The “healer” role as a byproduct of the meta-game we played till today

(short version)

I want to get a couple of points out of the way to conclude the brainstorming session of the last days and the ideas I’m incubating from a long time.

The first is again about the role of the “healer” and why I think it is superfluous to the point that I wouldn’t miss it if completely removed and replaced with something different.

If you follow what I wrote about “no math in games” you can see how I’m on the exact same line of thoughts.

Richard Bartle continuously repeats how the text muds are much more advanced compared to the graphical mmorpgs. Well, I’d say that the pen&paper games we had way before the textual muds were MUCH more complex and realistic than both those muds and the graphical mmorgps of today. But wait: NOT because the DM could manipolate the situation the way he liked. I’m speaking strictly of game mechanics here and the situations that they are able to “portray” or simulate.

On the mechanical, functional level of the “cold” rules, the pen&paper games were already MUCH more complex and advanced than every mmorpg we have today. This is the claim and heresy.

Many of my ideas are about observing and recuperating that level. Of what we lost in the transition to the graphical mmorpg and that I believe is highly valuable. A loss that CAN be recovered.

Now, if you ask the players their opinion about the complete removal of the healer classes (in a concrete definition: those that push the health bar up instead of down), they’ll look at you like an alien. The idea is just not credible. My belief is that this is the result of a consolidated stereotype. We are so used to a type of game that we cannot imagine anything different, if not slightly different permutations of the same.

J. once said:

The more experienced players are in existing MMOGs, the more they can’t help but think about the whole genre in terms of what they already know.

This is true, it even applies to me but I always try hard to escape that trap and remember what I like. I always try to think outside the box and remember what’s the real destination.

I remember to have roleplayed a lot of combat situations in pen&paper games, but they were rich. We didn’t just “play the rules” but we simulated the whole thing. It was not just a bunch of dice rolls, but the dice rolls were just used when appropriate. The combat was as deep as you wanted it to be. Definitely not just “I attack” or “I cast magic missle”. So, at least when it comes to what I loved to play, the rules weren’t the real fun, it’s what you could do beside them. The immersion in the setting, your character and the choices you had available. The fun of the roleplay. Of the simulation. Of the myth you are evocating and identifying with. The simbolic value.

Today the mmorpgs don’t simulate anything anymore. We just have embedded mini-games, as Raph says. They get more and more refined, polished. But this is not what I’m personally searching in this genre. It doesn’t represent anything anymore. It is completely autoreferential. It doesn’t point and suggest anymore “elsewhere”. You are just there. Sitting on a chair. Not anymore transported in the other world (think to the introductions of the early Ultima games). There’s not anymore that transition, we don’t move past lines of realities, but we are just trapped in a self-conscious computer game that can deliver just mathematical, redundant puzzles. Recursively. Game design here becomes just a practice. There isn’t anymore any “dream” or “wish” left.

The truth, to go back at the main topic, is that the healer classes don’t exist because they are indispensable and valuable in the situations we are trying to reproduce. The healer classes don’t exist because it was required to make a fight work. They exists because till today we played the meta-game of “buttons and colored bars”: a parody of combat.

It’s that meta-game that I despise and that forbids the immersion. It’s a dream-killer. It’s the reduction of everything on the functional, cold level of the “formal system”. Like if we are staring a chessboard instead of watching and reenacting “Lord of the Rings”. Instead of “feeling there”.

This is why I say that I’d like to recuperate the level of the immersion and “adventure”. This is why I say these games are about symbolic myths, culture. And not math. This is why I say that “game design” should be about the recovery of those lost elements. Of the recovery of the “sense of wonder”. A puzzle game doesn’t have any sense of wonder, I’m sorry. This is why I have a passion on the genre about the original idea of “simulating worlds”, watch the myths come alive. Be part of them. And not create embedded puzzle games.

I’m on a personal crusade to demonstrate that formal systems aren’t fun.

Have you ever seen a movie about a chessboard? No, of course. That’s not fun. We love these games NOT because they are formal systems. We love these games, in particular fantasy settings, because they are SYMBOLIC. They are myths. Part of our culture.

What you expect people to like more to go see in a movie theatre, a movie with a chessboard in the middle or “Lord of the Rings”?

That’s the point. We want back the immersion, the direct feel. People don’t like anymore to learn abstract, mathematical rules and puzzle games. We want emotions and myths. Symbols.

Not math.

I’m not saying that “chess” cannot be fun. I’m not saying that the “formal system” and puzzle games need to be banished and those who like them are idiots. I’m just saying that the proportions should be recalibrated, because right now the weight is ALL on the meta-game.

My belief is that if you go back at the roots of the genre, back to the aspirations of the pen&paper games and the realism and complexity of their rules, many of the elements of the current, consolidated mechanics would become suddenly obsolete and superfluous.

The “healers” are just a byproduct of the meta-game we played till today. Watching colored bars move up and down.

If you remove the meta-game mechanics, you also don’t need anymore the meta-game GUI since one goes along with the other. It’s simply another, different paradigm that would be founded on completely different elements.

At the point I’ve described, the UI becomes just superfluous.

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