Why do people play healers in games? Where does that drive come from for someone to log in and want to help someone else instead of seeking glory of their own?
I’ve wondered about it ever since I started healing in Dark Age of Camelot 20 years ago. I don’t know why I did it or stuck with it, but in every game I play now, I gravitate towards that role.
And having played healers for so long, I’ve seen the good and the bad of it. I’ve been moaned at, and I’ve been killed as a matter of priority by enemy teams more times than I can count. And let’s face it, it’s not always fun – not just for those reasons, but because healing isn’t the flashy stuff games are sold on.
Fundamentally, you are there to enable other people’s heroics. It’s a bit like being a goalkeeper in football: it’s an essential role but one nobody really wants. They want to score goals.
To paint a quick picture for you: in World of Warcraft, healing in a raid meant standing in a corner and taking it in turns, in teams, to heal a tank character fighting a huge monster. Who’s more heroic in that scenario: the pack of heal-bots in one corner or the character fighting the massive dragon?
Sometimes a game’s design can even mean that if you’re fully healing focused, you can’t actually do anything without another character to fight for you. You’re useless on your own without someone to heal. Imagine that in a single-player game.
This all came flooding back playing Overwatch 2 – when I could log in. Those queues eh? Overwatch is a game with tanks and healers and damage dealers. It’s actually built from MMO parts, salvaged from Blizzard’s cancelled Titan game. And guess which roles fill up first? I even played some games where no one played Support at all – talk about selfish defiance.
However, Overwatch has the best healing characters in any game I’ve played. Having to make them viable in a fast-paced team shooter, and able to contribute and not die too quickly, led to some really interesting designs. And they’ve only improved with time, with tweaks, and with new characters. Some are pretty proficient damage dealers in their own right, and move wonderfully.
Overwatch really encourages healing, too – or Support, as it calls it. Score tables value healing contributions, or mitigating damage for someone, and there’s an Endorsement system made as if to thank people especially for doing so. You can Endorse a team-mate after a match, and it’s almost always the healers being thanked first. There’s even a separate Support queue for games, which I presume will have the lowest wait time when things settle, and you’re incentivised to queue for Support with extra Battle Pass XP.
That’s all great. But these incentives are proof that the game still needs to encourage people to play Support. Evidently, there’s still more appeal in dealing a load of damage and getting Play of the Game, and then posting a replay on Reddit. And I can understand that. So it still falls on the nature of a certain type of person to fill the Support void.
Without them, where would we be? You know, even when I pick another character – I’m very fond of Mei, and I try to play as everyone at some point – I’m still hyper-aware of where the healers are, both mine and the enemy team’s. I’m still looking over my shoulder for them, even when I’m not playing them – their presence is enormous. If you ask me, they’re the most important characters on the field.
So shout out to all of you playing Support – or playing a healer in whatever other game you play. I see you doing the work other people don’t want to do, and I see your sense of responsibility. You are the people making games like these work at all. Without you, there’s no fun. So thank you. Thank you for being you. You are the real heroes.