According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, roleplay means ‘to act out the role of’. A simple google search can pull up more defined variations of this. my personal favorite being the definition ‘to act out or perform the part of a person or character, for example as a technique in training or psychotherapy.’ In all of our lives we have had o play a role. For some, it has been in training sessions for jobs. For others, parts in a class for a lesson learned. Others still, have had to wear another’s shoes to understand issues wronged. Even as children, we have all pretended to be something we are not. In this last connection, we are all role players. Growing up is roleplaying until you find the path you no longer wish to pretend.
Then, you have roleplayers. These are people that enjoy in acting out a role of something they are not. A Roleplaying game by this definition is an act for entertainment purposes in which a group of people take roles to act out. So then, why is it so important to spend the time to define what is roleplay if it is so easy to understand?
I find that definitions do not give an understanding of a word. It merely presents the guidelines of interpretation for it. You find this apparent in every day life as well. Defining someone as a man or woman does not really explain what they are. Nor does saying they are human. We are complex beings and therefore cannot be explained in a single sentence. To those that roleplay, they are taking these complexities and becoming something else. This too gives roleplay a type of complexity that cannot be defined in one sentence.
This still leaves the question ‘What is roleplay’? When I am asked the question ‘what is roleplay?’, I find that the best answer is a personal one. I can’t begin to explain what roleplay is to everyone, but I can explain what it is for me. Generally in finding an associative point helps in understanding that is invaluable to understand those around us. Roleplay, and its roleplayers, as a group do often hold a negative stigma. Many, myself included, have stories of seeking belonging and self expression through games of pretending to be someone else. These are delusional concepts or something worth belittling. These are real feelings of real people. If someone can join a gang or enter into a toxic relationship, if someone can join a bowling league or knitting club, if someone can spend every night within a bar or a club, drinking and partying until they black out all for the sake of belonging, then what is so different or even wrong about someone that wishes to roleplay for the very same reason?
In truth, there is not a difference. As a society we are taught at a very young age what is right and wrong. Some of these lessons are very good lessons, like to not punch your neighbor in the face when they upset you or worse, not to kill them. Do not steal from others. Thank people for their help. Other lessons are not as good. Everyone born inherently female must only like feminine things. Boys will be boys. What you do as children is only meant for childhood. As you grow up, your body image matters. You must be as beautiful and strong as possible. Pretending is not accepting what you are. Pretending is something you do as a child. Pretending as an adult… is wrong. AS we become adults, we remember this and lash out at those that are not complying with this lesson as though something were wrong with them for not complying.
I see the world very differently. Simplicity and some of the purest forms of joy are really enough for me in a day. I squeal in delight when things are adorable. I laugh and smile for joy. I cry when I’m upset. I have color everywhere. I also collect items that society has deemed for children, like stuffed animals, butterflies and unicorns. I have the most beautiful picture of a butterfly winged being petting a human skull. I find it delightful. Others find such deep depictions of fantasy as me not growing up. I also roleplay. Call me a child a heart. I’m ok with it. I find it delightful too.
For me, roleplaying is an exercise in my creativity. As a writer, anything that helps my mind the chance to explore the impossible is something I want to do. I am the type to play a video game and then talk about the imagery for days after and what it means to me. I am also the type to look at a stucco wall and start making up pictures of the bumps and blemishes of the wall to tell a story. Again, I see the world very differently. This is why I world play to express that difference in a safe and creative environment.
As a writer, I also have a habit of creating a character archetype, with a set of quirks and moral weaknesses and strengths, and seeking a means to roleplay that character out. This helps me better define a character, making them more three dimensional and in depth. Given that I know what they will be facing, placing that archetype into environments I am not creating really allows me to understand the character for themselves. I make consistent choices on that character to learn them and their limits. This better helps me explain how they behave how they do when I take them back into my own writing.
The bonus is that I also meet other people and can observe their unique takes on how to react to otherworldly situations. More than see, I can interact with them, and shape their own story with my own. This interaction of storytelling is the best part of roleplay for me. That connection to another is what inspires me to continue on creating. I also like to think the feeling is mutual and as each person I interact with inspires me, that somewhere and somehow I’ve inspired them too.
This is what roleplay is. It is an act of pretending, but it is also an act of believing and an act of creating. It isn’t something that is for everyone, but no hobby is. What is important is that for those that want to interact with others and belong… and to be a little creative while doing so, should each have an opportunity to roleplay.