Syp is AFK on vacation this week and put out a call for substitute writers! Today’s guest post is brought to you by Linguistic Dragon of the Ultima Journeys blog — check it out!
In stark contrast to Syp, there’s only been two MMOs that I’ve really devoted any time to. In fact, it’s even arguable that there’s only really been one, as I kind of ignored the Ms in the first one I played and treated it pretty much as a single-player experience that you happened to have to be online for. Consequently, my understanding of the traditional MMO roles – the tank, the DPS, and the healer – was mostly nebulous, conceptual, and entirely theoretical. DPS hit things, tank got hit by things, healer made sure nobody bit it in the process. Simple enough.
My first MMO was Lord of the Rings Online, back in 2011 or so. I gave every class a whirl at some point or another, and it was through those classes that I got my first sense of what role did what. They also shaped my image of what those roles should be – people used Guardians and Wardens to tank, so okay, tanks were the big burly guys with the fancy heavy armor and the big ol’ shields that might not dish out a lot of damage but could sure take it. Minstrels and Rune-Keepers were healers, so okay, healers stuck to the robes and couldn’t take hits very well. And so on and so forth.
In recent days, though, my understanding of MMO roles has shifted. And not just because I’ve actually got some experience running group content now, either. No, said shift began not just because of the content I was playing, but because of the character I was using to do so.
See, I’m the sort of gamer that tends to ascribe a certain persona to his characters. Comes from being a writer, I suppose. Regardless of the game I’m playing, whether there’s an abundance of choice or opportunity for roleplay (however you define that) or not, I’ve always got some sort of background and general personality in mind as I play. Sometimes it’s just rudimentary, sometimes it’s pretty developed. Sometimes it happens on the fly as I play. Other times I’ll borrow a character I’ve written or played elsewhere and see how he fares in the game world. Whatever the case, though, my in-game character’s always more than just a face and stats in my mind.
About five months or so ago, I gave The Secret World a shot, and got hooked pretty swiftly. The setting and general tone of the game put me in mind of a character I’d played in a decently long-running storytelling game with some friends – one that I found myself missing rather a lot – so I approximated him as best I could with the character creator, rechristened him “Ketea,” and sent him off into the game world as part of the Dragon, the faction he seemed the most naturally suited for. The time came to choose his initial weaponset, and after some consideration I went with a blade and chaos magic, the former because that’s what he’d used and the latter because it felt thematically appropriate.
Then I discovered they were both ideal weapons for tanking in the game, and I’m pretty sure I laughed – hard – for a solid minute.
Ketea in his original incarnation was pretty much the physical opposite of what I pictured “The Tank” to be, in pretty much every way. Tanks were supposed to be stalwart, big and bulky, strong and tough. Ketea, on the other hand, was not. More the bookish type than anything else, he was short, a bit on the scrawny side, and definitely more nimble and speedy than tough and resilient. The thought of the humongous monsters smacking him in the face time and again while he just laughed it off was, therefore, hilariously dissonant in my mind.
And then I actually started to tank.
Since my weapons of choice were already well suited for it, when I first decided to go dungeon delving, I did my first few runs as a tank. It took some time (and a lot of patience on the part of those I ran them with, for which I am very much grateful), but slowly, slowly, I started to get the hang of it. I discovered tanking was much more than just getting smacked in the face – I learned tanking was more about control. An awareness of the field and where everybody and everything was, being able to find the most advantageous position and make full use of it, the ability to discern what could be borne and what needed to be avoided – all of these were things that I found necessary when playing a tank. You couldn’t just focus on the boss and make sure you were the one he was hitting – there were a whole bunch of other factors you had to keep in the back of your mind, all of which had to do with controlling the flow of battle to the best of your ability.
And quick on the heels of that realization came a second – that described Ketea perfectly. In his first appearance, that was exactly how he approached whatever fights he ended up in. What he lacked in strength and endurance, he made up for in adaptability and ingenuity. He’d take stock of his environment and use every advantage it could offer, from the makeshift weaponry it provided to the ideal vantage point to strike from. He played the field to its fullest, and did everything he could to make it work in his favor.
Maybe he wasn’t the physical image of the tank, but he was certainly the mental image of one, I was finding out.
And that, I think, has been the crucial turning point for me. To step outside the bounds of mere build and stats and gear – something made much easier by TSW’s classless system – and start thinking of the typical MMO roles asmentalities. I find myself focusing on different things as a DPS as I do a tank, after all, and if I ever give healing a whirl I expect I’ll be paying attention to other things entirely. To say nothing of TSW’s ability to hybridize – which I’m sure will end up a whole other beast should I ever mess around with that.
Maybe MMO roles can serve as more than just descriptions of function – maybe there’s something to be said for them in terms of character archetypes and personality traits, too. And they might not all be quite what you think they are, either – strip away the physical aspects of a role, cut to the essence of it, and suddenly you’ve got a new sense of how the role works in concert with everything else.
It’s definitely something I expect will be handy both in my gameplay and my writing, that’s for sure.