During my first few years a faculty member, when I was balancing impossibly heavy teaching loads with an impossibly demanding family (hey, I love my kids, but having two under five is challenging!), I didn't use summers to do research and course development. Instead, I used them to clear my mind, to get much-needed downtime. I developed a habit that to everyone else seemed extremely odd...I'd sit on our lawn, literally for hours at a time, tracing the stems of creeping, flowering weeds to their tap roots and then pulling them out.
It was indescribably satisfying, this mindless task. When I found a particularly wide ranging cluster and yanked it out by the roots, I felt triumphant. Everybody who saw me do this thought I was nuts. By the end of the summer, I would only have cleared a few visible patches of lawn, mostly in places where I could sit in the shade of a tree while I worked. But the point wasn't really to eradicate every weed...it was to engage in an activity that felt at once mindless and productive, something that gave me bite-sized victories and could be stopped and restarted easily when toddlers demanded my attention. I could talk on the phone while I did this, or chat with neighbors. I could be social, but I was safe from emails on my computer and laundry in my basement.
Now we have a lawn service, so there are no creeping weeds in our lawn. That's okay, though, because I've got World of Warcraft. And unlike many of my "serious" gamer friends, I love the leveling grind of WoW. It's why I prefer a PvE server to a PvP server, in fact, since it's hard to get into the zen-like grind-mind I enjoy when I'm constantly being ganked. And it's why I so resent being ganked, in fact...those players are interrupting my cleansing trance, my "I don't need to think very hard about this" downtime activity. It's as though a neighbor's dog had come charging onto my lawn while I was peacefully weeding, and nipped me. No blood drawn, no real harm done...but not enjoyable in any way.
I spend far too much of my personal and professional life strategizing, dealing with intellectually and emotionally challenging situations. I don't want to replicate that stress in a game environment...instead, I want to relax, to clear my mind, to do something repetitive that provides visible (to me, not to you) and lasting evidence of my efforts...however small that evidence may be.
Not everybody plays this way, I know. There are plenty of people who want to think about strategy and interaction, who find the grind tedious and off-putting. Probably more of those people than there are people like me (after all, you don't see a lot of people hand-weeding their lawns these days). But not everybody suffers through a grind as just a way to get that status-enhancing "massive, glowing, meat cleaver of a sword." Really. And to assume that when designing games is a mistake. Honestly, who plays Katamari _just_ to get a bigger star in the sky, or the praise of the King of the Cosmos? The fun is in the rolling, not in the status. For me, the same is true for MMORPGs. It's the process, even (especially) the mindless parts, that makes these games so endlessly attractive to me.