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Know Your Role

When I started WoW, mid ’05, the idea was for a close-knit group of friends to keep touch via the game. For the first five to six years I played in a guild created by a friend and composed of mutual friends/acquaintances. The guild was no pressure. By which I mean members didn’t have to participate in guild events or meet any special requirements. Just a bunch of people hanging out and playing the game however they wanted. This was a great experience because it exposed me to different types of players.

There was the Guild Master, who wasn’t all that in to leveling up. The GM played for the lore. The game was all about the story for our GM. If the story involved complicated or time-consuming task, the GM probably wasn’t in to it. The GM just liked to be able to go places and see what they were like. Experience the story. The GM was a narratologist.

Early on there was one player who would just power-level characters. One class after another leveled to the cap. This player didn’t even play the end game content. Just leveled one character after another. Wasn’t too big on getting the epic gear. Didn’t even do the multi-player content much. Just leveled-up again and again. I figure this player as a ludologist.

There was me. I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t even have a clue what character class I should play, or even an idea of how to play any class. The GM suggested paladin. I went with that. I wandered around Azeroth completing quests. I leveled up. I gained better armor and weapons. Sometimes I found my way into a dungeon group. Eventually, after months of wandering, I hit the level cap. Level sixty at last!

At level sixty, I started to learn more about dungeons and battlegrounds. Dungeons involve a group of five players exploring a dungeon, conquering some foes and looting some treasure. Battlegrounds involve two teams of players involved in some struggle for domination of a playing field. At the time, dungeons had no queue system. Players would have to form groups, go to the dungeon and then attempt to complete it. Battlegrounds had a queue system, which made them easily accessible. I tried to do both. I really had no clue what I was doing.

The no clue part persisted for years. I had no clue what I was doing through all of The Burning Crusade. It wasn’t until half-way through Wrath of The Lich King that I started to get a clue. After years of aimlessly wandering I finally learned enough through my experiences to realize that I had been doing it all wrong. I didn’t know my role. It’s a role playing game, and I didn’t understand the roles. I had always played retribution specialization on my paladin. All along I had actually been gearing for protection. I thought I was the damage role, but I was really the tank all along.

In WoW there are basically three roles: Tank, Healer, and Damage (DPS). The tank’s job is to generate a lot of threat, thereby attracting and holding the attention of threats to the players. This is called holding aggro. The healer’s job is primarily to heal the tank, who is tanking most of the damage, and also to heal any other players taking damage. A good healer also throws out a little damage when not too busy healing. DPS is just about doing damage.

From the point I understood the roles, I knew what to do with my retribution paladin: switch to protection. I wasn’t any good at damage, but I could survive long enough to defeat threats. So, I focused on being a tank. I learned what tanks do in dungeons and battlegrounds. I learned about what gear stats to look for, how to spend talent points, and even spell rotation. All for tanking.

Nowadays I run a variety of roles in WoW. I still primarily tank. I occasionally run some DPS, and I started healing just over a year ago. A little bit of everything. Mostly, I spend my time tanking dungeons/raids, or healing in battlegrounds/arenas. That’s when I’m not questing or working towards leveling up. I spent my October 2014 WoW time running  battlegrounds/arenas. I also participated in the Hallow’s End seasonal events, because I love me some Halloween. I recorded hours of gaming footage, but I failed to set an appropriate frame-capture-rate and all the footage is of such low quality that it looks like a stream coming over a 56kbps modem. Oops! Thankfully I was smart enough to take a few screenshots.

Back to the GM and the power-lever. These players played for entirely different reasons. This is a testimony the inseparability of narrative and ludics from games in general. An MMORPG can offer an incredible amount of both. Moreover, the perspectives can indicate preference of play style. When considered from a game design standpoint, your role as a game designer may be very similar to your preference as a player.

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