Forums being what they are, this resulted in what I’m going to call “lively debate” because it implies less name-calling. But the fact of the matter is that the poster in question was right, as I said when asked at the time. The player was correct that the healer’s only actual role was keeping the party alive. Swapping into Cleric Stance on the regular to add in DPS is not part of the healer’s job, it’s an option, and saying “I do not enjoy this option and will not play this way” is entirely valid.
But it’s also wrong, after a fashion. Which is why I’ve been turning it over in my head for a while.
Let’s say I have the choice of bringing one of two players along for a dungeon as a healer, Albert and Bruce. Bruce is of the mind that he’s there to heal, that he doesn’t need to swap into Cleric Stance and deal damage to trash and bosses. He’s a fine healer, no one will die with him as a healer. Albert is also a fine healer, and no one will die with him in the role, but Albert is also comfortable stance-swapping and busting out some additional DPS during the many pulls when the tank has sufficient threat and durability to last out a few hits without dying.
The reality is that while neither player is bad at their role, Albert is better at it. A run with Albert will go faster than one with Bruce. Things will die more efficiently. Albert will be paying more attention to the details. And yet neither player is actually playing the game incorrectly. They’re both queueing up and playing as healers, not insisting that White Mage can totally fill a DPS role; by all rights, they’re both fine.
If you sat down and talked to Bruce about the fact that he could be doing some damage, you’d be labeled as an elitist. If you refused to go with Bruce, you would also be an elitist. I find that interesting, too, because arguably the former is the opposite of elitism.
Out of all the many games on the market, FFXIV is one of the most restrictive in terms of player choice, something I’ve talked about before. It takes actual effort to make bad choices with the handful of options available to you. Yes, you could allocate all of your bonus points for Ninja into Strength or Mind, but you have to be trying with vigor to be that far off-base. It does not take a great deal of skill to determine what the intended and correct method of play would be.
The result, I’ve noticed, is that people tend to pick very small hills to die on, differences of playstyle that mean very little in the larger scheme of things. “I’m not going to swap to Cleric Stance,” for example. Or “I’m going to use Sneak Attack whenever it’s off cooldown.” Since there are no real options in terms of how you build your character in a macro sense, the differences come down to fine points of playstyle.
We have learned, over time, to not critique other people’s playstyles, because it usually is elitist and rude as hell. And we’re back to Albert and Bruce – really, giving Bruce a hard time over how he players isn’t helpful, is it? It’s his character and he can play however he wants. He is, indisputably, not wrong about the idea that he can choose to use Clric Stance or not.
But on some level, he is wrong insofar as the choice he’s making is quantifiably worse than the alternative. Albert is the better healer not because he heals more, but because he plays more adroitly within the context of the game as it actually exists. Bruce is succeeding chiefly in making sure he’s ready for healing crisis scenarios that never actually take place in the game.
To my mind, telling Bruce that he would be a better healer if he did contribute DPS isn’t elitist, it’s informing him that there are better choices to be made in the context of play. Refusing to go along with Bruce because he doesn’t DPS or critiquing him because he’s not providing enough DPS, by contrast, would be elitist. The former option is trying to help another player play the game more efficiently in a macro sense, the latter is setting up a standard and refusing to accept anyone who doesn’t live up to that standard.
Furthermore, if Bruce had perfectly valid reasons for his choice – for example, having a high ping and an unreliable rig that meant he might not be able to swap out of Cleric Stance reliably – that’d be another story. And if Bruce could conclusively argue that there was an appreciable benefit to him staying out of Cleric Stance, that would be valid. That invites counterpoints, and I’m picking this particular issue for a reason, but the point is that there can be concrete reasons for the choices being made.
The bright side, I suppose, is that Heavensward added a healer for people like Bruce – no one really expects an Astrologian to contribute much additional DPS, they’re not very good at it.
Ultimately, it’s an interesting issue for FFXIV specifically, as we’ve developed a culture wherein the fine points are off the table for critique when there are no larger-level choices to debate. And I don’t think it’s something with an easy answer, either. I think we have people playing the game who want to play a certain way that the game does not cater to for whatever reason – there are people who really want to play Warrior and Dark Knight-style jobs as DPS, or play versions of Machinist/Bard as pure DPS rather than DPS/support with an ersatz cast bar.
By giving players a set of options and not lots of choice to play around within that framework, there’s not much to do. You cannot, for example, make it clear that your White Mage has specced deeply into healing and thus offers no substantial DPS increases; the right way to play involves tossing out some damage. Your options then become playing the job as it’s meant to be played – something the game makes rather clear – or opting to play with sub-par choices in the hopes that it doesn’t matter too much in the long run.
Which it doesn’t, but at the same time, it does. Life is so marvelously complicated.
Feedback, as always, is welcome down in the comments or via mail to email@example.com. Next time around, I want to talk about my own dissatisfaction with the game’s most recent patch while asking what the heck is wrong with me. (I promise, it’ll be more entertaining than that sounds.)