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Room for Emergency: Why I Love Playing the Medic


Show me a class-based competitive multiplayer experience, and Iíll show you an awesome medic. Me. Iím the medic. Iím referring to myself. I am perpetually enamored with support classes, in particular these medic or healers. I play them at every opportunity. My parents may have been disappointed with my liberal arts degree, as opposed to a career as a medical professional in the exciting world of having paychecks, but they can rest easy. Iím still helping others, except the blood is pixilated and gunshot wounds are repaired, paradoxically, with heal guns.

My obsession with support classes as a concept is pretty basic. I like to help. In reality, I hold open doors for strangers and I give up my seat on a crowded bus to elderly ladies. I'm still waiting for the city-commissioned COOL DUDE plaque and trophy on that one. So, in the heat of virtual battle, I like to be there to back up friends or complete strangers, as long as they can restrain from screeching their background conversations to their mother about making them a sandwich through my headset speakers.

Iíll be honest. Some of that joy of playing the medic comes from the fact that I myself happen to not be all that amazing at all shooters. Donít get me wrong, I play my fair share and, particularly in Battlefield titles, Iíll be in the top section of scoreboards. But frantic games, with little time for anything but short moments of pensive strategy and support tactics, are where I sometimes fall short. I may outflank the assaulting enemies in Gears of War, but when I launch my surprise assault, I often flounder. One moment Iím a tactical genius, the next I come fumbling out of cover like Iím Jerry Lewis with a shotgun.

Reflexes will fail me and a brief opportunity to take down a distracted player is lost to a poor finger movement (A phenomenon I will henceforth call a 'thumble'). But, this plays to the versatility of teamwork-based class design. I don't have to be good, I can keep the better players alive. If Iíve been in a game lobby for a few moments, Iíve probably discovered who our MVP is or, in games like Battlefield, the squad thatís doing the best and exercising the most efficient team unity. So I join up, provided they donít immediately take offense to a silent, blank-staring avatar trailing them, occasionally listlessly hurling a medpack at their backs.

When playing a non-support class in a shooter game or in a game where no classes exist whatsoever, your task couldnít be simpler. Kill things, i.e. people. Youíre a death dealer. You take out your opponents so they donít take you out. Itís the law of competition. But we forget that there are other people on the opposite ends of our assault rifles and broadswords. Thereís a real person behind that avatar trying to win, trying to succeed, and just trying to have a good time. But only one of us can have it.

That becomes power in the hands of the medic. In the context of the game, weíre only really reviving in-game avatars and our medpacks are only really affecting a tiny red bar, when you really get down to it. But those things are attached to a player and, by that logic, their experience. So when medics are saving players or giving them health to keep them from needing saving, weíre manipulating the fun of the game. Weíre extending the positive experience for our players without impairing, or at least disrupting, the same for the other team. Weíre playing our own meta-game and itís called Everyone Needs to Be Alive. Simply put, medics are entertainment suppliers. Joy manipulators. Fun alchemists.

Medic is also one of the riskier class options if you play to its empathetic limits. This is often my favorite part. A medic will find him or herself scampering into blistering danger to jam a revive syringe into a teammate while bombs detonate and bullets pop into the dirt. The stunned ďWhoa, Iím back?Ē line uttered by vocal players on the receiving end of a revive is often a reward in itself. It's a unique concept, really. How often in your day-to-day does a complete stranger genuinely thank you? In a game context, I understand it's a trivial thing, really. I'm aware of that. But there's something very compelling about rescue and the corresponding appreciation, even if it's entirely digital.

When I was a young and dedicated PC gamer, I found myself drawn to a small space RPG title called Earth and Beyond. The last game Westwood Studios would ever make, it was an ambitious little space ship MMO where you could battle your way across the galaxy in brightly colored space ships. But, to be honest, most of the game was spent space mining asteroids and space trading the space minerals for space cash. I effin' loved it.

I mention it because it had a particularly small element that I found completely addicting. At any given time, every player in the fictional galaxy was out mining. The safer asteroid clusters were forever-crowded and over-mined. Some areas resembled a busy cosmic version of a Taiwanese market, with people zipping in all directions. The bolder ship pilots would go off the warp lanes and find rich, profitable, unpopulated asteroid fields to stake claim to. But unmarked space was dangerous. Really dangerous. And many pilots would scarcely mine themselves one single ingot of space copper before they were jumped by wandering marauders.

But death in Earth and Beyond was handled in a truly legit sci-fi way. When a player became disabled by enemy warships, their systems fried and ship drifting impotently through space, they had the option to trigger a distress beacon. Most players were too self-involved to notice these radar blips, which were one tiny light flashing on a screen of hundreds of flashing lights, but not me. Every time I was kicking back and gliding through a warp channel, only to spot a little orange blip on my heads up display, I dropped my Jenquai ship out of orbit and opened up a communication channel.

Being a medic, or just an empathic player, is more than just being nice for nice's sake. Helping players is hard, ruthlessly dangerous work. Strategy and danger assessment are inherent qualities of being a medic, whether it's in a shooter or MMO, and it's much fun as being the the top killer in the room. In Earth and Beyond I would communicate with the distressed player and determine the threat from afar. Then, it was just a matter of dropping out of warp-lightspeed, determining the layout of enemy ships in milliseconds, and trying to blast my way to my new-found friend through over-whelming odds. It helped to picture your ship as the Millenium Falcon hurtling in to save Luke in A New Hope. The "yee-haw" was not optional.

When you start tactically observing the playing field of your basic shooter or instance level, it almost becomes like a more engaging real time strategy game. You have to take charge of all the elements of the battle, rather than just what's moving at the end of your iron sights. Where is the enemy? Where's my team advancing from? Who needs medical assistance? To effectively play the medic, you have to help the right players at the right time. The medic has to constantly pay attention to where players are doing well and where they aren't. Are there holes in our team's defense? Is there room for the enemy to flank? If so, that's where the medic has to be, tossing out medpacks or heal spells. That half a second it takes those players to respawn could mean the whole battle.

Behind every good killer is a good medic. If you respect the healer, the positive result is easily perceivable. Wins. More wins. When a team is properly supported, they can easily take down an opposing team with more powerful adversaries. If a team can lock down an area they would have lost or struggle through a boss-fight they should have lost, it's a great achievement to be the medic backing that success.

But video game competition isn't all about winning, of course. Itís about the quality of winning. Thereís something more satisfying in a victory that comes from coordinating a defensive or offensive line, or embracing strategy in the heat of battle, rather than the coincidence that all the players on one team happen to be better at putting bullets into the torsos of the other.

So, next time youíre in a game and strapping on your plasma grenades to your oiled-up super commando torso, donít sneer at the goofy-looking medic in the glasses. Though our kill counts are low, weíre doing some serious life-and-death wizardry behind the front lines. We keep you from screeching obscenities into the mic and getting put on Youtube. Weíre the reason the ĎDí part of your K/D is where it is. You handle the 'K' part, weíll just keep throwing syringes and heal spells your way and roll our eyes at how you totally f-ed up that mob pull and missed that sniper on the ridge-line. Donít worry, comrade. Weíve got you.

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About AwesomeExMachinaone of us since 6:13 PM on 07.28.2009

Twenty four years ago I was adorable. Now I'm inquisitive and hilarious.

I have a plastic tooth to replace one lost in a mosh pit during my more ridiculous high school years. I speak shitty German and I ride a bike. My Xbox gets so much use, I'm sometimes embarassed. But I'm unemployed, so my time is spent writing blogs on the internet, reading good literary fiction, and playing video games.

In the grand scale of things, I'm a late-bloomer. My parents banned all consoles from my house as a kid. See what you've done? Now I game constantly to make up for years of lost time.

I won't list my favorites, because you've probably seen ten lists like it before me.

There's a life-sized Boba Fett standee in my living room.

No Clip Series:
Grand Theft Auto IV
Fallout New Vegas
Red Dead Redemption

The Slapstick Cephalopod: An Interview with the Octodad Team
Chicago Night Fights: Marvel vs Capcom 3
Inventing the Paint: An Interview with Author Tom Bissell
Top 10 Greatest Tiny Video Game Characters

Front-Paged Monthly Musings:
Groundhog Day: The Liberty to Pursue
Teh Bias: Critical Errors at Surface Level
Alternate Reality:Time for a new job
Something About E3: Imaginings from 20 Years Ago
The Great Escape: Tiny plastic guitars and wiimotes
My Expertise: Latent Racial Bonus
The Future: Overdoing the Over-the-Top
Love/Hate: A Gentleman's Baffling Love for Collecting Furniture
Nothing is Sacred: Games Taking Themselves Too Seriously

Worth reading:
We Are Destructoid
Writing on the Wall: How Graffiti Builds Universes
Combating Lawlessness in the Wild West of Red Dead Redemption
Being a Coward on Purpose
What Bringing About the Fictional Zombie Apocalypse Taught Me About Game Design
Why Video Game Designers Need to Watch the Road Warrior
The Needless Shit We Gamers Do

Xbox LIVE:The Disco Pony
PSN ID:The Disco Pony


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