The Holy Trinity: Creating Definitions, Defining Creations

William Broderick


The notion of the holy trinity of Massively Multi-Player Online (MMO) games is a nebulous and often misunderstood concept due to a vast array of disparate definitions, if individuals are even familiar with the term. Many game scholars and players might be familiar with the concept of the holy trinity of games, but unfamiliar with the use of the term, even though it is gaining in popularity on websites and game forums. The player roles of damage per second (or DPS), the Healer, and the Tank comprise the holy trinity. While these three roles are the core requirement of almost every group endeavor within MMOs and multiplayer games, no distilled definition of those roles yet exists.

Utilizing qualitative research methods, a content analysis of four of the most popular MMO game titles is created through analysis of the themes and syntax on the MMO websites describing player classes and roles. This is created by performing two parallel content analyses. The first content analysis, viewed through the lens of the game developer, is done to find those attributes the MMO game developers identify as characteristics of the DPS, Healer and Tank player roles for their games. These themes include such topics as: defensive strategies, types of attacks, names of healing spells or abilities, and so forth. A second content analysis, viewed from the perspective of the players of MMOs, provides insight into what the players of MMO games believe are the themes which define the roles found in the holy trinity. These themes include: threat generation, damage done via spells or abilities, weapon choices, healing per second, and so forth. Blending the themes from both designers and players provides a new, comprehensive definition to enrich scholarly understanding.

These new definitions are then studied using Social Cognitive Theory as a mechanism to enhance player understanding of roles in games. Because Social Cognitive Theory speaks to the behavior exhibited by individuals and how important the environment is to that behavior, it may be used to describe the rich set of experiences in which players find fulfillment versus disillusionment in enacting the roles of the holy trinity. The expectations of game designers and players may be appreciated as a dialog of communication and miscommunication on both parts, since the design of DPS, Healer, and Tank roles may be inconsistent with the desired characteristics of individual players fulfilling these roles. This sort of disconnection between expectations, design, communication, and performing is investigated with an emphasis on not only the need for defining the holy trinity roles, but also in producing a collaborative effort for designers and players as co-producers of game identity.

Finally, a discussion of possible mechanisms to reduce frustration of players by defining acceptable behavior of players and designers, and how players may enact their roles for greater acceptance by others in the game community are explored.