So, this is probably a problem that a lot of people struggle with, so instead of just replying to an e-mail I got, I wanted to write about it here, so that everyone who struggles with this probelm can benefit from my answer. In addition, if you have solutions to it, you are welcome to post it here so that we can benefit from what you have learned.
Okay, so here is part of the e-mail I received:
But there’s one thing that I’ve had trouble with. When I’m DPSing, I can focus on the boss and appreciate the effects and graphics and pay more attention to everything going on in the instance, whereas when I’m healing, I’m generally focusing on health bars so I can’t really see the instance as every one else can, especially the tank as the tank has to be looking at everything and be aware of what is going on at all times so he/she can make sure that no adds are lose or picking on the healers. Of course there are downtimes that allow time to look around and see what’s going on, but more often than not, it’s a whack a mole feeling as you’re looking at health bars and nothing else. Am I missing something or is that just the general nature of all healing?
My answer is both “yes and no”. The draw of health bar fixation is normal, but we need to be able to both keep people alive and at the same time, not stand in the fire and die ourselves.
In some aspects, in raids, it’s really easy for healers to get stuck looking at health bars and nothing else. I know that back in like the Molten Core days, there were times when healers (myself included) would face a wall and zoom in until all we saw was the wall, and then just focused on healing the tons of health bars that normally filled our screen, anyway. That sort of tunnel-vision is normal, as attention resources are limited – and it’s easier to just focus on your main job of healing and harder to do both all the healing and all the moving around and watching all the cool graphic effects that are going on. I think there were times where someone would ask me what boss we were on, and I’d reply things like “I don’t know the boss’s name, its the one where I stare at these health bars, just like every other fight.”
The “wack a mole” feeling comes from, well, having a ton of burst damage happening to everyone all the time. I’m sure most people who heal have that sort of feeling from time to time. However, the “stare only at health bars” strategy isn’t viable anymore in a lot of instances, because we are now required to move almost every single fight in Ulduar, and a lot of the fights in Naxxramas (and Sarth) also require healers to have some form of Situational awareness. It’s not as common in 5-man instances, but there are some fights where you have to pay attention to your surroundings even in the smaller dungeons.
Some of the problem could be from how your UI is set up. For example, over at the One Track Blog, there is a series of posts on Attention in WoW raiding. Part 1 of the attention series includes general advice (ie. know the encounters & practice, remember to look around the screen, etc). Part two of the attention series includes UI advice, on how too much clutter on your screen is too distracting.
So, my general advice, in addition to reading the two articles I linked, is:
A) Make sure that you can see your surroundings, and that your entire screen isn’t filled up with junk. This is one reason that a lot of people really like Grid for their Unit frames, so that they don’t take up very much space.
B) You practice looking at the areas of the screen where the fight is going on, instead of only looking at health bars the entire fight. Just periodically glance around your screen to see what is going on, until the act of looking around while healing becomes automatic. I also have a lot of practice at multi-tasking. Also, I think Deadly Boss Mods even has mods for 5-man dungeons to help keep track of telling you when you need to pay attention.
C) If you are healing one tank, you don’t need to stare at that one person’s health bar the entire time. Just spam to your little heart’s content while keeping at least some of your focus on the elements in the environment you need to also pay attention to.
D) Admit that we’re human and never perfect. A lot of deaths & wipes come from people just not watching something. With so many different things going on, it’s hard to watch everything and be perfect, so realize that in a raiding environment, you aren’t the only healer, and taking a second or two to periodically orient yourself to the fight is less likely going to cause a wipe than intently staring at health bars. In 5-man dungeons, there shouldn’t be that many times when you have to be super focused, as they leave a much greater room for error in most situations while you are gearing up.
Okay, lets take for example this 10-man Ulduar screenshot that I accidentally took during one of our attenmpts on the Assembly of Iron. We cleared pretty far that night, but this is the best “action shot” I have in my recent folders, since I tend not to take screenshots while fighting bosses.
I have a 17″ wide-screen laptop, and I have my camera zoomed out farther than it normally can be zomed out, so that I can see most of the room. I have Deadly Boss Mods warning me in the middle of my screen that Lightning Tendrils is active, which signals to me that I need to move out of it’s way. I can see where the whole spell effect is, and who is standing in it. I also moved out of it’s way, but stayed close enough so I could heal the people standing in it.
I personally like keeping the health bars on that side of the screen, because that’s what I’m used to having. However, it would probably be better to have something close to where you need to be looking out for hazzards (but not covering too much of the screen). I do have a little too much clutter here, but it’s an amount of clutter that I’m used to. The amount of empty space on my screen doesn’t seem big, but it’s enough that I can both pay attention to my surroundings, and (under normal circumstances) I can do the job of healing I need to do.
So, how does everyone else handle both watching what the boss is doing, and watching the health bars of the people around you?