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Healing Tolls: Now with Research!

December 7, 2012

Dear Reader,

There’s been a nicely lively discussion of this topic here and elsewhere in our little community, but the more comments I got and the more I saw the topic replicated, the more I wished I’d taken more time to think carefully and write carefully about what I meant.  Shintar summed up my error best:

Tanks and other dps don’t have to deal with that – feeling severe negative emotions as a result of their teammates.

Only if they aren’t paying any attention to what else is going on in the fight, and a good player will do that regardless of role. If you’re playing with “idiots” as you put it, then I dare say your problem is that you’re playing with idiots, not that you’re playing a healer.

This comment is nicely reminiscent of a comment I got from Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade fame when I cajoled my friend into asking, “How do you deal with players who try to break your game?”  His response was simple and elegant: “Play with adults.”  It even spawned one of their comics, which my wife witnessed during their “Watch us draw a Comic” panel the following day.  Yes, some things I do are awesome, at least from the viewpoint of a tiny corner of the Internet.

I love that story, and I love Mike’s and Shintar’s responses because they cut to the true heart of the problem.  However, they’re equally problematic, too.  I was stuck with the D&D group I had; they were all friends, they(we) all did things together outside of playing the game, and for the most part, there weren’t problems outside of certain in-game behaviors.  They were a unit; I could start from scratch, cutting out a majority of my NYC social group at the same time, or I could learn to deal with them, which, in the end, I did.  It involved a lot of thought and theorycrafting, but in the end I waited and found a crime for which I had the perfect D&D punishment.  It turned a possible game-ending confrontation between play styles into a great role-playing opportunity.  More on that another time.

The same’s not really possible with WoW, though.  I can’t craft the game to suit the problem.  I am far less “stuck,” too, than I was with D&D, but I think more now than I did before that my theory is sound, that healing makes it more likely that people begin to dislike their guildmates, and I dug up some research that I can cite, too.

John Gottman runs the Love Lab, a questionably named research institute that actually turns out some very compelling – perhaps even terrifying – data.  I linked there his research FAQ because it gets to the main points I’m going to make, but since he’s written or co-authored 40 books on relationships, I think he’s got a pretty solid record.  He’s not a fluffy feel-gooder, either; he does hard data research on body movements, tone of voice, and other quantifiable data to turn out a formula that can predict the likelihood that a couple will divorce in the next six years – with a 90% +/- 5% accuracy rate.

That’s a stunning number.  That’s the terrifying part, that it can so clearly and accurately be measured whether couples will split in a short amount of time, less time, in fact, than WoW has existed.  That’s part of the reason I like to use this research with WoW; it’s not about the super-long term survival of a guild; it’s created specifically for shorter relationships.  Secondly, I like the marriage metaphor quite a lot.  A guild is a social unit voluntarily working together for no financial gain, but only to further their own unit’s desires.  In a marriage, that could be stability, family, children, or sex.  In a guild, it could be RPing, raiding, or PvPing (or, in both, it could be a gigantically unlistable variety of other things).

So what’s the point, then, in even drawing the comparison?  Because I want to use a single piece of data to back myself up.  Gottman finds that for relationships to survive that the relationship needs to have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions, particularly during a stressful situation, five to one good to bad in order to survive.

Now let’s look at our roles and the most basic reasons people might have a negative moment towards another raider, even if it’s only subconsciously registered (which is what Gottman finds, too, that a lot of the “scorekeeping” is at an unconscious level).


Towards other tanks

There could be an issue if another tank didn’t correctly do a threat swap on a fight that requires it, like Gluth back in Naxx (I’m very fuzzy this morning, and that’s the most recent one I can remember – ugh).  It could happen that the swap happened too early or not at all.  That might happen a few times per raid run, mostly on a single boss.  Let’s make a guess and say 5 times for a back-and-forth tank swap, and it’s unlikely that it would happen more than once or twice if you’re in a situation where the other tank is even remotely capable of doing his job.

There could be an issue if another tank failed to pick up adds, like on Madness of Deathwing, forcing the main tank to grab them and potentially endanger his own life.  Again, that’s very boss specific, as in maybe 2 or 3 bosses in a raid tier.  Again, it’s unlikely it would happen over and over if you’re in a group that’s even possibly capable of downing the boss.

Towards Dps

There could have been an issue in the past, though hardly any more, that a dps stole threat off a tank.  It still could happen if the Dps pulled too early, but that’s just incredibly unlikely.  If this happened, it would only likely happen a handful of times, and it’s likely the Dps would be swiftly killed for their error by the boss, giving some feeling of justice, even if it’s mixed with disappointment that it might cause a raid wipe.

There could be an issue that the dps might not be targeting the correct mobs.  In this situation, a mob might grow too powerful and kill a tank (like on spine of Deathwing) or there might be too many and overwhelm the tank.  As usual, it’s likely this would only happen a handful of times, though this is perhaps more likely than any other scenario we’ve covered so far.

Towards Healers

A tank might be irritated at a healer if the healer wasn’t healing him at the appropriate time in the appropriate quantities.  This could happen, of course, and probably is in the top 2 for likelihood of these options, but in the end it would really only matter if the tank actually died, which can only happen once per attempt (or twice with a b-rez).  This is probably where the largest “tank animosity” would occur, unless the tank was paired with a really incompetent off tank (which would drive the tank mad, as I can attest).


Towards tanks

About the only scenario I can think of in a quasi-professional raid situation would be if the tank somehow lost threat.  This could be due to a slow pick-up or low threat gen (like back on Fel Reaver), but nowadays the threat gen situation seems basically impossible.  So not picking up a target, which could happen during add fights, seems to be the only thing I can think of.  Again, that requires a specific boss mechanic and a very specific failure on the tank’s part, which makes it largely unlikely.

Towards other dps

This could happen easily once per fight, at the end, when the numbers are looked at.  If one dps is seriously not pulling their weight, it could irritate the other dps that they had to do more as a result.  Once per fight means maybe 12 times per raid per tier (on average for numbers of total bosses per tier), or once per attempt.  So this is certainly possible on any boss, making it more likely, but really only once per attempt.

Towards healers

Again, about the only thing here would be if a healer “allowed” a dps to die in a situation where the dps was not at fault (for standing in fire) and there wasn’t a death mechanic (like on Chimaeron).  This happens plenty (more often in the Dps’s mind than in reality, of course), but by its very nature can only happen once per attempt (because they’re dead afterwards).


Towards tanks

I could mention threat again, but at this point it seems superfluous.  It’s likely the main source of animosity now would be tanks not properly using their cooldowns.  This can happen multiple times per attempt on any boss.

Towards dps

Each time a dps stands in fire or puts higher dps numbers above keeping themselves alive, healers could feel a little animosity towards dps.  Again, this can happen multiple times per attempt on any boss.

Towards other healers

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about this particular situation, which I didn’t mention at all in my original post.  As with the dps getting irritated at other dps, the lack of a solid team can be very frustrating for a healer once per attempt on any boss.

So you see, dear reader, that healers have the opportunity to build “resentment counters” towards every other person in the raid on any boss, often multiple times per attempt.  No other role is so susceptible to these negative emotions.

It’s entirely possible that the healer in question is very kind and forgiving and nothing comes of it.  It’s possible that the team is such good friends that the resentment is forgotten due to other social actions that vastly outweigh the irritation of raiding.  It’s possible that the team is so good that the mistakes are quite rare and are vastly outdone by the team’s successes.

In the guilds in which I’ve raided, in the border between casual and hardcore, where I’ve been a stranger to most of the people outside of Azeroth, I haven’t had these opportunities, and I find it likely that people in situations like mine in guilds like mine find the same truth:

As a healer, it’s been far harder to maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions than as a tank or a dps.  The very design of the game, that our job becomes harder multiple times per encounter due to the teams’ mistakes instead of the game’s mechanics makes that so.  How we handle it and the final result of those emotions is up to the individual player, but healers bear a greater burden of dealing with those emotions than other roles.

So, hopefully that better explains how I think about the situation and why I feel the way I feel.

On a completely separate (and probably more important) note, Balkoth of his eponymous Word is doing an informal study of where exactly being “required” to have a piece of gear becomes “you’d have to be nuts” to have that piece of gear.  He explains it much better than I do in his intial post, and his survey can be found here.  Read it and take it; it only takes a few minutes and I’m very interested in the results!


Stubborn (and data driven mad)

P.S. Tarnation this was supposed to be for tomorrow but I forgot to set up the “publish on” part.  I told you I was fuzzy this morning.  Ah well, enjoy early and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2012 5:02 pm

    Really well stated, and I find myself falling into this trap. I rarely vocalize it, and most people would never even know, but I get very negative during raids. The only thing that makes it work, is that my bro also raids with me and we vent to each other the whole raid about each thing. It helps us both to get out frustrations out and keep positive to negative ratio higher. If he quit raiding, I don’t think I could last more then a month or two in a guild before I would be looking elsewhere…except of course the guilds you explained that make very few mistakes, but I don’t have the time to keep up with those guilds.

    • December 12, 2012 1:41 pm

      Yes, I’ve found raiding with good friends really helps off-set this scenario, though it can also (and I’ve done this too often) create sub-cliques who bitch about one another, which only reinforces that negative image of some of our team members. Still, I’d always prefer to raid with friends!

      Thanks for the comment!

    • December 13, 2012 4:53 pm

      That is the definitely true. Our guild is very clickish. Works fine when we are progressing which is most times, but when we hit a wall, it can get ugly fast.

  2. December 7, 2012 5:55 pm

    A couple more suggestions for your “opportunities to feel resentment” list: fights that require positioning (especially if you have to be more than X yards away from other players, or there are only limited safe spots to stand, or whatever). As a ranged DPS and as a healer, it’s not uncommon to find some other twit standing in “your” spot, thus requiring you to move somewhere you hadn’t planned and find somewhere new, usually in a hurry while something else chaotic and probably dangerous is going on. This is even worse as a healer because you can’t afford to stop doing your job while finding somewhere safe, and you’d probably picked out your original spot because it was the fastest or easiest to get to while still healing. I used to regularly gnash my teeth at the more oblivious DPS (or other healers) who’d just stand wherever they felt like without paying attention to the fact that I’d been running for that safe spot for the last 10 attempts or whatever.

    Wow, I can feel my blood pressure going up even at the memory!

    • December 12, 2012 1:43 pm

      Yes, positioning is definitely something I overlooked. To be fair, though, I think that probably everyone – even tanks – can feel this resentment, so as a universal problem I think it holds little bearing on the final summations. Still, it sure can be frustrating! I remember on Gruul constantly being like “WHY THE F IS THAT PERSON RUNNING RIGHT AT ME?” though I never communicated that feeling. That was right in the middle of my David & Goliath battle with a guild bully, too, so I was trying to keep my head down and avoid problems outside of that one.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • December 12, 2012 11:37 pm

      Yeah, I agree it’s a universal problem, but more so for healers and tanks, especially healers, because we can’t do our job while moving (well, except druids) so one really has to keep repositioning to a minimum.

  3. The Perspicacious Taurus permalink
    December 8, 2012 5:47 pm

    I love this post, it says everything I have been practically shouting on the WoW forums for years-Especially about the healer’s role. One tiny

    Yes, we (healers) choose to play the role for our own reasons-but it’s hard to blame healers when they express frustration at the others for not dodging very obvious AoE’s. I don’t mean ‘yes, everyone knows that’ I mean AoE’s that are slow, obvious, and very easy to escape. When a rogue chooses to simply stand in the billows of flames and dies then turns on ME, I get very hostule very quickly.

    Protip-If you die during an encounter, whispering the healer for a resurrection whilst the encounter is still going is a sure-fire way to raise his or her blood pressure. Just FYI.

    • December 12, 2012 1:45 pm

      LOL. I love the strangers in LFD who are like “REZ PLZ” 3 seconds after they die. Sometimes the result is “RUN PLZ” after the encounter as I urge the group to (or, when I was the tank, just) move on. The sense of entitlement that’s come over the game is probably one of the two largest causes for de-evolution of the community, the other being the sense of elitism in some echelons.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. December 8, 2012 6:25 pm

    Interesting approach! 🙂 I still disagree with your conclusion though, mainly because I don’t think that the examples you give of negative interactions are as limited in their effects as you make them out to be. For example I see no reason why a dps getting a tank killed by attacking the wrong thing wouldn’t annoy the healers and other dps as well. Likewise players messing up on environmental effects and causing unnecessary damage to the group (by standing in the fire etc.) would probably draw the ire of non-healers too, simply for jeopardising the success of the entire team. Unless you think that the vast majority of people that you play with would never even notice problems that aren’t directly connected to their role?

    You make me want to write a post about why I love healing and why I feel that it helps me form better relationships with my guildies. 😛

    • December 12, 2012 1:46 pm

      I absolutely think you should. I know I make “zen” jokes at you, but you seriously have a really positive outlook on your role, and I think seeing your inner thoughts about it might help both me and others with better understanding of how to handle the stress (or how not to get stressed at all). You’ve got a ton of experience, too, so you could do a kind of “healing for dummies” thing that I think would go over very well.

      Regardless, thanks for the commentary and for keeping my honest!

  5. Imakulata permalink
    December 9, 2012 5:29 am

    I’m sorry for not answering to your reply in comments for the previous post; I would like to discuss the points you raise here too so it probably belongs below this post.

    An important thing you said was you had been a hard mode raider who stopped raiding heroics and started doing LFR and similar – I hope I don’t misquote you. The point is, you started playing with groups that are less experienced than what you were used to and I wonder what effect did that have on the resentment you felt towards your new groupmates. My experience was a bit different – I used nit to be clearly better than the rest of my group so I used to do a fair share of mistakes. Imagine you were in a similar situation; how would your mistakes change your attitude towards others’ mistakes? I know there is no clear rule but in my experience, a lot of people who can do better than their groups are aware of this and I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone who was in the situation and was not happy about it. I was in such a situation years ago (before I started raiding seriously) for a short time and I certainly wasn’t happy. On the other hand, the person who was the guild leader was better than anyone else but he didn’t mind about it, so it’s not everyone.

    As for your opportunities for resentment to build, I think you missed a lot of “universal” ones based on boss mechanics. I’m going to list some for T13 as I haven’t raided in MoP yet:
    – people getting damage during black blood on Morchok; the other group wiping or having a member die on heroic version
    – the other group not bouncing the ball or bouncing when they shouldn’t on Zonozz
    – killing a wrong colour or not killing at all, not spreading properly etc. on Yorsahj
    – mistakes during Hagara’s ice or lightning phase

    I think there’s actually plenty of opportunities for other roles to build resentment. They’re encounter-dependent but since each encounter offers them, they could as well not be.

    • December 12, 2012 1:48 pm

      I agree with all your examples, but I’d argue most of those are simply more specific versions of things I’ve covered. Taking extra damage covers your morchok and hagara examples, dpsing the wrong target includes the Yorahj example, and really Zonozz is about positioning, which I did completely omit, as Siha pointed out. So really, I think we’re in pretty close agreement, but I simply feel that healers have opportunities on every fight, regardless of mechanics, whereas dps and tanks only have it on some fights with specific mechanics.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • Imakulata permalink
      December 13, 2012 2:01 am

      Thanks for your answer too. If I had to put it shortly, my main points were:
      – encounter-specific mechanics are as significant as non-specific ones if they’re present and are present in every encounter
      – the difference between your skill level and your group’s plays one of the most important role in how you perceive them; probably the most important one save for attitudes

      I’m hoping you are not going to consider me disrespectful towards you or your opinions but based on your answers to other commenters I think that your skills and meta-skills were often better than your groups’ were and it was an important reason for your lack of satisfaction with them.

  6. December 10, 2012 6:09 pm

    Man, I remember reading that information a while back but never thought to apply it to something like this. Nice idea and I think generally true.

    “Likewise players messing up on environmental effects and causing unnecessary damage to the group (by standing in the fire etc.) would probably draw the ire of non-healers too, simply for jeopardising the success of the entire team. Unless you think that the vast majority of people that you play with would never even notice problems that aren’t directly connected to their role?”

    I don’t think that the non-healers would notice the scope. Hard to tell the difference between taking 100k and 110k. Hard to notice when people don’t use defensive cooldowns.

    Huge, obvious mistakes might be noticed by everyone, but the healers having to do 5-10% more healing overall probably isn’t noticed by anyone but the healers during the fight. And those healers are the ones who feel like they have to fix the mistakes of the DPS/tanks with finite resources (mana).

    I think part of the problem is that if a DPS doesn’t kill an add in time, a healer doesn’t feel responsible. If the raid wipes because the healers run out of mana because people take too much damage, the healer feels like maybe they could have done better, even if it wasn’t their fault.

    I also think the lower the skill level of the guild, the more this problem occurs (since people stand in fire more).

    • December 12, 2012 1:55 pm

      I completely agree with you and previous commentators who mention that the skill level of a guild makes a huge difference in all of this. My problem is that the skill level of guilds I’ve been in have mostly been average or slightly above. This really gets back to my other favorite rant about the use of data. Sure, some groups can use data appropriately to find problems and solve them, but other less-informed (or simply lazier) groups use data incorrectly and hurt players as a result.

      I give great credit to my “best” guild leader who knew to check recount after Marrowgar to see who was dpsing bone spikes and who wasn’t. He knew that top dps there wasn’t the priority, that getting other players down was. Similarly, he looked at interrupts on other fights (LDW, IIRC). A lot of guild leaders simply aren’t that informed, and they instead look at the lowest dps and bitch at or about them or blame the healers when a dps goes down despite the fact the dps was standing in fire.

      The most rage-ready guild leaders are precisely the sort who go off half-cocked with misinformation, and those are the most volatile and vicious, as well. Sure, you may not find them in top-tier raiding guilds, but that’s not where I get to play, is it?

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. December 10, 2012 7:30 pm

    I have healed for many years over many games now, and it is by far my favorite role. (I initially levelled up a DPS character in my current game of RIFT and had to abandon it almost immediately because not healing made me crazy.)

    Perhaps it’s because I was also usually raid leader or guild leader during my hardcore raiding time, but I totally disagree with you when you say that “As a healer, it’s been far harder to maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions than as a tank or a dps.” I LOVED those “pull the raid’s butt out of the fire” moments. Back in the day it was pretty well known that our healing corps was overall better than our DPS corps, and so we would purposefully choose strategies that relied more on healing output than DPS output and myself and all the healers were perfectly satisfied with that, if not more pleased than we would have been were it the reverse.

    I like healing because it’s important. Because I can change the outcome of a fight if I have to. Because healing helps me have my finger on the pulse of the raid (wanna know who died first? or who hasn’t been upgrading their gear as much as everyone else? ask the healer!). I like healing because my work makes everyone else more awesome.

    It’s interesting, because I feel like the exact reasons why I love healing so much are the reasons that you don’t.

    PS: If anything, the role that should get the most irritated from encounter failures is.. the raid leader. 🙂

    • December 12, 2012 2:01 pm

      “PS: If anything, the role that should get the most irritated from encounter failures is.. the raid leader.”

      I agree, and that’s certainly why I ended up leaving my second guild. Still, you’re examining a different set of roles, aren’t you? In fact, I’d argue that your statement not only is on a different axis of measurement than mine, but might actually complement mine. I wonder what the ratio of tank/dps/heal raid leaders are. I’d be willing to bet a WHOLE lot that it’s not the same as the ration of tank/dps/heal in a raid group. I’d bet that tanks and healers make up a majority of raid leaders, since they often have a better view of the fight than the dps. Otherise we’d see 3x as many dps as tank or as heal raid leaders, and I really haven’t seen that in my admittedly limited travels.

      I also think that the reasons why you heal are similar to the reasons people like to raid lead. Having a nice overview, the feeling of control, and even the ability to turn a failing encounter around are ALL reasons people get into raid leadership – or healing. I completely agree with them, too, but none of them prevent the resentment counters from accruing. In fact, it may well be that some of them – like better raid awareness – cause them to accrue faster.

      Regardless, I love your blog, for the record, and am really excited to have you here! Thanks for commenting!

  8. Gus permalink
    December 13, 2012 12:01 pm

    Ill add to your post by saying not only mechanics can cause stress but also tempo

    I’m sure you are familiar with both extremes from the go go go go pull faster pull more don’t stop to the other that marks everything and expects CC on each pull.

    tanks rushing to combat while the healer is out of mana, dps breaking other dps CC, healers demanding the tank to upll mor that they will be able to heal it (extra for not being able to ) etc.

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