contribution to the current Trinity debate. Balkoth then summed up the entire thing in a nutshell in the first comment:
"I think designers are looking at the situation where many groups are
stuck waiting on a tank or healer in a trinity system and going “Well,
let’s try to fix that by removing healers and tanks!” This obviously
sucks for people who LIKE playing healers and tanks."
Jeff Butler, who was mostly very calm and laid-back and spoke so much sense in most of the SOELive footage I watched, became animated, almost angry, when talking about players being stuck waiting on a Tank or Healer to get started. It sounded to me as though he was talking very much from bitter personal experience, that he's almost made it a mission to make sure this sort of thing never happens again. Other devs spoke in equally heartfelt fashion about being the Tank or Healer on whom the responsibility for other players' entertainment lay, about how that meant they couldn't play the way they wanted. They sounded emotionally as well as professionally engaged.
At the heart of this complex debate is the intractable problem of "Fun". Going back some years, long before I had a blog or even knew what one was, I would often oppose, even attack, the concept of "Fun" during debates and discussions on various MMO forums. There's more to life and more to MMOs than having fun, that was generally my line. I'd have heartily endorsed J3w3l's observation that "Sometimes it isn’t fun healing the dungeons or raids although many times I enjoyed it precisely because it wasn’t."
As time trundled on and MMOs became easier and easier to enjoy in short sessions without much assistance from others I began to believe I'd been mistaken. I couldn't put my finger on exactly when it happened but probably some time around 2007 my personal balance tipped. Instead of opposing fun for fun's sake I started to endorse it. If you're not having fun, why are you playing? That kind of thing.
There's a marked difference between a lesson learned a lesson learned well. Just as it had been shortsighted to dismiss the significance of fun, so it was equally shortsighted to raise fun up and worship it as a god.
Recently, in a reply to a Ravious post at Kill Ten Rats, I observed "The ironic thing is that GW2 seems to have become that thing I thought I
always wanted – an MMO that’s played for no other purpose than the fun
of playing it, but now I have it I’m not sure I know what to do with it."
That's the nub of it. Fun is a good thing in itself but it's not enough. Not to hold my attention. Not for long. That requires not just fun but satisfaction. Satisfaction is the feeling J3w3l is referencing when she posits the paradox of enjoying something because it's not fun.
Most people don't find household chores fun. Tidying a room, doing the washing up, mowing the lawn, the prospect doesn't generally fill anyone with joy. When you roll up your sleeves and get on with it, sometimes it feels pretty good right away and sometimes it doesn't, but once you're finished, once you can stand back and look at what you've achieved, at the difference you've made, at how much your environment, your living conditions, have been improved by your own effort, then you feel that long, slow burn of satisfaction.
Satisfaction is a feeling that lasts. Not indefinitely, but for a good, long time. Whenever you walk into that kitchen and see the gleaming surfaces, the neatly stacked, clean dishes, cleaned and stacked by you, it feels good. There's a little glow. It's called A Job Well Done and it's a feeling so universal it spawned that cliche.
It's also the feeling you get in MMOs when you know you are playing well, to your capacity; better yet helping others play to their capacity. It's by no means unique to the Trinity but the Trinity has always provided a straightforward route to achieving it.
Right now, that's the feeling I'm seeking in my MMO play. I've lived through the Wonder Years when everything was new, the Grind Years when everything was hard, the Social Years when everyone knew my name. The Fun Years had a good run but there's only so much fun you can have before it stops being so much fun any more.
Coming back to where we started, The Trinity is but a small part of all this. Many have pointed out, rightly, that the Trinity only exists because of technical limitations in the engines of the early MMOs, that it was those limitations rather than any intent of design that shaped what became the expectations of the genre. Flosch at Random Waypoint recently reminded us that even the Trinity started out as something very different from what it means today. Mechanics change. That's understood. It's not about that.
Extreme solutions, however well-intentioned, risk creating further problems as least as bad as those they intend to remove. Relaxing the reliance on specific individuals is a laudable aim, but removing the options for those individuals to accept and embrace the roles they love is not. I believe it is well within the capacity of game designers to create an MMO in which the roles of Tank, Healer and Crowd Control exist in recognizable form, are satisfying to play, yet are not essential.
It should be entirely possible to construct a combat system and encounters within it in an imaginative and flexible way so that, for example, five DPS players can succeed as easily as two DPS players, a Tank, a Healer and a CC. There is no need whatsoever to coerce or cajole players into playing their characters in specific ways, especially not when the only motivation for doing so is that you believe you know better than they do what they will most enjoy.
Give players all the tools. Leave all the options in. Let players decide how and when and where to use them. Let players be generalists or specialists as they prefer. If that means some cleave to a new orthodoxy while others cling to tradition, so be it.
With full disclosure, the Trinity has little direct relevance to my own
enjoyment of MMOs. It's seven years or so since I last counted Trinity
healing the mainstay of my own gameplay and I was never more than a
part-time, stand-in Tank. Combat mechanics are not the be-all and end-all of my enjoyment and neither do I define myself as a player by the roles my characters take. Other people do. They should be supported in the choices they make.
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