MMO Gamer Chick posted today about the MMO trinity: Tank/DPS/Healer. An auto-link to Harbinger Zero's blog at the end of her post led to a discussion (monologue?) about the role of tank and how it arose in the online world as a manipulation of the aggro (originally British slang, interestingly enough) mechanic already present in most video games.
I never got into PnP RPG games, though my older brother did; and I read many of the AD&D source books from the late '70s and early '80s. The craze and subsequent parental backlash was slightly before my time. So I never found a group of people that was interested and eventually lost interest myself as I became a teen.
But as a kid . . . I was definitely a LARPist. (Is that a word?) Aren't all kids? Mostly by myself, but occasionally with friends, I would weave a fantasy world in my backyard where I was a Hero: the mysterious stranger, master of sword and spell, fighting the evil overlords of the land. My favorite "weapon" was my grandfather's old putter, which I would wield from the clubhead as both a gun and an energized blade, predating Lightning's gunblade by almost three decades. I grew out of it I suppose, constrained by new interests (girls and wanting to be "cool"). I would feel kind of silly waving a golf club around my backyard now, but I would probably be a lot thinner. Interestingly, I found out in college that fencing foil grips are angled much like pistols and golf clubheads; much better for thrusting and lunging, I suppose.
mouse and keyboard over the video-game controller. I also still prefer to play mostly by myself, occasionally with friends or random fellow players.
Now that I'm completely off topic (see what I mean GeeCee?), let me see if I can bring this home. My background playing solo and emphasizing story over game-mechanics leaves me extremely ambivalent about the MMO trinity. You never really see it in stories, even ones based on the MMOs we love so much. And yet those roles seem hard and fast fixtures of the MMO zeitgeist. Even hybrids end up pigeonholed based on specialization and gearing. I think Zero brings up an interesting point. Aggro tables are an artifact of what I would call pseudo-intelligence (as opposed to artificial intelligence) which leads to manipulation of aggro through taunts and other tanking abilities. In real life, depending on the actual intelligence of the hostile creature or group, it would be attacking the support and DPS characters, not necessarily the guy in its face shouting and waving his arms.
Zero's alternative trinity of offense, control, support makes more sense to me, though it would be easier to deal with in a turn-based system like AD&D, I guess. It would not be hard to create a balance if everyone had similar health and damage/healing. This would lend itself to improved solo and group play, I think. Right now in WoW, dedicated healers and tanks have a more difficult time leveling solo than damage dealers; because, while they may last longer in a fight, the fights themselves take longer because of lower DPS, and therefore the toons' XP rate is slower and it takes longer to level. Damage dealers might not last as long in a fight, but the fights are so short, because of their high DPS, that they have time to replenish between fights and still have a higher XP rate than the other two roles. Hybrids fare slightly better. But then, as jacks-of-all-trades, never quite match the dedicated classes. Talent specialization, meant help make your character unique, has been lost to the min/maxers creating ideal(=cookiecutter) builds for each class/role. The dual specs in WoW are only a bandaid (one people are clamoring for in STO as well). Supposedly, Blizzard is working on this for the Cataclysm expansion, less kitchen sink, more flashy special effects in the talent trees. Heh, once again I digress.
So anyway, I am not advocating a shift away from the trinity necessarily, just pointing out that it is a construct of the game, and not essential to it. PnP RPGs didn't need it, solo video RPGs obviously couldn't do it (at least, not without NPC companions). There is no real reason for it in modern MMOs. I hope SWTOR has something more like Zero's scheme. Everyone should have a chance to kick butt and help out their buddies, as well.