By John Walker on February 11th, 2008 at 7:19 pm.
If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to be near Kieron Gillen and me in the same location at the same time, the chances are at some point you’ll have heard Kieron make a jibe at me about my MMO healing abilities. It normally arrives at some point in the evening. Eventually, enough was enough, and it was time for my revenge. That’s what this is: a revenge piece written to an international audience. I’m proud of that. If you’ve ever played a healer in a game, you’ll understand. It originally appeared in the Escapist, but now is reproduced in full for your eye-based entertainment.
I’m not going to play a healer again.
We, as a people, sue hospitals. The degree of stupidity necessary for such an action should be impossible to grasp, so mind-destroyingly moronic we begin whirring, buzzing and emitting smoke from our circuits. Instead, we’re used to it, even resigned to it. It is in our international character. Ask anyone who’s ever played a healer in an MMO.
My mistake was made entering Paragon City. This was a city of heroes – a place where everyone was a champion. I wanted to be a hero to those heroes. The decision to play nurse was an altruistic one. I could have chosen a healing power that helped just me, gave me that extra edge in the battle. But, instead, I bestowed my purple avatar, the elegant Nitefall, with an ability to drain energy from her enemies and transfer it into those around her.
On my own, this was a boon to my experience. Super-jumping my way through the boroughs, I might spot a low level player struggling against a crowd of vicious bad guys. Never fear, stranger! I’d land nearby, fire off the heal and then leap away before they could know what happened. Heroic. But, see, here’s the thing with this particular power: It was never very reliable. There was a risk. A number of factors could cause things to go wrong: The enemy I’m sapping might die before the process was complete; I might take damage, thus interrupting the action; or the person I’m healing might move too far away to be in my area of effect (AoE). Of course, should I just generously be drive-by-healing, such a failure would go unknown. Put me in the middle of a pack of feisty fighters, and it’s a quite different matter.
Nitefall was never offered as a group’s healer. Warnings were always given – don’t trust my heal, don’t rely on it. Disclaimers shouted at the wind. Irrelevant. If you can heal, you should damn well heal, apparently, and any failure to do so was a disgusting slight against all involved. Nevermind they might have slain the very enemy that was due to save their life. Nevermind they may have flown too high for your AoE to reach. Nevermind you were being barraged by an electric bombardment of mystical lightning, peppered by chains of bullets, thrown through the air by the force of a dozen grenades… You. Failed. To. Heal: Condemnation.
A doctor trains for at least seven years, barely making minimum wage throughout, and saves hundreds and hundreds of lives. No one notices. This is the bare minimum, the very least expected of him. We order a pizza, we expect a pizza to be delivered – no pizza results in angry phone calls and demands of free foodstuffs. Fair enough. We go to the hospital, we expect to get healed – no healing results in angry phone calls and demands of massive amounts of free compensation. Compensation paid for by our own taxes. Our own money. We’ve gone mad.
When you’re the healer of the pack, every death of every companion is now your fault. In City of Heroes, death results in XP debt – a hefty cost. When the blame for the demise is inevitably laid at your feet, such a cost results in impotent resentment. It cannot be made up by another, XP cannot be transferred from the failing doctor to the dead-and-resurrected patient. So, instead, hostility is the out-of-court settlement.
The healer, the generous, caring individual who set out to try to help others, is hated. Cursed. Failure is now supposed, expected, and when it occurs, they have demonstrable proof such an attitude was perfectly reasonable. Nevermind the 37 times you healed them before they ran too far away, nevermind the innumerous top-offs you gave their health bar before it reached even halfway empty. They go unnoticed, unrecognized, forgotten, buried beneath the transferred anger of another debt-developing fatality.
I don’t need that. I don’t need the weight of a responsibility I never offered or earned. I’m there to have fun! It stings that my charitable decision to take on such a beneficial power should result in such an intimidating experience. As yet, we are unable to sue each other within an MMO – I doubt it can be far off. In the meantime, bitterness and public mockery are the payback.
It’s so much easier to blame the healer, than oneself. Sure, they may have been able to prevent your losing, but it was still you who lost. You allowed yourself to get so weak. You put yourself in deathly peril. And the chances are, if you’re one of those people who blames every death on the healer, you’re probably pretty terrible at the game.
I’m not going to play a healer again. Next time, I shall select a heal that boosts my chances. Let the others be damned, look after their own damn selves. There’s no reason for me to put up with the suffering. No cosy, tie-wearing super-consultant job awaits me, making this abuse worthwhile. It’s every superhero for himself! And many shall die as a result of this.
It’s too late for me. But it’s not too late for future generations, our MMO children. And people, I appeal to you, for the sake of the children, it’s time to treat our healers with respect. People sue hospitals out of fear. Fear of their mortality. The failed procedure, the botched operation, the unsuccessful treatment – all reminders of the fragility of our lives, and how desperately we do not wish to lose them. MMOs are not life.
It’s ok to die in a game. Really. And sure, it’s annoying, and certainly, it comes with an imaginary cost. But the person healing, the person who failed to rescue you for whatever reason, is actually a person. You didn’t die, but they did get insulted. You suffered no real harm, but they did feel the barbs of your words. You’re wounding these people. Mentally destroying them. And you need them. So here’s the plan: the next time you are successfully healed, and each and every time, you thank that person. You tell them that you value their healing touch. And sure, get cross, tell them you’re annoyed – that one moan, that small whinge, will be lost amid a sea of gratitude and praise in their gaming life.