I intimated yesterday that people who tank do so for their own reasons. Sometimes the reasons are pragmatic. See a need, fill a need – guild/raid needs tanks so you tank. Hurry up and wait – who needs 10 minute queues when tanks only wait seconds.

Others, like me, choose to play one of the most “useful” roles in the game for entirely useless reasons.

Why do I play tanks? Peel away all the immediate answers – I understand the mechanics, it suits my playstyle, I’ve done it for too long to do anything else, etc.. Get rid of all of that. Get at the heart of the matter. Why did I pick up a tank in the first place? Why do I stick with it as stubbornly as I do (often at the cost of my mental health)?

Why am I a tank?

The answer? Pure whimsy.

Everyone in the game is aware of the MMO portion of the genre’s acronym – hard not to be when it’s getting you killed in a PuG. But WoW’s not just an MMO. It’s also an RPG – a role-playing game.

It’s Dungeons and Dragons with 15, 000, 000 people.

Unlike 99% of the blogs I read, I don’t play on an RP server, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an element of RP in my play – a large element of it. Every one of my 25-odd characters has a needlessly detailed backstory, in depth personality, and actual reactions to in game events – in my head at least. I don’t tend to share this stuff with many people because a) it’s all hugely complicated; and b) it doesn’t tend to get positive reactions on a normal server.

If you’ve read our About page, you already know that 60% (at least!) of my characters are tanks. Combine that with my previous statement and you might start to see where I’m going with this.

The archetype, in any genre, that I am most attracted to is the Defender. The guy or girl who leaps in front of bullets, and monsters, and trains. The one for whom the only consequence that matters is the inability to live with yourself if you haven’t done the right thing. The one who “still hadn’t fully recovered from his last fight, but couldn’t just stand there and let the dragon eat his beloved companions! He had to do something!”

Shut up, layteknight, I can hear you gagging.

The equivalent of this character archetype in Warcraft is the tank.

What makes me play this game (the game as a standalone, outside its many social facets), what keeps me coming back to it no matter how long I may be away, isn’t the mechanics. It’s not the numbers. It’s not the gear, or the instances, or my growing collection of vanity pets I never wanted but somehow wind up carting around.

It’s the fact that Warcraft is the mother of all games of Pretend – at heart it’s no different than the version I used to play when I was six years old, when it was Barbie saving the world instead of my little gnome or my huge ass Night Elf or my cute little dead guy. (For the record, her name was never Barbie. It was something cooler. And she wasn’t with Ken, either. She was with G.I. Joe, or sometimes Hulk Hogan. I would have paired her with Leonardo, but he’s mine, goddammit!)

I have been a tank at heart since before there were mechanics and gear that actually translated that archetype into a playable class. Since before there was a game that did it.

No matter how often I may dabble in DPSery, or Healination, I will always return to being a tank, because there simply is no comparison for me. Those roles can’t give me what tanking gives me (it’s kinda like what Barbie told Ken when she eloped with G.I. Joe).

There are inescapable adult aspects to WoW – raid/guild leading, social interactions, adult conversations, team work, relationship management, etc. – but these are things I bring to the game, not things the game brings to me.

What the game brings to me is a chance – however brief, however inconsequential in the rush of raiding, chatting, regemming, venting, ranting, blogging, gearing, fighting, failing, winning, enchanting, questing, wiping, grinding, and farming – to step outside myself and play Pretend again, for just a moment. To not be a grown-up woman trying to carve a life out of the unforgiving rock that is the universe.

But instead to be a gnome trying to throw herself between the world and its enemies, for Love and Justice and Doing The Right Thing.

In essence, being a tank isn’t about threat generation and defence caps for me. It’s about taking that rare chance to be six-years-old again, to play the game I’ve been playing since long before WoW even hit my radar – to run around with my metaphorical underwear on the outside and a bedsheet tied around my neck.

I’m not playing a tank. I’m playing Pretend.