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Answer by Jonathan Brill, Level 80 shadowpriest, retired:
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be the best-looking woman at a party? The one where, when you walk in, all the heads turn your way and everywhere you go, you get all the attention? That’s what it’s like to be a geared-out healer in World of Warcraft.
When I started playing WoW I already had gaming friends playing, so I read up on the game a bit and had a feel for the dynamics. I understood that although you could play solo for a while, you really needed other people for these things called dungeons and raids, and because you’d be dependent on them, you would need to be social. I’d never really been a social gamer before, and I wasn’t planning on using a mic, so I wanted to make sure I was easy to group with.
Playing a healer makes you very, very easy to group with. Most raid groups, even in smaller dungeons at the lower levels, won’t do anything without a healer. There’s a bunch of classes that can do damage per second, or DPS, and you can use a DPS class as a tank if you have to, but everybody wants a healer. You’re indispensable.
During solo missions, playing pure heal class is probably a uniquely tough experience because your DPS is so low and so inflexible. I never had that problem—although I played a healer class (priest), I chose a DPS tree (shadow). This allowed me the strength to compete with the best DPS classes or be a pretty limited healer. Fortunately, you can get to a point where a lot of skill makes up for lack of investment in your healing talent tree.
One thing I realized when playing in different kinds of groups is that it’s more fun playing the healing role than playing DPS. It’s easier playing DPS, so it may be more pleasant, but comfort doesn’t equal happiness. Playing a healer is harder. The number of decisions you have to make in real time feels a lot higher. In games like Starcraft, they call this actions per minute, or APM. I’d guess that of the three major roles—tank, DPS, and healer—healer requires the highest APM and carries the most risk of having a minor mistake negatively affect the outcome of the group.
A really, really good healer can start to anticipate the heals needed in advance by getting a feel for how different players in the raid group attack. Are they a little reckless? Are they likely to need large spot heals? Are they going to piss off a bad guy and then dump agro on a teammate? Because of the way the role is structured, a healer has to be the most social member of the group and the most accessible. People ask for heals, and they tell you what they’re going to do, and you have to give them status updates on how much juice you have left, etc. It’s great fun and adds a dimension to the game that isn’t possible otherwise.
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