WoW Players anonymous
On a Friday several weeks ago, my boyfriend fiance was having a light conversation with some of his work-mates regarding weekend plans. When asked what he was going to do that weekend, he told them he would be playing World of Warcraft with me. They laughed at him, and teased him about it, which I find very ironic, considering they all work together at a company that makes and produces games.

My shmexy Death Knight beau didn't bat an eye. "What are you going to do this weekend? Watch football? Does your wife enjoy watching football with you?" This quickly shut them up. You can call us dorky gamers if you like, but at least we've found something we enjoy doing together. Sure, maybe we could have healthier hobbies. I really respect that his parents go bike-riding together every weekend. However, me on a bike = epic fail, and in fact, most activities that require some sort of coordination or grace are out of my reach.

We spend a lot of time playing WoW. We probably spend way too much time playing WoW. But it is one of the few hobbies that we both really enjoy. We spend our gaming time with our friends - both IRL friends and in-game friends. It annoys me when people who are not gamers scoff at the idea of me considering these people my friends. Why? Because we don't get drunk together at a club on Friday nights? You may look at it as some digital alternative reality where i am friends with a bunch of ones and zeroes, but the truth of the matter is that behind that 3d model is a real person, who already has shown they share an interest with me. I have been friends with some of these people for over 3 years. When someone doesn't show up for a raid, we have their phone number, and we call to make sure they are okay. When I've been down on my luck, or truly depressed, I've had many long discussions with some of my WoW friends. If friendship is about having companionship and communication with someone who cares, then there is absolutely no reason why WoW players cannot fulfill that need for one another.

The fiance and I have been playing together for awhile, but I did start playing before him, and the guild I was in before he and his friends started playing Alliance side on our server was founded mostly by pairs of people. Therefore I know several couples who play the game together, which has prompted one of my single guild-mates to suggest that I must be leading the Lothar Swingers Club. That's not really my dish, but hey, I can see how it might look that way to others. In the same way that couples who frequent parties together might become fast friends with other couples, we do the same thing in WoW.

Except that our dinner parties are fish feasts.
I swear I'm not fishing...
The title is a reference to my famous inability to remember to swap my fishing hat with my healing cowl. I blame outfitter. Srsly.

I was having a debate the other day with my death knight/mage fiance about healing, prompted by some fairly heated comments I left on Ful's blog. I was explaining to him why certain things matter to healers that other people don't even seem to consider. Then the thought struck me - maybe I'm just not a very good healer.

I don't say that to fish for compliments, or even in a self-deprecatory manner. I really don't know. If the only real way to tell for sure if a healer is doing their job is to say "well, no one is dead", then I guess most of the time I'm doing a decent job. If you use a healing meter to evaluate my mad skillz, then I probably do okay there too. Until you look at overheals. I could just sit there and spam prayer of healing for the hell of it, or out of boredom, you know.

It's a common problem raid leaders and healing leads have: evaluating the performance of a healer. If a healer is doing a great job, then they may not even be noticed. Some healers throw out giant heals (mmmm Holy Light), and others are there to keep you from taking any damage in the first place (just ask Matticus or any other Disc priest). And there are plenty of times when even the best healers cannot prevent a total wipe.

How do you evaluate the skill of the healing player? Beyond the gear and the stats, there is communication. It is important for healers to communicate with one another, in addition to the healing targets. I know I'm constantly whispering back and forth with other healers during our raids, and with the tank. Granted, most of the time she and I are trying to come up with rules for a new Naxx drinking game, but sometimes we actually do discuss when she seems to be taking the most damage, how she can avoid it (if possible), and how I can react healing-wise or mitigate if possible. Is she not getting healed up enough before the tank-toss in the Thaddius fight? She can't prevent that - but I can. And if I personally can't, I can send a tell to a healer on the other platform and tell them to throw more HoTs before the toss.

Attitude and diplomacy is important as well, as far as I'm concerned. Calling someone out for standing in the pool of NoobDeath may be necessary, but you can find nice ways to do it. You can announce to the whole raid "be sure to watch out for NoobDeath!", but you don't need to point fingers, and name specifically who is doing it. It just upsets people and makes them defensive most of the time. If they still aren't getting it, you can send them a whisper - "Hey I know it can be hard to see the NoobDeath because of Death Knights' Death and Decay, but I won't be able to heal through that, so you'll have to keep a close eye out for it. :)"

Words of Wisdom: Always use a smiley face when telling people they suck.

Probably the most important skill is reaction time. The best healers have the best reflexes, and that can be a tricky skill to perfect. That frost blast on KT is a perfect example. I cannot predict who is going to get blasted. Waiting for someone to call out that they are blasted is waiting too long - vent has lag. The best indicator for me is when anyone takes a sudden drop in health. This is probably why I don't really know what the KT fight looks like. I'm too busy glaring at health bars. Even though I love Circle of Healing, and use it gratuitously, I take care with it during KT to make sure that I don't have to wait for the cooldown when someone gets hit with Frost Blast. Circle of Healing, talented Renew, and they are usually okay, as other heals from other healers are starting to hit.

I know I'm a decent healer. But seriously, what makes a healer truly great? Now that I've started to ask myself this question, I'm going to begin paying more attention. When you have a raid on farm, and it's mostly cake for everyone, that's not the time to be able to judge how good a healer is - that's when you can judge if a healer is really crappy.

At this point, all I really know? At least I'm not crappy! :) :)

(See what I did there? Yeah.)
The problem with Theory-crafting
In the real world, I am a professional student. That basically means I get paid (not much, mind you) to sit around and think, and then write papers about what I think, and then tell everyone else how smart I am because of all the things I think. It's a pretty sweet gig for lazy bums such as myself.

As a graduate student in a field that is constantly beset with identity crises and inner political squabbles, there is a lot of debate regarding theory versus application. On one side you have the supporters of applied science who think theory is for those people sitting in an ivory tower who just want to make a living sitting around thinking. On the other side you have the critical theorists in their posh armchairs who think that applied scientists are not asking the right questions, and because they do not reflexively consider their research, they are not actually contributing to the field of knowledge.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I believe theory is important to understanding a lot of what we do, why we do it, and the best way to do it. At the same time, if we rely completely on theory, it will never match the reality of what we do.

Why have I rambled about academia in a blog focused on healing in WoW? I assure you, I have my reasons. Anyone who spends any time over at the ElitistJerks forum knows that there are plenty of WoW players out there who love the mathematical side of playing this game. They can come up with an equation for anything, and tell you exactly how you should spec, exactly what gear you should be wearing, the precise rotation for your spells, and every single enchant and gem you should use. With greek symbols and wws reports as their weapons, they will easily strike down any n00b who insists that lolsmite is a viable spec. That is why they are unabashedly Elitist Jerks.

Somewhere along the line, "playing a game" transformed from doing what you enjoy for the pure fun of it, and applying for another job, where you beef up a resume that includes every talent point, gem, enchant, and your specific spell rotation. We've been told exactly how we should play this game, and if we don't do it the way the math and theorycrafting says we should, then we obviously need to learn2play.

The problem with theory is that behind the healer, or the DPSer, or the tank in the raid is an actual, real-life, human being. You can't bot everything. Sometimes my index finger gets itchy, and I hit Circle of Healing, when I know damn well that the tree over there just cast Rejuvenation. Talent points were intended to take basic classes and give the players flexibility to match their playstyle. Sometimes when you get so bogged down by how you should be playing, what spell the math tells you you should cast at this exact moment, you forget all about the fact that the character you are playing is a representative of you. You can come up with all kinds of ideal stats and situations in which you should use and do such and such. But, in the heat of the moment, you may do something different, and all that math you so meticulously researched is pointless. It is based upon you using the exactly proper sequence in an ideal situation.

The Value of Theory

All that having been said, theorycrafting is incredibly helpful in many situations. I used to be so concerned about having the exact amount of haste, crit, and spellpower that EJ insisted was necessary. I spent so much time doing the math, I forgot the entire point - to be a better player. So, now, I don't worry about the exact numbers. I read up on the theory, get an idea about what works best in different situations, and try to get in the general vicinity. I have a rough goal of around 2k spellpower, a certain amount of haste, and a certain amount of crit. I used to gem everything for spirit, but now with the changes to mana regen and other facets of class changes, EJ tells me I should gem for intellect instead. As much as it pains me to loosen my grasp on that spirit stat, I now gem and enchant for intellect when it makes sense. And if I hadn't read so much theory about what stats are best for priests, I would have always stacked mp5. I would still be gemming for stamina like I did with my Primal Mooncloth set back in BC.

Understanding concepts is more important than memorizing numbers. Knowing that spirit is a decent stat for mages and warlocks in addition to priests and druids makes me not hate my lockly friends for rolling on gear I want. It reminds me to keep divine spirit on them as well. Knowing that a good balance of SP, mana regen, haste and crit is more important that memorizing the number I "should" achieve before progressing past Naxx25.

I wouldn't understand the concepts if I didn't read the theory. But I'm still going to keep my Lightwell. And I'm still going to forget to cast Guardian Spirit a lot of the time. Even before the changes to downranked heals, I never bothered downranking. I'm still in the habit of bunching my heals and then taking breaks in an effort to regen my mana - even though, in theory, I know that isn't very useful anymore.
My personal WoW project
So if you look over to the left on my blog, you'll note that I have four characters listed. I actually have way more toons, as I have a history of being a little alt addicted. The four characters listed to the left, however, are part of my personal project to have a healer of every class.

This idea was prompted by the fact that during our alliance raids, I usually assign heals (when it's needed - many of our healers don't really need assignments). As I started looking details up about different healing spells used by different classes, it occurred to me that I take the responsibility of assigning heals very seriously. Also, I don't really assign heals as much as organize them. But in order to do even that task well, you really do need to have a basic fundamental understanding of each healing class. Even just knowing the basics (AoE - holy priest, shammy, druid, Single target - Pally, disc priest) helps, but I really want to master the art of healing in WoW. I want to be able to give advice to another healer about which abilities to use when. It's not some egotistical thing where I want to have the ultimate power.

I enjoy playing a healing priest so much, why wouldn't I enjoy trying out the other healing classes? It seems as good a reason as any to pick one class over another for an alt. I already had a fairly high level pally, Elimeny (my original main). And now that Jessabelle was 80, exalted with all the main factions, maxed out professions, progressing steadily through raids, and with plenty of gold to line her pockets, it seemed like as good a time as any to start leveling some healing alts.

So I started by using some of my extra Emblems of Heroism to pick up the Heirloom plate shoulders that give a 10% bonus to xp while leveling for my pally. Once I had a few more extra emblems, I bought the nice heirloom healing mace. I started by maxing out my Pally - before WotLK came out, she was already level 69, so I set her to work running a few instances to pop up a couple of levels. After level 75, however, she leveled almost purely through dailies. By the time she hit 80, she had a pretty decent reputation start with several factions, which allowed her to pick up a couple of nice items.

Unfortunately, those heirloom plate shoulders won't do much good for a druid or shammy, so in the meantime, I'm saving up my emblems of heroism to buy some new heirloom XP shoulders for my two low level healer alts. I have a nice healing mace that I can swap between both of them when needed, but for the most part, I'm speccing them for leveling efficiency. Once I get them to higher levels, I'll worry about speccing them more specifically for healing.

Lessons learned so far? The biggest one that I've had to overcome with having just two high level healers: Retraining muscle memory. I use healbot while raiding, and I don't even have to think anymore about what mouse/key combination to hit for each spell on my priest. Keep in mind, also, Priests have quite a few different healing spells. I have roughly ten different combinations that my fingers needed to memorize on healbot. Therefore, using the same combinations for different spells for my Pally took a lot of retraining. I had to carefully choose my key combinations, so that Divine Sacrifice was not tied to the same combination used for Flash Heal on my priest!

After much tweaking, I assigned similar spells to each combination. Thus, flash heal = flash of light, Holy Light = Greater Healing, Holy Shock = Renew, Divine Shield = Sacred Shield, and Lay on Hands = Guardian Spirit, among others. This has helped tremendously, and as I (very slowly) level my other healing alts, and add more healing spells to their repertoire, I'm trying to use a similar philosophy.

The best part about having alts that are healers is that I can bring my alts to a raid with no real complaint. While Jessabelle is undoubtedly the best geared, if we are doing an easier raid, there is rarely any issue with me bringing Elimeny instead. Replacing a healer with another healer is usually not a problem. In our alliance we seem to have quite a few Pally healers, whereas Jessabelle is one of the few priest healers, however, so usually I'm bringing her anyway. But, whereas before I really was not interested in doing 10 man Naxx or any heroics, despite how much my guild or alliance mates begged me, now I have new momentum - a new character to gear and learn that still fills the same role everyone expects from me.

I am really looking forward to the day when our alliance can have a choice of healer classes, and not just be desperate for any type of healer. If I have an assortment of four different types of healers, then we have at least one healer who can switch off and fulfill any particular healing role. While some people who do not really understand the strengths and weaknesses of different healers may think it is a moot point, as we progress in our raids, it becomes even more important to have a few choices of healing classes.
Cur Medicinae Percurant
Several months ago, whilst surfing the internet in an ill-fated attempt to avoid all real responsibility, I ran across a blog post that discussed different types of healers. Not the different World of Warcraft healing classes, mind you, but the actual players behind the toon. What makes some people love healing, while so many others would never even consider it? I wish I could find the original post and link to it from here, and if I ever do find it again, I will come back and add it. The idea is that there are some people who will heal only when they have no real other choice (as in, the raid shall not commence without another healer). I see this type of healer all the time, and indeed I think most healers fall in this category. They run the risk of healer-burnout. Another type is that of the come-to healer. They originally enjoyed the DPS or tanking role, and then healed once or twice to help out, and fell in love with it.

I fall into the third category. Always was a healer, always loved it, always will be. I will occasionally DPS in a raid if there is a need for it, but usually I'm happy to let the other healers who are more at risk of burnout take on the task. My first WoW toon was a paladin - pre 2.4, when paladins were very different than how they are today. I was truly awful, but hey, it was my first character.

Then I started playing a dwarf priest. I actually leveled holy. I raided holy. Until dual spec became available only recently, I never specced shadow, and never bothered with deep disc either.

I have a Holy Paladin friend whom I met when I first started playing WoW, and she explained it to me once over a few ales in a Stormwind bar. She said that she had always loved healing, and it reflected her personality in ways that other roles did not. She is a healer through and through, heart and soul. It is the role she aspires to fulfill in both her real life, and in game. And though I did not really excel at healing until much later with my Dwarven Priest, I completely agree with her. I'm not always the kindest person in real life, and though I may often be selfish, I always try to heal everything I can - friends, family, and complete strangers.

I often think that the roles and classes we choose to play in the gaming world reflect the desires and aspirations of our true personalities. Sometimes it matches perfectly with how we are in real life, and sometimes it reflects a deep seated desire - something we wish we could be, something we would really enjoy, if we were able to truly exist and live in this fantasy world in which we spend so much of our leisure time.

I wanted this to be my first post in my new blog (encouraged by Fulguralis) for that reason exactly. I did not start healing so that I would always be invited to raids and instances. I didn't start doing it because I had to, or because one day I was asked to do so, and realized that I enjoyed it. I heal because I've always healed; Because it's who I am, and it may be the only thing at which I truly excel.
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