It’s time for yet another column in Perfect Ten wherein we talk about a given player archetype, but this one’s going to be a little bit different compared to its predecessors. We’ve talked about warriors, rogues, and mages here before, but the thing is that all of those are archetypes that decidedly show up in every game. Even mages, which have a wide assortment of different names, still take basically the same form. Healers, though? Healers are different.
They aren’t unified by a name, for obvious reasons; they’re unified by a role, and at a glance that would seem to disqualify really thinking of them as all the same thing. What do Empathy Defenders in City of Heroes have in common with Sages from Final Fantasy XIV and healing Bounty Hunters in Star Wars: The Old Republic? But the answer, as you might suspect from the fact that this column exists, is more than you might think. Starting right from that premise, in fact.
1. Every single game promises that healers are very different
No, seriously. Every single MMO promises you this. No matter what its healer options are; every single one of them has promised, as far back as I can remember, that healing in this game is different. That’s been the refrain since at least World of Warcraft and long before too. No matter what game you’re playing, you are promised that unlike other MMOs, this game will not make healing into a quest to play whack-a-mole with health bars.
2. Healing is never actually different
You are playing whack-a-mole with health bars. Seriously, the tools you’re playing with change, but at the end of the day that’s still what the game is built around no matter what. I remember Guild Wars telling me that Monks weren’t just your normal healers (when they absolutely were) and SWTOR promising that its healing classes could do more than heal (but not as healers, when they can just heal) and FFXIV talking up how cool its healing jobs would be (as healers). Healing is always watching a number go down and trying to make it go back up. That’s, like, what you signed up for.
3. Healing is light, plants, and/or green
No matter what else is going on, these will be the thematic cornerstone of your abilities, usually in some combination. Bright lights, leafy bits, and just something very green. Did you know that green goop can mean “this is very toxic” or “this will heal you”? I sure didn’t, but I know that if I see someone throwing around green spell effects, I should stand in it. Unless I should stand in the big shiny beacon on the ground that also somehow heals me.
The green especially seems a little bit odd because it’s not like the color I associate with medicine or medical products or anything. I don’t know about you, but the only pills I’ve ever taken that are green are NyQuil, and that’s usually when I feel like garbage but still need to sleep. But no, here it’s not about “feel slightly less crap for a few hours”; it’s “this will actually heal you.”
4. You are always a beacon of teamwork
This extends to fiction and mechanics alike. Whatever else is going on, you’re all about the interconnectedness of things and teamwork and the like. Sometimes this is more subtle, like how Smugglers in SWTOR are all about found family and the like; other times it’s just right there in the explanation, like how Scholars in FFXIV are supposed to be tactical geniuses coordinating behind the scenes. No matter what, the point is that you are part of a group and a team and you all live together in a happy home with all your friends.
5. Doing things solo is exhausting
The thing about being packed to the brim with healing powers is that it’s really hard for you to actually die. That’s kind of the whole point. You will have to be actively not paying attention in order to die during content, and by “actively not paying attention” I mean literally looking at something else and running into damage. But there’s not much space left there for not healing things, so soloing will be about tapping something with a stick while you can’t die and it very, very slowly dies from old age.
6. Something always makes healing harder
If all you had to do was just deal with little injuries over time, of course, healing would be easy. Games without dedicated healers for most content like Guild Wars 2 basically make this be the case. Most characters can heal themselves and the open world is dominated by no need for specified healers. It’s a different sort of world.
Of course, when you get into harsher group content, suddenly you will need dedicated healers because the paradigm shifts to having everything around you fart constant damage in every direction so that even the most deft dodgers of mechanic are still losing big chunks of health on a regular basis, and you have to manage your limited healing abilities to keep everyone from being perpetually dead. In games where there are dedicated healers, that just comes in earlier. The net result is that 90% of your abilities will be variations on “this helps people not die” and you will need every one of them.
7. If you can choose damage, you still chose healing
I loved being a Retribution Paladin in Wrath of the Lich King. I had chosen to deal damage, not heal! I mean, if you ignored my ability that healed the whole party as part of my damage rotation. And the debuff that healed everyone who hit the boss. And the passive mana replenishment. And… you get the idea.
Yeah, even in games where you can choose to make your healing-type class not be the main healer, you’re still there to support people and heal them. Welcome to your lot in life.
8. You never get to be the star of the show
Healers are never front and center on the box art. How could they be? You have to have someone with a big pointy hurty thing, and you have a stick. (Or maybe flying little heal-guns on your back, but that’s not important right now.) The top billing goes to people who are always set up as being cool to watch kick ass, and since your job is there to ensure that the ass being kicked is not quite so thoroughly injured, you are fated to remain forever on the back foot.
But at least your team appreciates you!
9. Your team does not appreciate you
Oh, right. No it doesn’t. Your groupmates blame you when they die. No matter why they died. You can tell your group, “Don’t stand in the fire! I can’t heal you through fire!” and then they act like the fire is the coolest thing in existence, standing right in the fire and saying, “Gosh, this fire is awesome,” as you’re screaming for them to get out of the
kiln fire and then you finally can’t keep them standing any longer. And whose fault is it that they died? Yours, obviously. A good healer would have kept them alive even in their new residence made of fire.
10. Every healer is tired
So you’re playing a slow game of whack-a-mole where you get blamed for other people dying no matter what, you’re spending all your time pushing up the rest of your team despite the game’s best efforts to make it harder and their best efforts to make it harder, and even being successful means that you’re basically a back-up singer to someone else’s star-making turn.
Why wouldn’t you be tired at that point?