An Introduction To Roleplaying
To get right down to it, roleplaying is make-believe with rules. That's the whole thing in a nutshell. The rules can be as simple or as complex as desired. They can range from simple rules like "don't hurt or kill peoples' characters without their permissions" to complex mechanics systems like "roll some dice and take into account these numbers and formulas to determine an action's outcome."
So what exactly do you do? You get together with other people and you choose and direct the actions of your chosen characters in an agreed-upon setting. You might all take on the roles of the main characters from a favorite TV show and play out new adventures for them, or you might make up your own characters to play out in the world of a book series, or you might use an RPG book that describes a world and prescribes rules for it, or you might even play around in a world made up from scratch with a system you created yourself.
Many roleplays have a "game master" (or some variant on the term; EG, game manager, dungeon master, referee, et al.) who sets up story scenarios and is the ultimate arbiter of what happens in the game. A good game master remembers that the fun and freedom of the players is paramount and does not try to coerce or "railroad" players into following a hard-set plotline, nor tries to force them toward a specific endgame or conclusion.
So why roleplay? Lots of reasons. For one, it can be a great creative outlet - people can create their own worlds and characters and drive their own stories. For another, it doesn't have to be very expensive - in fact, it doesn't have to cost anything. And depending on the type of roleplay, it can also hone and sharpen one's problem solving and critical thinking skills. And because it's a social activity, it can be a great way to hang out with and meet other people.
What kind of people roleplay? All kinds of people. Roleplayers are made up from all age groups (roleplaying itself really began as a hobby back in the mid-70's with the release of Dungeons & Dragons, which means that the original generation of roleplayers is now old enough to have grandchildren) and all sorts of professions and backgrounds.
So where and how do people roleplay? Off the Internet, people often roleplay in their homes or even outside if they're engaging in a LARP, or "live-action roleplay." On the Internet, people frequently make use of chat sites, message board services, instant messengers, e-mail, and even social media sites.
How can one get into roleplaying? You can look for a partner or group, or even start a group yourself. (Places To Roleplay Online has some suggestions.) Always look for and try to foster a healthy roleplaying atmosphere - EG, GMs and players are able and encouraged to communicate openly with each other about their wants and preferences for a game, GMs and/or players don't try to be the "main character" of the game, people don't interrupt game time or game space with their personal issues, and drama among all involved is minimal.
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