Character Roles in Games (Briefly) Explained

“Entire categories of game characters (such as ‘healers’) have little or no advantage in individual play, but they are indispensable members of every team.”  (Thomas, Douglas and Brown, John Seely; A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, 2011)

Screenshot of a player in the midst of battle from the MMORPG, Rift

For any non-gamers out there, I figured I could briefly highlight the three critical roles in collaborative games that explain why the individual player often struggles to progress further without any assistance.

Tank – Tanks are the players whose job it is to take on the much of damage that the enemies are throwing at the team. Tanks have plenty of health and can do some damage, but often lack the power alone to defeat more difficult enemies. Tanks rely heavily on their support to keep them alive.

DPS – DPS, or “damage per second,” characters are those who are strong enough to defeat enemies because of their sheer damage output. DPS often rely on their tanks to shield them or take damage while they can use their powerful skills to defeat the enemy.

Support – This role typically consists of healers, but can also be filled by characters with moves that aid in boosting the skills of tanks, DPS, or other supports. Supports often lack the power to defeat enemies by themselves, but without supports, both tanks and DPS characters could easily fall at the hands of the enemy due to the lack of protection.

As you can see, the three roles balance each other out in a way that makes it necessary to have characters to fill each slot in order to progress in the game. In games with preset roles, characters can often fall under multiple categories. In other games where you can choose which skills you want to level up, you aren’t limited to a particular role, but it is often best to stick to leveling up skills under only a couple of different roles in order to boost your power level as there are often game buffs that go along with leveling skills of the same type.

I hope this quick explanation helped anyone confused by some of these terms!


6 thoughts on “Character Roles in Games (Briefly) Explained”

  1. Thanks for sharing. I get so overwhelmed with character design. My boyfriend and I played through Diablo together and I struggled so much to decide which skills to level up. Is Rift a game you play? Do you have a preference towards which of the three you usually play as?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I haven’t played Rift myself, but my husband has. (Which is why I know of it.) It’s probably his favorite MMO to date, but he doesn’t currently play. He played a healer primarily, but I think that’s just his personal preference in most games.

      For me, it depends on the game. In games like Overwatch, I do all three and switch to what’s needed at the time depending on the team I’m grouped up with. But in most other games, especially in MMOs, I’ll stick to tanking and damage just because I like to put myself out there and kill things lol!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love games that take their support characters a step further- beyond just providing healing for their team. Before Overwatch came around there was a game by Valve called Team Fortress 2 that featured 9 classes. Since it’s an fps it doesn’t necessarily fit into the RPG format and roles aren’t defined the same way. Overwatch expanded on these game design principles originated from TF2 and their healer or support characters have so much more to them.

        On top of healing, Mercy can float, boost damage, and resurrect teammates. Lucio heals as well, but also can boost teammate’s speed, push enemies off ledges, and skate around on walls. Ana can heal teammates but can also deny healing on enemies, boost damage, provide anti-air support, and provide CC (crowd control) through a sleep dart.

        As Overwatch adds more characters it runs into problems with balancing that has lead to issues with toxicity in the community. Seagull, a pro player and popular Twitch streamer/ YouTuber put out a video about this recently that made waves in many other gaming communities. Worth a watch if you’re interested in competitive multiplayer game design:

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I played played TF2 literally just once before but don’t remember much; how are the classes different to other games out there?

        Also, I’ve definitely seen the Seagull video. (Thanks for linking it for others!) I think there are definitely issues in the game, but like he admitted himself, a lot of his problems stem from him being trapped in his pro-player bubble. I like a lot of the response videos that came about from this where many make suggesting based on the issues he pointed out.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting breakdown! I don’t play video games often (I prefer to watch them), but when I do I notice that I definitely fall into the same “role” when playing multiplayer online with other gamers. Even though there’s no set “role” my type of play is pretty conservative but it’s necessary that not everyone plays conservative or aggressive, a good balance of skills is how the team manages to win over another. Now I can go defend my role in gaming to all my friends!

    Liked by 2 people

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