This post will talk a lot about video games, but even if you’re not into that, you might still appreciate this. I’ve tried to make it accessible to non-gamers as much as possible, and my thoughts here are less about gaming itself than about using games as a lens for real life activism, and applying lessons learned from games. This relates majorly to PTSD and recovery, and I can’t avoid discussing sexism or alluding to harassment and abuse, but nothing here will be graphic.
I like to play healers.
I used to play World of Warcraft. My main was a Discipline priest—a healer who focuses more on preventing damage through the use of magical bubble-shields than on reactive triage. When I got bored of that, I had other characters, and most of them were healers too. Although I started out playing the game as a mage (a damage-dealing only glass cannon class), it got to the point where I almost exclusively played as healers. The only time I would play as DPS (a damage-dealer) was when I was playing solo, or the time I was literally bribed by a friend to come back to the game, transfer servers, and fill in a raid group as a backup who could switch between doing damage and healing as needed. When I wasn’t playing a healer, I liked to play as a tank—in other words, a character who draws fire and focuses on surviving a lot of damage—but only when I had someone I trusted to fill the healer role, like my partner, who taught me how to heal in the first place.
Eventually I stopped playing WoW, partly because I don’t have that much money to spend, and partly because a new expansion was released that changed the game in a seriously not-fun way for me as a healer.
In other games, I like healing as well. I like to play through Skyrim with weird gimmicks, limiting my characters to only using certain skills. In one game, I challenged myself to play through without directly harming anything, by grabbing a follower and sneaking around, having them fight while I heal them and cast Illusion spells. I had a lot of fun doing that, despite the total lack of variety in the healing spells available and followers’ annoying AI. I really enjoyed the reversal of expectations—because Skyrim is a game where you must engage in violence in order to progress through most quest lines.
I’m also quite fond of using Pokemon that are capable of healing their teammates (mostly in double and triple battles), especially my Heal Pulse Gardevoir. Pokemon is a very different style of game, but even there I find clerics and supporters indispensable. A hyper-offensive play style, while totally viable, is just not for me.
So what is it about healing that makes such play styles so compelling?
I think it has a lot to do with trauma recovery. Because in a way, my entire life revolves around healing. Of both myself and others. I am pretty much always in a healer role, even if it’s passive.
And to some extent, it’s not necessarily something I’ve actively chosen, but something that has been heavily shaped by the way that others have treated me, and what society expects of me. That includes violence that I’ve had to survive, yes, but I also mean how sexist attitudes very strongly push women to be nurturing. Media aimed at girls very often centers the magical healing power of love and friendship, in a fantastically unrealistic way. My Little Pony (the original, no I’m not interested in the remake) and Sailor Moon both were heavy influences on me as I was growing up, and I certainly didn’t escape Disney princess movies. And my mother, my grandmother who raised me just as much as my mother, both had this sacrificial image of what it means to be Good.
So in some ways, as a healing-oriented femme cis woman, I fit the stereotype. I’m probably the type of person that people would expect to see playing a healer—minus my goth tendencies, I suppose, but I don’t style myself that way every day. The image that people build around me, both in games and in real life, is that I’m a nurturing person who will take care of them. It is simply assumed, and taken for granted, that simply because I can heal (and I like to), that I will.
If you think of me like that? Then I got news for you, bud.
I let entitled DPS die. On purpose. And asshole tanks, too.
And I greatly enjoy it.
There is perhaps nothing in WoW more satisfying than hanging back, waiting for the overzealous jerks you’ve been randomly grouped with to engage an encounter you know they won’t survive without you, and watching them die. Then laugh as they call you a “bad healer” and drop out of the group.
I can keep a group alive through a lot of missteps—and usually I know exactly who made them, because that’s how it is when you’re always focused on filling up health bars. I don’t mind teaching encounters to new players. But if you’re not going to be respectful, then no, I’m not going to play with you. You’ll die. It’ll be frustrating. But it’s a video game, you’ll get over it. And maybe you’ll even learn something.
One of the absolutely crucial skills you need to cultivate if you want to be a healer is knowing when and who to heal, as well as being able to accept it when people die—and when people blame you for it, even when it wasn’t your mistake and you really couldn’t have done anything about it. Because those things will happen, and sometimes they happen a lot.
I’ve known healers who expected to be able to keep everyone alive, all the time, and completely freaked out about it when (inevitably) someone kept standing in the fire to the point that the healer just couldn’t keep up with the damage. In a situation like that, it’s better to stop healing that person and focus instead on the rest of the group—ideally the person will realize how low their health is getting in time and move, use whatever self-healing they have available to them, and maybe even get healed by someone else. If not, then the failure will help them learn. Prioritize the people who still have a chance, especially your tank (and, obviously, yourself). Your resources are finite, and you need to recognize your limits. If you don’t prioritize well and know when to stop healing to conserve or regenerate, eventually you’ll run out of time or mana.
If you’re in a situation with multiple healers, especially when it’s a long and grueling fight, you can get yourself in trouble if you try to heal too much—this can happen by focusing on outdoing the other healers on the meters, or focusing on the same targets that they’re covering. This will drain you and cause you to go OOM (out of mana/magicka/resource). Coordinating with fellow healers is very important. But despite all of that, there will always be times—especially when you are learning new fights—when something unexpected happens (like being disconnected or lagging), or you just don’t have enough power to clear it.
All of this has strong parallels to real life. I’m sure that the link between going OOM and experiencing burnout is obvious, and Queenie has already discussed how having PTSD is like playing on Hell Mode.
I sometimes find it helpful to compare engaging in social justice activism to raiding in World of Warcraft, on a much larger scale—many giant groups of people fighting multiple instances of the same extremely powerful bosses, as well as smaller-scale encounters against packs of less powerful, but still irritatingly persistent respawning trash mobs (think internet trolls). This is not a new idea. I regularly see people saying things like, “I’m a social justice rogue/wizard/etc.” By now, nobody needs me to tell them what class I’d be.
To run with this metaphor, then, my regular “raid group” is a scrappy team of asexuality activists. We’ve got a solid core of pretty experienced members, who’ve fought the same battles over and over and over and over again. Attrition is high though because that gets tiring, and of course we all have other things going on in our lives, so members will take long breaks from playing. New recruits often feel intimidated, and we have a hard time figuring out how to help them gain confidence. We’re kind of on the cutting edge when it comes to clearing newly released content, so there’s no map, no guide, we’re all just sort of figuring things out as we go, and few of us are especially well-equipped. Ace players are still better off than they were a few decades ago, when there weren’t any groups like this at all, or even a server for us to play on.
I don’t know how much sense any of that makes to those of you who have never played a game like that, but I hope you can see why it’s helpful for me to make that comparison.
Obviously, I’ve chosen to specialize in healing in my real-life asexuality activism. I’ve had to do this to survive anyway, so I might as well share what I’ve learned and team up with others to create a big healing circle and stack the benefits. Knowing exactly what type of healing style I prefer in games has helped me figure out what I’d be able to most practically manage in real life. I like shields, bubbles, and damage reduction barriers more than reactive triage, although of course I’ll spot-heal people as needed. I also like the little bits of undirected splash healing that can come from focusing on other things (think Atonement). So IRL, I don’t generally focus on immediate, one-on-one crisis management type situations—I am not on The List, because that is not the type of thing that I am good at. I am more of a behind-the-scenes structure-building type of person. I do education aimed at preventing further damage, and maximizing others’ access to treatment.
Often, other people (especially strangers) misunderstand what type of healing I do. Some people expect me to drop everything and give them an immediate, one-on-one Ace 101 class, just because I’ve written articles or they know that I do that sort of thing sometimes. Some (okay, more like a lot of) non-ace people see that I’ve written about how to have relationships with asexual people, and expect me to drop everything to give them personal relationship advice. I’ll probably write a post about that later (oh boy), but… the point is, in short, that these people are a lot like the entitled DPS players who expect me to focus on saving them personally without regard for anyone else’s suffering, and just stand in the fire waiting for rescue even though they’re not actually helpless to figure out how to change their own situation.
And we all know what happens to those people.
24 thoughts on “The Healer Role”
I’ve been learning to play Overwatch, since H got into the beta and we’re apparently starting a team together. Guess what class I’m playing? Yep, healer. (Lucio, to be exact.) In my case it’s partially that I don’t really have much practice playing video games at all, and healing doesn’t require as many skills as offense, but it’s also because healing requires playing WITH your team in a way that appeals to me much more than just running off and flanking opponents. In fact, all of the characters I’m learning (Reinhardt, Mei, Lucio, and (to a lesser extent) D.Va, for anyone who’s familiar with the game) work best when they’re part of an integrated team. Granted, a fair amount of the time my team is a shambling mess (I’ve been playing with randoms, since we only have one account with beta access in my friend group), which has led to H remarking that my catch phrase for Overwatch should be, “Where the frick is my team?!?!”
I think this is a really good metaphor not just in terms of healing and party dynamics, but also thinking about party composition and how to make sure you have a balanced team that are all protecting each other. It doesn’t matter how good your tank is if they aren’t leading the push, and it doesn’t matter how good your healer is if you leave them unprotected and they get sniped right out the gates. I think that’s one of the things that the ace community could really improve at–we have all these activists, but there’s surprisingly little collaboration, and there also just…isn’t a lot of support for those activists. It’s high stress, low reward, and when you’re trying to comfort dozens of panicked teenagers, you don’t have someone to turn to for your own comfort. And that’s…exhausting, especially when compounded with the constant trash monsters to fight and intracommunity unpleasantness. I don’t know what the solution is, but I think maybe the first step is to try to build support networks, not just information disseminators. But I’m not sure.
I’m only familiar with Overwatch from watching the announcement video whenever it was that it was announced, but it looks fun! I might play it on release. My impression was that it’s mostly PvP? Is there any PvE content?
It’s interesting that you say that. I think… it’s very situation- and game design-dependent. Some healing requires juggling a LOT of different skills effectively (Holy priests in WoW are ridiculous), and sometimes it’s a lot more simple and automated. One of the reasons I quit WoW was because Discipline healing turned into “mindlessly spam one shield ability forever” to be effective, and that also prevented other healers from being able to do their jobs because then nobody would take that much damage. So yeah, lots of variation sometimes even within the same game, same class, and same specialization.
Hahaha, yeah, I feel ya on that one. Randoms are so annoying—and sometimes a lot worse than annoying, like when they intentionally try to trigger you. I am very heavy-handed with /ignore for that reason.
I find that the ace community really lacks an effective /ignore-like option for supposed teammates who are being jerks, on a structural level. I am not sure how we could possibly develop such a thing, especially with everything being spread out over different platforms. The best we can do instead is try to have effective moderators wherever that’s possible, but that’s such a stressful and thankless job that understandably few people are up for it. It’s a lot like having a shortage of both good guild officers and tanks.
And party composition, yeeeeeesssss. Healer-sniping is a really big problem—and in some cases, in games, I’ve had teammates try to kill me by misdirecting a large group of trash or a boss so that it goes after me. If tanks are not really on the ball to step in right away, it can get really bad. I think we’ve had some instances that are similar to that in the ace community, although I don’t know that any of them were intentional/spiteful. Still, the potential for that is there, and I think we need to work on getting people prepared to step in if/when that sort of thing happens. Part of the problem, though, is that I’m not sure there’s much that people can even do to help.
And yeah, support networks are really important, and very lacking. Having to rely on our own personal friend/family support networks, which are often heavily negatively impacted by being ace and accessibility problems in the first place, is really hard. I’d like to see more stuff like the Ace Gamers Network get off the ground to fill in some of those gaps—and yeah, more coordination in general. Kinda feels like we just have to carry everyone else sometimes with few people stepping up to help, and very little communication between hubs. I’m unsure how to organize communication like that in a way that is accessible to everyone or at least more accessible. There have been times when, yeah, people are making the effort, but in such a way that disability and exhaustion really prevent me from joining in.
Overwatch is all PvP so far, no PvE content released yet. If you do wind up playing and ever want to play with an okay healer or a pretty mediocre tank/defense… :D (I will say that despite playing with randoms I’ve actually had pretty good luck; I haven’t had any issues with harassment so far, thank goodness.)
Oh, I should specify, most of the skills I need but do not have for offense are…moving. I can keep track of my teammates’ health and shield them at the right times, but I cannot consistently ascend stairs. I’m also very bad at aiming while moving, which is sort of a skill you need to have for offense. (This is the first FPS I’ve ever played in my life, so H keeps telling me that for someone whose gaming experience thus far is pretty limited to, like, logic games, I’m doing pretty okay, but they released a new map a couple of weeks ago and my first time on the map I fell into a giant hole and died twice in the first thirty seconds. Skills.) Thus the characters I’ve done okay on are tanks (they already move pretty slowly and can take a few hits if I fail to ascend stairs) or don’t require precise aim (the main healer I play has a healing aura and the defense I play just runs around blocking people and freezing them and then letting someone else come in and actually deal damage).
On the lack of tanks, that’s actually a really good metaphor. Tanking can be super thankless, though, especially if you don’t have a team watching your back, and given the state of ace communities, there isn’t a whole lot of…team there necessarily.
I think one of the main issues I’ve seen is that…everyone wants to play offense? So you have a lot of people who strike out to do stuff independently, burn out, and then drop out. You also have, hmmm, a lot of…people retreading the same ground? For example, we have a ton of different projects looking for asexual characters in fiction; it seems to me that it would make the most sense for all of those people to get together and make a centralized database rather than having a ton of different, incomplete databases (which often stop being updated when the person running it gets too busy or burns out or moves on to other things). But I think that a fair number of people aren’t necessarily interested in playing support roles, so we wind up with a lot of people starting new things without support and then burning out.
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But I think that a fair number of people aren’t necessarily interested in playing support roles, so we wind up with a lot of people starting new things without support and then burning out.
YES YES THIS. My goodness, this!
It’s stuff like… right now, the two people I value most in my offline meetup aren’t the people who spearheaded anything in particular. They’re just the two people who stepped up and committed to always being there to handle the new folk, to responding quickly to queries we get on the meetup site, and to raising questions when we need to change things up. But between them they take a LOT of stress off me, especially when I’m low on social batteries, and they do a lot of really necessary work when it comes to being a receiving space for new folk. It’s support work, maybe–none of it is about Going Out and Educating The Internet–but it’s incredibly valuable to me and to the offline community we’re slowly nurturing along.
(And hell, that whole community is a ‘support’ resource, too. But it’s such a valuable one to have in and of itself…)
You know, I really want to come to your meetup group whenever I get the chance to visit your area. I have family there, so I’m sure that I will visit at some point! It sounds quite nice.
You should! We meet every Sunday, so it’s not hard to schedule. :)
haha….yeah. a good post. i am very much a paladin, slow-moving and self-healing and chugging along with high defense and doing not-that-much damage. and i play solo even in mmo’s because communication is Too Hard. i used to play healer but it was people overload so noooo. i should probably…figure out health recharge spots, and small parties. (now i’m thinking about “npc” roles, and sjw merchants, and sjw towns with no pvp…)
Oh man, I really relate with people overload—another reason why I quit, and have done so on and off the whole time. For the first year I started in WoW, I played totally solo, and just pretended other people were NPCs (except for C because she’s the one who insisted I try it in the first place). I know a tank who liked to group up with people for dungeons and would completely turn off chat and pretend he was in a single-player game.
It’d be cool if there was a game with a world so expansive that you could even decide to play as “NPCs” instead of heros and just like… do shop-running mini-game or something like that, maybe (help) run the town, in a way where that actually has some effect on the rest of the game.
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Oh, ha, I really relate to this–although I don’t identify with healing, I do identify pretty strongly with teaching. I teach for work and for fun and in activism–both humans and animals, when I’m noodling around with the dog working on new tricks–and as you say, it’s one of those things where people expect you to do it because you’re female and of course you like caretaking, right? Right?? So you’ll take care of anyone, obviously, and you’ll do it because you find it inherently rewarding and not because you get paid???
Well. As you say, it’s more complicated than that. I’m also a hell of a hard grader and I have very high expectations for my students–I’m actually chronically irritated right now with the class I’m TAing with because I think we could be pushing the students harder and faster than we are if we structured things differently–and I’ve had to work pretty hard at remembering to actually praise students instead of going “yes, good, AGAIN.” At this point in my life, I laugh at students who whine for regrades unless they genuinely have a good argument and I irritably refer people who demand to be taught things that they should already know to syllabi or introductory resources. With respect to ace teaching, well, I’m burned out there, too.
I think there’s also definitely something to be said for the fact that both my career and my ace activism are draining from the same source of limited energy. I really still like teaching people about asexuality when I don’t have a lot of social consequences to deal with–last Friday’s Q&A with some members of a local queer org definitely demonstrated that–but I don’t have the energy to do a lot of self promoting and organizing for teaching these days, not when that energy is also being shunted into the job I actually get paid for.
Omg, animals. I am so frustrated about people’s expectations of me with regard to animals. I like cats, I like training them, and I have a lot of experience with it. Buuuut this leads to people JUST DUMPING THEM ON ME. Living in a rural area, I already have to deal with jerks from the city abandoning cats, and then finding kittens in my backyard. But then even when that is not happening, other people I know who end up finding cats kinda just… freak out and manipulate me into taking them, because of course I will, because I guess if you’re an ace woman and you like cats YOU MUST WANT FIVE OF THEM. *sigh* That’s going to have to stop anyway though, because my partner is way more allergic than we thought she was. It’s just… really bothersome that allergies is the only “excuse” that people seem to accept. It’s not enough to just say that I’m satisfied with only one cat.
I really relate to your point about the same source of energy. I’ve been told I’m a “good teacher” and heavily pushed in that direction… but I really don’t like school environments very much, and educating people about ace stuff really drains me of that kind of energy. Just existing in the world openly as my real self already forces me to educate even when it’s the last thing I want to be doing, so yeah, I don’t feel like I could actually do that AND teach for a living. Doing something different instead is much more energizing, and thus more sustainable over the long term (on that level at least, even if it reduces my potential income by a lot).
I really appreciate this metaphor.
“Some (okay, more like a lot of) non-ace people see that I’ve written about how to have relationships with asexual people, and expect me to drop everything to give them personal relationship advice. I’ll probably write a post about that later (oh boy),”
Ohh boy. I’ve had some of that happen to me too, since writing that “what do to if you think your partner is ace” post. Some of it’s specific enough to warrant specific responses, but sometimes… I get these comments asking for advice, and I’m like… why don’t you just follow the advice I gave literally in the post you just commented on?
SERIOUSLY. And, I mean, the people who are reading my posts? Can easily just google it (some more) and find yours. (Although when I finally get around to it, I do hope to get a post up with a bunch of links, and hopefully that will make it easier.)
I’ve been offered money for giving relationship advice, and had people spam my email with “PLEASE CHECK I’M DESPERATE!!!!” It’s really getting to be an issue.
Also… most of the advice I’d give? Would just be “Go talk to your partner. Not me. I can’t answer those questions” anyway.
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I somehow always end up being the sneaky type.
I played a bit of WoW for a while (I only ever payed for one month…but they kept giving me so many free trials I rode that all the way to level 60ish). I only remember so much, but I do remember I played a rogue. And mostly liked to play alone.
I’ve played a lot more Skyrim. I’m. Always a sneaky archer. I try to be other things. But I only ever manage to be, say, a mage…who sneakily casts spells (supplemented with archery). I don’t use followers; I always end up shooting them and they’re never very good at sneaking.
The only game I can think of where I have the option for being sneaky and choose not to is Dungeons and Dragons lol. But that’s a prettttty different type of game. And one I definitely can’t play alone.
I also really love crafting? Any crafting system in any game. Doesn’t matter how minor it is in the game; I’ll do it. I’ll hoard materials. And yeah…I am indeed a Minecraft player (though again…I just do it alone).
I’m not sure if any of this relates to my place in the ace community. I just know…I’m no good for external activism. I don’t know if I’m much good for internal support either. Something like that is most useful if you can set aside some amount of spoons for it on a consistent basis. But I don’t even have enough spoons to cover all of the more basic life things, so I mostly don’t. I just save up a spoon every now and then for special uses.
So mostly what I do do is just…write. Write about myself, in the hopes someone finds it useful. I don’t have to be very consistent. Can this be a sneak attack?
All was quiet in the blogosphere (already a fantasy setting–like it’s ever quiet)–I nock a spoon, draw my bow, and fire off a quick shot into the night. And BAM–3x sneak damage–the silence has been slain.
And just like every instance of lazy game design, you keep having to fight recolored/retextured versions of the same enemies, for different issues and intersections. The silence of amatonormativity, the silence of Muslim asexuality. There are many silences. Others may specialize in trolls, or bigots, with their slightly different-textured manifestations.
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I also really love sneaking! I can’t even play Skyrim without sneaking, although I don’t necessarily always bother to put points into the Sneak tree. I find that sneaking all the time raises my skill level enough that the perks aren’t needed, aside from the 3x bow sneak attack bonus. I have a seriously hard time not using archery forever in Skyrim, it’s so satisfying. I was quite disappointed when I was in the Elder Scrolls Online beta, and sneak attacks didn’t make any sound/the right sound. I told them to put it in, but no idea if they actually listened, lol. I’ve also actually got my own bow IRL, so yeah, archery is pretty great!
Rogues in WoW are ehhh to me (and so are hunters because the archery doesn’t include aiming or anything, it’s just pressing buttons), but my 2nd favorite character was a druid that I’d switch between feral and tree.
I like your blogging style. ;) Silence is a worthy adversary, no matter what color it wears.
As a former WoW player, Disc. Healer, this post spoke to me so much. Great topic, and great parallels.
Hello fellow former Disc priest! I am glad we are not stepping on each other’s toes in a raid! :P
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Yes, I totally relate to healing being the thing your whole love needs revolves around. It’s always been the same for me and so many female relatives n friends.
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