A good friend posted privately to their Facebook wall, trying to make an analogy from the well known “trinity” of RPG character class archetypes: DPS, Tank, and Healer/Support. This friend was trying to figure out their place in that “trinity” with respect to political action/reaction and hoping it might help people use it as a conversation starter and a possible start to a meaningful LFG for the upcoming high level political dungeons (“raids”) that we all may need to collectively face.
I felt like expanding the analogy a bit; trying to walk through a lot of it to arrive at a deeper, more public conversation starter of my own in a bit of an attempt at some DPS. For the most part I’m going to stick to essentially primer materials on the gaming side of the analogy, in the hopes that it makes easier for others to pick up on the analogy and maybe run with it. The primer I also think is necessary to some of my less game-literate friends before diving into something of my own conclusions of where I think I fit with reference to the analogy.
A Brief Description of the Archetypes
These three archetypes form something of the backbone of just about every character class in most class-based RPGs (and even some non-class-based and hybrid RPGs, and these days class-based FPSes and what have you).
- A tank class primary focus is about soaking as much damage as possible, a front-line shield for allies (by taking “aggro”, aggravation/aggression, from enemies for the team).
- A Damage per second (DPS) class primary focus is about dealing the big hits to enemies, as quickly as possible.
- Traditionally, a Healer class primary focus is about healing as much of the hits to allies as quickly as possible. (There are the widest variety of support classes in games today and historically, but this is a fine starting place.)
You can think of these three archetypes as the biggest cities on a roughly triangular shaped map. You could think of the main road between Tank and DPS labeled “Damage”, as both are primarily concerned with dealing and dealing with damage. You could think of the main road between Healer and Tank as the “Support” road: a Healer wishes to support the team through the gift of healing, a Tank supports the team by taking aggro. (As hinted above there is a lot of variety along this road, in particular, and a lot of detours that don’t fit simple mile markers, to stretch the analogy.)
There’s not a lot of consensus, so far as I am aware, for what to call the main road between Healer and DPS on the map. There is very clearly a road there and some very interesting stops along the way. For the moment my preferred name for the road is “Time”. You can see “time” quite clearly in the name DPS, but it’s not often clear on the other side of the road. DPS is about performing enough damage, fast enough, to shorten the lives of enemies. A Healer is often about providing enough healing support to lengthen the lives of allies. A DPS tries to reduce the amount of time needed in a conflict, and a Healer tries to increase the amount of time available in which to handle the conflict.
Some keys to realize here is that this is a sometimes huge map. These big landmark cities are useful waypoints to help you find out roughly what qualities you can bring to a team. It’s very common in games to refer to your character’s role in a team based on the “nearest city”, as a shorthand when looking for a group (LFG). This is because, in the vast majority of class-based games, to get a great group together, you need to band together a good balance of all three archetypes to win the toughest battles. (You can’t defeat your enemies if you can’t deal enough damage; you can’t survive if you don’t have enough support; you can’t survive if you don’t have enough time.)
Know Your Roll
So we have three big landmarks that we can use to orient ourselves on the map.
It’s useful to orient yourself on that map: not everyone needs to be on the front-lines taking damage (a Tank). This can be an incredibly useful support role, it can also be a useful damage role (but it is not always the most efficient damage role).
Some people may find better fits out of the trenches in more efficient damage roles and others in more efficient support roles. All three archetypes lean on each other to fill in each other’s gaps and weaknesses. All three archetypes use their strengths to make the entire team better.
Knowing where your personality fits on the map can be a good way to help plan your self-care needs, to look for friends and allies to help watch your back so you can do what you do best (and vice versa), and to remind us that we all need a good, balanced team (we need folks from every “city” to make a team tough enough to fight the biggest monsters).
It’s often easy to forget that those closest to the “Time” road, that those that are the most efficient at damage or the most efficient at healing or the most efficient at some combo thereof, often by necessary trade off, may be the least armored (to be the nimblest and deftest at their tasks) and thus most “squishy” and easily damaged in combat. It’s also sometimes easy to forget that even your most armored Tanks sometimes need heals at the right moments when their armor gets worn down or their attention distracted.
It’s often easy to forget that offense isn’t the only thing that wins conflicts. It’s very easy to make heroes and find excitement in the big numbers of damage that Tanks and DPS might put out. It’s sometimes hard to remember that support is just as important; that a good defense is a critical part of a strategy. It’s also often easy to forget that a good Tank is providing both offense and defense. The Tank’s damage may be less than a DPS, but it’s often still important damage. The Tank’s support may be less than a more efficient Healer, but that damage that bounces off a Tank’s armor is damage the team doesn’t need to heal, and that damage that a Tank soaks with their vast reserves is damage that isn’t going to a squishier teammate.
Know Your Role May Be Subtle
RPGs have spent many decades exploring that vaguely triangular map between the the three archetypes. Any recent class-based RPG likely has upwards of a half-dozen or more character class “towns” scattered throughout that map. Most of these towns are still roughly suburbs and exurbs of the big three cities, but there are interesting towns all over the map. There are hybrids roughly “halfway” down the main roads. There are interesting side roads and detours. There are jacks of all trades (masters of none) of various novelty.
When looking for a team, it is easiest to start the conversation with an archetype because that narrows down the region you are probably from. Then you can get into the vocabulary of specifics. It’s not always worth bothering someone looking for a Tank when your primary focus is DPS. It’s good to a rough idea of about how much you can contribute to a particular need, even if you do think you are on a border town close to Tank from DPS, because when that team is asking specifically for a Tank, they probably need a full-time Tank.
On the flipside too, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask. Two people from “Tank-border” towns might be a perfectly fine way to fill a single Tank role, each sharing the responsibilities.
The archetypes are a great place to start a conversation about where a new potential teammate might fight into a team. It is easy to forget that sometimes it is also just as starting place and there may be subtleties in where a person is from in their region, and the specifics how they fill their role and how they might make a good team better.
Know Your Role Can Change
RPGs have also spent decades exploring what it means to take on an archetype, what sort of players spend the most time in each archetype, and how to balance the overall flow of players in each archetype. It’s not necessarily possible, and in some cases may be extremely unlikely, that at any random hour on any random server, enough players could fit together a well balanced team of enough different classes to mostly cover the archetype territories.
Games give people ways to play multiple roles over time. Not just in the obvious ways like letting people play multiple characters, but the ways that “border-towns” are positioned in the map to encourage people to try both roles in a team. There are also the ways in which a character’s role might change over time as a part of character development: the ways in which skills evolve over time, abilities to pick up multiple classes and diversify.
There are class-less games that experiment with ways that a player might take on aspects of any of the archetype roles as necessary for a conflict or a player’s personality or taste/preference or mood that week.
It’s easy to forget that people’s roles aren’t frozen. Someone might be a great Tank on the front lines this week, but a better support or a better DPS the next week somewhere better protected. It’s also easy to forget that this isn’t always easy; sometimes people need different equipment or a bit of training or practice to make that role switch.
My Thoughts on My Role
Most of all of this text is a useful primer, whether or not it provides useful fuel to the original analogy. (I certainly hope that it does.)
It also serves as a bit of a necessary lead-in to finally explaining some of my own conclusions about my friend’s post and my own introspection on the roles in which I like to play games and perhaps unsurprisingly seem to align with about where I think I am these days in terms of political activism/reactionism.
In most games I find that the place on the map I tend to lean is somewhere in the “border towns” on the road I referred to as “Time” between DPS and Healer roles. Offense/damage can be shiny and fun, and often soloing can be the easiest path to victory for my tastes, so it’s often a DPS lean. But working in teams, I love a juicy support role. I like healing and I sometimes like many of the interesting other support roles such as “crowd control”.
In any case, I often don’t see myself in the front lines and rarely trust my skills to Tank. I know I’m often quite squishy, and I’m okay with that. I trust good Tanks where ever I find them, and I like to hope that they trust me to have their back, whether as extra firepower or extra support depending on game and mood and practiced skills.
Politically, I feel rather similar. I know I’m relatively squishy. I know I have stress and anxiety and low armor to deal with incoming damage, and my first instinct is to run away or bury my head in the sand. I want to help with damage and support where I can, and I’d like to think that what I lack in armor I make up for in efficiency. That dance between defense and offense/damage and support can make me seem a bit scattered, but I’d also like to hope that it provides flexibility in those times when a good team needs a little bit of both. With effort, if I am not distracted, I hope that I can provide the right balance for the conflicts ahead. I hope that I have time to prepare to shift one direction or another ahead of time and ready for that fight.
I trust good Tanks, where ever I find them, and I like to hope that they know they can trust me to have their back for that little bit of extra firepower or support, to help the team find the time it needs to accomplish its goals.