Lately I’ve been playing a lot of violent games for work. In the last week, I’ve thrown knives and lit people on fire in Battlefield V, blasted people away with my revolver in Red Dead Online, and engaged in all sorts of wacky assassinations in Hitman 2. It’s often a lot of fun, but every now and then I need to help folks instead.
I’ve been an on again, off again player of Final Fantasy XIV for a while now, but I’ve really immersed myself in the game over the last few months. It’s been rewarding to meet new players and engage in my server’s larger social events. In MMOs, I usually pick either a damage dealer or a tank who soaks up damage. In FFXIV, I’ve been playing as a healer. I wish I had done it years sooner. Protecting people and keeping them alive has not only challenged me to be more attentive than in most games, it’s been an incredibly rewarding and far less bloody way to experience video games.
This isn’t to suggest that there’s anything wrong with enjoying a violent game. Hitman 2 is one of my favorite games of the year, which I’ve been playing tons of since it released, and it’s full of violent hijinks. Switching to healing hasn’t meant things are easier or even less exciting. On the contrary, each new boss fight I encounter in Final Fantasy XIV has challenged my reaction times, awareness, and ability to improvise. If a giant titan prepares a big attack, I need to have the clarity of mind to cast a regen health spell on my tank or even prepare a large area of effect healing spell to protect my entire team. All the while, I’m dodging the enemy’s attacks and keeping an eye out for any teammates who are close to dying. If someone falls in battle, I better have my Swiftcast ability—which lets me cast my next spell instantly—available so I can bring them immediately back into the fight. It’s a fair amount of work, especially if it’s my first time fighting a new boss, but success feels more tangible than any other gaming experience I’ve had.
Games are largely competitive by design. We’re meant to face off against other players and win whatever contest is at stake. Often, this means combat. Sometimes, like when I’m playing as a Medic in Battlefield V, I get a small taste of collaborative play. There’s fun to be had in these digital battles, but changing the pace provides me with a real sense of catharsis. I’m not the best healer, but I’m trying. And when I do my job well, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I kept folks alive this time around.