really fun and rewarding too, but it does of course closely relate to the ‘collecting’ aspects that are sometimes prevalent within videogames themselves, and especially apply to collectible card games such as Magic the Gathering (which I’ve also played physically and digitally in the past) or digital card games such as Hearthstone or Legends of Runeterra I’ve tried out too. However, in these other arenas I usually actually find it quite frustrating to collect things. A lot of that has to do with the ‘artificial rarity’ applied in most CCGs or the ‘work’ that has to be done to collect things, when it involves trading etc with other players, or within videogames themselves, it usually involves a lot of boring repetitive tasks, or “playing to collect” rather than to “win” (whatever that means within the game in context).
But for miniatures, none of that applies, and whilst it can be expensive, I find the collection aspect a lot more enjoyable, even when it’s just finding a link to potentially get a particular model one day in the future and I don’t actually own it yet. I also find that actually owning a physical product at the end of the day appeals to me much more than collecting ‘digital rights’ or ‘pieces of card’, especially when it’s ‘value’ isn’t almost wholly tied to a single videogames ecosystem and/or designed artificial scarcity (although many of my older miniatures are now quite valuable just due to being long out-of-manufacture and being hard to get hold of nowadays). There are notable downsides of course, especially physical storage space! I’m not quite sure what my attitude to this says about my own psychology; I might just be justifying things to myself, or it might just signify my Gen-X age group’s attachment to the material world 😉
Grind to win!
If you’ve read this site for any time you will of course know that I am not at all a fan of “grinding” in video games. In fact, outside of very rare circumstances I utterly detest it. If you’ve not come across this term before and how we discuss it here, it’s a somewhat imprecise definition, but I mean any progression system involving repeating tasks to get better “stats or abilities” pretty much! However despite my passionate distaste for it, grind is generally a “good” thing in terms of addicting players to continue to play a particular game. The ‘Skinner box’ style effects here are well known of course, amongst other reasons some players ‘enjoy’ these things. However it’s the connection I noticed here to my dedication to modelling and painting miniatures that inspired this post. What if I told you that to grind in this game you’d have to do something you found quite fun and intrinsically rewarding anyway, yet at the same time, you’d get a similar reward to grinding in a videogame as you’d continually unlock new ‘units’ and ‘characters’ or variations or greater numbers thereof that you could then use within your game?
It’s in this way that I noticed I felt like I was getting all the ‘fun’ parts of ‘grinding’ from my miniatures hobbying over time, but with none of the downsides (for me). Rather than getting bored repeating a task and waiting to ‘get to the reward’, I found the task itself pretty fun (especially as it requires skill), and yet it was also fun seeing my collection grow and my options for playing games also increase! Note that it doesn’t seem to matter too much to me at this stage that I haven’t and may not ever really be able to actually game with some of my painted miniatures, just having the option there seems satisfying to me in some ways too, and that ties in with the collection aspect mentioned earlier of course. Now, notably, many miniature wargamers (including myself in the past) play with unpainted, cardboard or proxy models etc which means they perhaps wouldn’t feel this so keenly – however I do expect that a lot of the more dedicated “hobbyist” types who like to paint miniatures the most are the same ones who refuse to play with anything other than their ‘completed’ painted models too.
I find it interesting that even without playing the games themselves, they still enhance my enjoyment for painting the models too in this way. Would I have made & painted so many miniatures just for the sake of the modelling and painting? Doubtful. I definitely do enjoy some of that too (I also have a model kit collection that I make and paint purely for the sake of having the cool kits), but I do reckon it’s especially this connection to the game and the way your “effort” put in allows you to “grind” more out of the gameplay (even just potentially) that is a huge part of what I get out of it, and I posit, what a lot of miniature wargaming hobbyists also really enjoy, even if they aren’t really aware of it.
It’s similar with the “completing” a finished task factor too that I mentioned earlier. At least when it comes to ‘puzzle/challenge games‘ designed to be ‘finished’ I often find I can judge how I really feel about a video game by how I feel when I finish it, and I’m not tied up with other aspects of playing it at the time, if that makes sense (& for competitive games, it’s often more about how I feel when I lose). Often for challenge style video games, especially if there was a reasonable degree of grinding involved in playing them, or I didn’t perhaps enjoy them that much but felt compelled to finish them anyway, I have a real feeling of malaise after I complete them. This is often due to a feeling that I wasted my time (or that the game essentially wasted my time) in playing it and whilst I feel good that it’s “completed”, I also feel annoyed by it and a part of me wishes I hadn’t bothered. Obviously I reflect that in my reviews, but anyway – the important part for this for “completing” painted miniatures is that it almost always makes me feel the way some (good) video games do too – proud of my accomplishments and glad I’d spent the time – and when it comes to miniatures, it usually soon manifests into me wanting to paint more of them too, which is similar to the way I’ve found good experiences playing video games often makes me want to play more video games – even if that’s generally only ever the case for multiplayer video games for me these days.
So yes, really – this has been a post about the positives of grinding, here on Agoners, albeit in a non-videogame sense. As my Dan t-shirt says… “Never Say Never!” 😀