A tank (sometimes referred to as a meat shield) is a style of character in gaming, often associated with a character class. A common convention in real-time strategy games, role-playing games, fighting games, multiplayer online battle arenas and MUDs, tanks redirect enemy attacks or attention toward themselves in order to protect other characters or units. Since this role often requires them to suffer large amounts of damage, they rely on large amounts of vitality or armor, healing by other party members, evasiveness and misdirection, or self regeneration.
Tank units are typically represented as large and strong, sometimes heavily armored as well.
"Tanking" occurs when the unit's intention is to be the one taking in damage (typically by being dangerous or detrimental, or using a game mechanicthat forces it to be targeted), and secondly, to ensure that they can survive this damage through sheer health pointsor mitigation.
In real-time strategy games, the role of a tank unit is to provide a health buffer for weaker ranged classes. Frequently maneuvering or other tactics are used by the tank to make themselves the most tempting or highest-priority target of enemy attacks, thereby diverting enemies away from their allies.
In group play found in many role-playing games, the role of the tank is to protect players that are low-armor or low-health classes (such as archers or mages). The role of a tank is typically to survive an oncoming attack, and then ensure that they are the target of the incoming attack. It then falls upon a healer unit (in large-scale play, often specifically assigned to the role, with spells specializing in high healing output over one or two targets) to restore the tank unit's health so they do not die and allow them to take the next attack.
In MMOs, there is typically a mechanic that tanks rely on known as enmity, "aggro", or "threat", which is generated from damage and taunts. This makes monsters attack the tank. However, when fighting other players tanks will attempt to interrupt spell casters and apply debuffs, making them a high priority target for damage (as they are nullifying or mitigating the potential of the opposing team). Tank units are typically central to group play, and a large amount of responsibility is placed on them. A tank's death could cause the opposition to overrun the party as they cannot cope with the magnitude of incoming damage.
In most games that feature a clear-cut "tank" class or character, there are three factors that contribute to a tank's survivability. The first is a large amount of health for absorbing damage that would normally go to lower health classes. The second is damage mitigation, the ability to lessen the damage attacks do in the first place. This is often accomplished through a high armor or defense stat mechanic. Finally, there is the ability to avoid attacks altogether. Depending on the game and class, a tank may focus on any combination of these.