The Babysitting Gig You Pay for: Being a Healer in an MMO

[22:11][1]<H. Hawke> The dps coming out of Cerberus are dead. They have always been dead. They were dead when they went inside. No one knows how they escaped the stomach or what alliance they belong to.

[22:19][1]<H. Hawke> The raid is dead at a boss. The raid is always dead at a boss. But it’s always alive for Atomos. Somehow, you are never wiped at Atomos.

– Myself, spouting Raid Gothic in the middle of a guild-mate’s awful, awful 24-man raid

It’s a Friday afternoon and somewhere, a healer on an MMO is screaming about either DPS too obsessed with giving damage to avoid taking damage, or a tank who has gone into a dungeon unprepared (and under-geared). I know this, because, on more than one occasion, I have been that healer. I have been that healer for a very long time.

If you had to ask me what role I prefer to be in any Massive Multiplayer Online RPG, most of the time of the Holy Trinity (Tank, Healer, and DPS) I roll Healer almost every time. World of Warcraft? Priest (Holy and Shadow). Guild Wars 2? Elementalist with regenerative powers. Final Fantasy XIV? White Mage, Scholar, and Astrologian. From roughly 2005 to present, anybody who’s partied with me has had me for buffs, hit point recovery and the old-fashioned resurrection. I have had dungeon runs that were flawless. I have had dungeon runs where everyone in the party was peeled off the floor at least once by me. I have salvaged raiding parties, aggressively clicking Cure II while I watch my mana drop like a rock. I have also more than once left someone dead on the floor for being a jerk. This begs the question: just what is it about being the party’s babysitter do I (and others like myself) find appealing? I’m glad you asked.

Reasons to Heal #1: It’s Straightforward

While many people talk about the weight of responsibility being a healer entails in an MMO, there are surprisingly, advantages to playing a healer: regardless of where you go, you know what your job is. I like to think of healing and tanking as the two foundation points of a party. The only surprises about what you have to do in those jobs come from the mechanics of the dungeon or raid you’re participating in. If you’re a tank, your job is to grab the enemies and take damage from them for as long as you can until the DPS can kill them. If you’re the healer, your job is to prolong the life of your party so these enemies can die.

Personally, I find this less stressful than taking or dealing damage in my first visit to new raids or dungeons. Periods of time when the party needs less attention gives me time to learn the mechanics of the fights. I learn how the bosses work, if there’re any negative status effects they give to players, if I have to avoid AOEs, etc. An added bonus is time to listen to the music and admire the scenery – though hopefully not for too long lest I end up killing the tank. Then all I get to do is find out how long I can last before the mob of enemies kill me. Did I mention healing generates a lot of aggro? Maybe be prepared for that. If the tank dies, that giant boss they were holding on to is coming for you.

Reasons to Heal #2: The Fashion

54b7739ceb45aec346a925d54fe6e38aTo the average MMO player, the list of priorities looks something like this:

  • Exploration (discovering new areas or finding secret spots in maps)
  • Progression (learning more advanced content to better your skills)
  • Fashion

If I’m storming a castle to clear it of some eldritch abomination or fight a demi-god I refuse to go in an outfit that would make Tim Gunn look at me in horror. Lucky for you, as a healer, you’re a caster class! This means elegant robes, gloves, and intricate weapons to channel those magical energies that keep everyone alive. While some MMOs have more bountiful wardrobes than others, playing a healer has never failed me in my desire to be a fashionista (or Bjork if I count that one time I dressed as a swan). This isn’t to say I’m against armor. On the contrary, I love really well-made tank armor sets — particularly if, as a lady who likes playing a female character, there’s more than just boob cups or Red Sonja bikinis. But I also can’t deny that some days, I just want to be a pretty pretty princess with sparkle magic.

Reason to Heal #3: The Clutch Times

Let’s say you’re in a full-party raid. So far, everything is going well. Tanks are managing their buffs to take less damage, the DPS aren’t taking any, and then suddenly, it happens. Either someone forgot a mechanic or greed took hold of the group, and now the party is on the cusp of death. You can’t wipe here! You don’t want to wipe here. Suddenly, a zen-like calm overtakes you. You get the tank back up to full health. You get your co-healer up. You get the DPS up. Your timing for everything? Suddenly flawless. Whether it’s with the full party or just a scraggly few, thanks to your efforts, you win!  By the skin of your teeth, you have pulled out what is known as a clutch. The clutch is not an easy thing to do! In fact, it’s probably the most stressful, nail-biting thing to do. But it’s also as a healer, extremely rewarding at times. I can’t really describe it in words, so I’ll let these fine examples from some of my comrades in FFXIV do the work for me.



Reason to Heal #4: I Hold Your Life in My Hands

My pretty, pretty little hands. This means that without my cooperation, we’re not progressing very far or very fast. It’s ironic really; second to being a tank, the times I heal are the times I have most dealt with people being jerks. The mentality seems to be that if they abuse the healer enough, the healer will suddenly cave to demands. I promise you this isn’t the case. Healers do not wither. Healers watch you wither. My healing buddies and I have sat on the floor in protest before, watching DPS who thought insulting us would encourage us to keep them alive perish. I have locked myself out of instances. Moral of the story: do not harass the healers. They do not forget. They seldom forgive. They definitely commiserate with other healers. Which is in its own way, also a comfort. Every healer has these stories. We’ve all weathered this, and we welcome each other to the blanket fort with open arms, ready to throw shade at those who have wronged us.

Reason #5: Avoiding the DPS Check

By this point, I imagine it sounds like if you want to have an easy time in an MMO, go the DPS route. This is… not entirely true. Is it certainly fun to be DPS? Absolutely! Some of my best friends are DPS who will happily punch, stab, shoot or set afire the monsters trying to eat my face. But like the other two roles, DPS have a responsibility to the party too. Enter the dreaded DPS Check. How this works is both simple and anxiety-inducing — in a fight, you are given only a certain amount of time before the mechanics of the raid insta-kills your whole party. There is no surviving this (well, maybe if you’re a tank but it’s delaying the inevitable). The only way to beat it? DPS. This means you’re now required to maintain a certain output of damage, with little room for mistakes (either in your rotation or by getting yourself killed). Now, the idea, of course, is to breed a desire to improve within DPS players.

Nine times out of ten, however, what it breeds is a fierce competition rife with middle-school quality insults. Especially if some of those DPS like to PVP, and more often than not, a lot of DPS like to PVP. For me, this is not my kind of fun, to the point that as of the last expansion in FFXIV I rarely raid as a DPS anymore.

Being a healer in an MMO is not for everyone. I probably can’t stress that enough. Some people find it too boring, others too stressful. There’s nothing wrong with feeling that way; for one, every time I tank I feel my heart pound in my chest to the beat of ‘don’t turn the boss the wrong way, don’t turn the boss the wrong way’. However, at the least, I hope some of you feel encouraged to give healing a try, whatever your reasons. Do it to feel important. Do it for the dresses. Do it to challenge yourself. Do it to hold their lives in your pretty, pretty little hands.

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