The first place I want to go with this is to look at the basics of keybinding and how that plays into the topic.
Simple qualifying statement:
If you click your abilities you are always one step more removed from connecting with your character because you will not click intuitively. That is not to say you cannot click abilities while doing this but you cannot click everything fast enough to rely on that alone.
We use keybinds to have a muscle memory tie, a quick short-cut to our abilities that allows us to do more than thing at once. You use a hand on the mouse, but for all its nice functionality, in WoW, the mouse can only be used as a single implement when you are clicking an action button. Your other hand, however, resting on the WASD home keys, has 5 implements that can act individually (though to use more than 1 at a time is skill development of its own).
As a simple example, I'll use my own fundamental DK keybinding base. I've been using it since the beta so all the keybinds are very deeply rooted. My key configurations always revolve around [middle finger = W][ring finger = A][index finger = D][pinky = control][thumb = spacebar]. Those are my home keys and I bind in orbits around those. My DK's then use Q for BS, E for IT, and F for PS. I use modifiers to add C-Q as Oblit/ScS, C-E as Death Grip, and C-F as Death Strike. 2 = Pestilence, 3 = Chains of Ice, C = DnD, and C-C = BB. V is always my aoe burst, so HB or CE. X is my primary RP ability so normally DC but it switches to FS for Frost. C-X changes with spec, for Unholy it's Bone Shield, for Frost it's DC, and for Blood it's Mark of Blood. I could go on an on, but the point is, these are so deeply rooted in my brain and muscle memory that I don't think of the move I want, hunt, peck, then cast, which is functionally the same as clicking (*think of move* => *look for move* => *click move*). I simply react to the situation. *I* DnD, IT, etc. I do not reach for my character's abilities. I don't mean to suggest that I alone do this, but instead want to highlight for the people who do this without even realizing (partly just because I think it's really friggin cool).
Now it's all well and good to point out to the people who do it that they do it, or to show this to people who still fumble around their character or feel like they just don't play well, but I want to explore just how this works, and try to shine some light on it for people to inspect and improve their game elements to better match their needs and personal preferences.
So, in order for our character to truly become our avatar, it requires a few conditions:
1.) You need to play more than once in a blue moon. The more often you do it the more time your body has to learn its way into the physical act of playing. Muscle memory takes time to program and longer still to change. "Experts" suggest it takes on the order of a few months to create muscle memories that are deeply seeded and practiced, and it takes about 6-18 months to unlearn them or change them (crack your knuckles? Ever try to stop?).
2.) The ease and intuitive nature of the action will determine how quickly and how deeply they're learned. If you have to hit some obscure key combo or you try to do it in an awkward way (say control+C with your right hand), it'll take more learning for it to become instinctual. Interestingly this is what touch-typing is designed to do, give you a formulaic system of hitting all the buttons and forcing you to do it without looking so you rely more heavily on not looking at your hands.
3.) Consistant keybindings. If you change your keybindings, especially if you do it without logical/intuitive evolution, you'll continually be starting your body over again. Note, if you are just realizing you do this, and want to go about changing your setup to be more ergonomic, be prepared for a lot of mis-clicks/presses as you instinctively reach for the trained key.
I mentioned an important word in #3: ergonomic. For those not familiar, this is the physical act of arrangement to make things more easily or intuitively accessed. It is a topic near and dear to my heart as I see fellow engineers fail to intelligently design the aesthetic and functional elements of their products for the user. A great example, check out your TV remote, when you first got it, how intuitive were the button locations and appearences. Did you have to hunt for the <fill-in-the-blank> button for months?
Beyond simply learning to play by feel, to be your character's mind instead of an extra step or two removed, there is a great deal of value in setting yourself up so it is easy to do what you do. If you only use Shield Wall as a click, then when you need it most it'll take you a half-second to more than a second to trigger it, and in that time you could take the fatal hit. Alternately, if you use a challenging key combo to use a frequent ability, like say shift+7 to shield slam, you very well may destroy your hand trying to tank. I'm guessing that while people find their way into keybinds without too much thought or more likely without too much guiding theory, they don't do such awful things to their real world appendages. =)
So, you want to *be* the tank? Where do we start? Let's look at the important factors: key location, bound move frequency of use. Try answering the following questions:
If you use WASD (if you use ESDF you can add and shift which keys I'm talking about, if you made that move you're probably more conscientious about your keybinds) with your left hand's first 3 fingers, then the keys most easily reached are usually: Q, E, R, F, V, C, X, 2, 3, 1, 4, and the modifiers Ctrl and Shft. Additionally, Z, 5, T, G, and Alt are reasonable to reach if you have longer fingers. But, the easier keys listed make for 33 total keybinds using the easy modifiers. Rather than taking me at what I say, look at how you position your hand, and figure out which keys are most easily pressed for you. Identify the easiest keys, these will be what you want to use for your most commonly used spells. I'm a big proponent of binding everything, especially since I don't know anyone who uses much more than 33 abilities while playing a single character, even with items, macros, etc. If you have a multi-button mouse, I highly recommend using the buttons there smartly as well. Personally I have a ~4 button + wheel mouse (and the wheel tilts!!). I have one button bound for vent P2Talk, but the other is usually used for taunts and with modifiers for other quick-use spells (like AMS).
- What moves do I use most?
- Which do I use least?
- Which moves do I need fastest access to?
- Which moves do I not use in the most severe situations?
- How many moves do I actually use?
- How many moves could I make better use of?
I can't help you much beyond that for setting up keybinds, nor do I want to. Like cookie cutter specs and canned rotations I think the less you learn and develop for yourself the weaker a player you become.
Once you have set bindings up in a comfortable fashion, now comes the long game. Your goal is simple: play WoW to your heart's delight! Hard right? The name of the game here is to hunt and peck less and pay more attention to the screen, to your character's physical location and surroundings. This is HUGELY important, and it becomes more and more clear why when you are actually able to watch people's characters as they play. The best tanks know when and where adds are at every moment. Someone calls out "adds incoming," but the tank is already there and has a threat lead built. This is also a key skill for all raiders in the school of "don't stand in the fire." If you're too busy staring at your action bars or your CDs (one of my biggest uses for mods in combat), you will be slow to dodge or move out of fires (how many people can go an entire Razorscale fight without taking a single tick from Devouring Flames?).
So here's the part that can't be rushed, only played. Over the next month or six, you'll grow increasingly accustomed to your keybindings and the moves associated while simultaneously learning your moves, your responses to situations, and clever combos or timings that work well for your class and role. I HIGHLY recommend that if you need to change or adjust bindings during this time (or add macros and replace stock spells) that you do it early, earlier the better.
Now, that's all well and good but we have an extensive community here and I'm willing to bet a great many of the people here have long-developped keybinds and likely are already deep in the proprioception. Here's a fun test to show you just how much your character is an extension of yourself. Go to a high ledge, say Aldor Rise in Shattrath. Now jump off, no slow fall or Pally bubbles allowed. Feel that little cringe, panic moment, in your chest. That little physical response is you feeling your character. Logically we can think, it's just a game, that's just a bunch of pixels, and even in the game when I die I'll just run back to my body none the worse for wear. But it still won't remove you from your bond, and I can't imagine why you'd need to break that bond. So, we know you are your character, is there anything we can do with that?
Well, this is where I want to start opening up channels to the community. When we ARE our character we can accomplish maneuvers that you can't think fast enough to do, I listed a couple fairly simple examples above. In fact, my girlfriend was always boggled by watching my hands when I tanked since I would be moving while simultaneously hitting 3-8 buttons for other moves (ahh warrior tanking is/was fun too), click targeting, strafing, and jump-spinning.
So, what fancy moves do you use, and where are you discovering this little extended set of senses comes into play for you?