Why Play a Healer?


This is a guest post by Professor Beej who describes his healing epiphany.

Being the guy or gal standing in the back of the raid, tossing heals, mezzing, fearing, buffing, shielding, and just doing everything we can to keep people alive and the raid moving smoothly is a thankless job.  The battle-cry of "blame the healer" is our bane, yet also our motivation; it keeps us on our toes.  Our gameplay consists of clicking on colored bars whenever they turn not-green and never getting to look directly at the dragon we are told we are killing.  We know that going in, and we accept it.  In fact, we thrive on it and love it.

But why?

Are we gluttons for punishment?  Masochists who just love having less fun than the people we play with? Do we feel some sick need for penance (even those of us who aren’t Priests) that we voluntarily play the MMO whipping boy?

I don’t think so.  I think we do what we do because it is, far and above, the most fulfilling role in MMO gaming.  Unlike DPS and tanks, healers get to directly interact with those whom they play with.  Sure, tanks taunt off silly DPSers or enthusiastic healers, and DPS help out by blowing things up, snaring the occasional runaway, or tossing occasional buffs around, but healers are the only archetype in gaming where the vast majority of our time is spent interacting directly with our friends and teammates rather than through an intermediary.

I didn’t realize it when I started, but I have always played a support character, if not a healer, in MMOs.  In Ultima Online, I was never the duelist my friends were.  Instead, I had Grandmaster Hiding and would pop out unexpectedly from the shadows to throw my allies a heal or cure or cast Wall of Stone between them and their pursuers for some breathing room.  In Star Wars Galaxies, I did everything I could to work my Jedi Holocron grind around maintaining the Doctor (or at least Medic) tree in my template for as long as possible.  I even toyed with a high elf Paladin in EverQuest.

Then came Warcraft.

WoW made me aware of this tendency.  I had rolled a Warlock during release week, thinking DoTs and demons were my flavor.  I pushed hard to get him to 40 just to get his free mount (remember, 100g was an absurd price to pay in November 2004) and promptly got bored. I couldn’t decide what class I wanted to play next, so I rolled a Druid because he would be able to fill any role he needed to.  I leveled Balance and around level 42, I did Uldaman for the first time, and my group needed a healer.  Not even having a single point in Restoration, I healed my group through Archaedas and was given the compliment of "you’re the best healer I’ve ever grouped with" from all 4 other people.  And thus my career as an MMO healer was solidified.  While I eventually switched from the Druid to a Priest to a Shaman and back to the Priest, I have always been most comfortable playing a class that could heal.

To me, the reason the healing role stuck was three-fold:

  • I was good at it.  Very good at it, from what I was told.  And I’m the kind of person who avoids doing things I’m bad at.  So finding something I excelled at made me want to keep doing it.  I think that applies to everyone.  I know some healers who only heal for the prestige, but I know many more who do so for the love of the game and because they try their hardest to be their best.  
  • It made me feel important.  Let’s face it–DPSers are a dime a dozen.  Good DPS is harder to find and exceptional DPS might as well be mythical, but just finding someone to pewpew a Heroic is simple.  Being a healer and thus always being in demand was part of the ego boost, but it was also the idea of "these people’s [virtual] lives are in my hands and mine alone.  I’m responsible for them."  It made me feel good to know I was, in many ways, the most pivotal person in the group. Most healers can pretty easily keep the group alive if the tank loses aggro or CC breaks, but it’s much harder to keep things going smoothly if the healer drops and things go haywire.
  • The focus was not on me.  Healers get to stand in the back, do their thing, and rarely be bothered.  For the hardcore introvert like me, there is no purer gaming bliss. I don’t play games for drama; I play games to unwind and have fun. I don’t care if I get top 5 on a meter, nor do I have any urge to yell "BOOM HEADSHOT!" on vent every time I a spell crits.  Even though we occasionally deal with "blame the healer" drama, most of a healer’s life is spent in the background being ignored.  And that’s just fine by us.  Sure, every guild has their token prima donna healer, but most of us are content to sit a few rows back and let the extroverts have their spotlight while we do some real good.

The Mistake and the Revelation

When Wrath of the Lich King came out, I tried to switch from healing to DPS.  I leveled my Death Knight to 80 first and realized within a few raids that it was not for me and finished my Shaman’s grind to 80.  So now, whenever I try out a new game or start a new MMO, I always go for the Priest/healer archetype first.  I know it is what I’ll end up playing anyway, so why should I delude myself and think I will play any other archetype as anything but an alt?

So what about y’all?  Is there a particular reason you play a healer (or a reason why you don’t)?  Is it simply preference, a guild need, or something more?

Image courtesy of Crafts N Things

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About Matticus

Matticus is the founder of World of Matticus and Plus Heal. Read more of his columns at WoW Insider. League of Legends player. Caffeine enthusiast.



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