Positioning is very important in wow – and not just to tanks. It’s not necessarily something you think about a lot, mostly it’s just something you learn to do automatically.

I think tanks are more conscious of their own positioning than any other role, because it’s so unspeakably crucial to what you do.

DPS are perhaps the most oblivious (speaking generally) because their role is much more forgiving in this respect, and in those cases where it’s not, they’re dead pretty quick and either learn to correct it, or blame the healer/tank. In one case, they’re lovely and wonderful and welcome to party with me any time. In the other they’re horrible, hideous cankers on the face of my favourite game, and I invite them to continue to die in fires, as their pain amuses me and their deaths are a mercy to the rest of us trying to, you know, win.

Healers, interestingly, I assume are the most aware of everyone else’s positions – as so many of their heals rely on proximity, chaining, or other positioning based effects. This is why healers yell at you to tighten up and stand closer. This is why you being way the fuck over there is not helpful. This is why you don’t get healed. Whenever I see my healers running back and forth like unlucky chickens, I don’t blame them. I tend to blame the rest of us. They’re trying to catch everyone in one radius or another and odds are good we’re not making it easy for them. Shame on us. Shame.

The reason I continue to beat this dead horse (often known as being-where-ever-the-fuck-you-are-supposed-to-be) is because I recently realized just how mechanical positioning tends to be, and that I’m not the only person for whom this is the case. And nowhere is this more evident, than when I, or anyone, swaps roles.

Wanna know one of my dirty secrets (another one…this blog is becoming a confessional booth, I swear)? When I DPS, I stand in front of the mob.

I know! I’m the biggest hypocrite in the world!

But wait! Hear me out!

I don’t do it maliciously, or even consciously. I do it because I spend 90% of my in-game time tanking. So I mechanically, methodically, consistently, move to stand in front of the mob, facing toward the group – without even thinking about it! It usually takes me a good two seconds to realize what I’m doing, blanch with horror at the incredible faux pas, recall every single time I bitched out a DPS for doing exactly that, and hustle my ass back over to stand beside the rest of the melee DPS.

It’s one of the reasons I fail at ranged DPS (you know…moreso than melee DPS…which is also pretty fail for me). I can’t get it into my head that I’m supposed to stand at the back. I run up. I stand mid-range instead of max range. I don’t run away from mobs. Protflashes no likey the back. Protflashes want be at front.

Protflashes die a lot.

I’ve always known I do this, but I figured it was just me. I’m a habitual creature to begin with. I like me some routine, and nothing makes me crankier faster than messing with it. But a while back one of our raid DPS indicated they wanted to try healing. Glee abounded – someone actually wanted to try a pole position (there are approximately two of us in our raid that play a pole because we want to. The others have been coerced, cajoled, or took up the mantle from a sense of duty (the unfortunate fact of the matter is we need two tanks and two healers or we don’t raid, so someone has to suck it up…though it’s often like pulling teeth)).

The guy even had a pre-made healing set! He’d been plotting for this for a while, apparently, quietly rolling on off-spec in the background and PuGging when he could to pull it together. One day our MH (as in, the guy healing the MT; not to be confused with the guy calling the healing shots) called in sick (literally) and while we were debating what we wanted to do, I got a whisper from our new healer asking if he could try.

We run a casual raid group, and the hardest fucking part of the whole thing is making everyone happy. I could not imagine trying to do so in a twenty-five man. I think I would actually commit suicide. So when I get a whisper from someone, asking to take on a thankless role because they think they’d enjoy it more…I say yes (after checking with our defacto healing-lead (*coughSaveTheFailscough*) to make sure the fit will be okay and he’s willing to help coach the new guy).

Anyway, it was his first time raid-healing and we were in ULD, so it wasn’t, precisely speaking, a cake-walk, but he did really well under the circumstances. I whispered him every now and then during the raid to ask how it was going, and was he enjoying it, and was it okay. At one point we wiped and the blame pretty squarely belonged to him. He’d been standing far too close to a boss, got caught in an AoE that never should have hit him, and died. Shortly thereafter our OT followed. Then our MT (me). And that was pretty much that. I whispered him to ask what happened (as, in the moment, I couldn’t quite tell) and he explained that he was still thinking like a melee DPS and had been standing right beside the OT.

We laughed it off and continued on our way, but it got me thinking about positioning and how automatic it is. I was actually kind of relieved to know I’m not the only person who mechanically moves to the same spots, all the time – let alone who can’t figure out where I’m supposed to stand when I’m not in my usual role.

It makes me wonder how many other aspects of this game are automatic and mechanical. I think about Naxx and how often we ran it between getting good at it and Ulduar being released. I’d say it was pretty mechanical by the end of it. Simple things, like me calling instructions over Vent. I do it automatically. I knew those fights off by heart, and it never occurred to me that I didn’t have to call overloads, and novas, and stacks, and adds, and anything else DBM warns us about, but nobody pays attention to. I just did it unthinkingly.

And when, inevitably, someone pointed out I didn’t have to run down that stuff anymore, and I consciously chose to stop doing it…we wiped. Not because me calling things out was required, or my amazing wisdom and leadership skills are the key to our victory – Hell, we’d run the fights so many times we all knew it off by heart and probably could have run it with our eyes closed – but because everyone was at the point where they weren’t actively thinking about what they were doing, they were just mechanically reacting to various cues – in this case, my voice over Vent, saying “Three stacks, swap.” When that cue was taken away, active thought didn’t backfill the void, and so nobody reacted as required. They were still waiting for the cue that would trigger whatever subconscious part of your brain that handles actions performed automatically, as opposed to as the result of a conscious decision.

I don’t think this is a bad thing, and I’ve noticed it in other areas. Playing an instrument I haven’t touched in ages, for example. If I stop thinking about what I’m doing, my fingers actually remember where they’re supposed to go and the music sounds okay. The same applies in Warcraft. Were I to go back into Naxx now, after so long away, as long as I didn’t think about it or actively try to remember the strats, I would probably have no problems – assuming all my usual cues are in place.

Hell, it’s probably saved us from a wipe or two from time to time. Sometimes thinking gets in the way of reacting. But sometimes not-thinking does the same thing. So the automated nature of these things is alternately a boon, and a curse. It might help, it might fuck you up.

It might get you yelled at because you’re standing in front of the mob again.

Who knows?