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• Because roleplaying is fun. Have you read those psychological studies about the importance of play to human health and mental well-being? First and foremost, roleplaying is about playing—it's "Let's Pretend" at its most refined. Playing isn't just for kids anymore.
• Because roleplaying is educational. Roleplayers actively seek out new knowledge to enhance their gaming experience; they learn about mythology, history, weaponry, tactics, science, philosophy, codes, currencies, and even basic astrophysics; they learn phrases in different languages and traditions in different cultures. And here's a hint for students—more than one roleplayer has learned to make a dull class interesting by thinking, "How could I apply [macroeconomics, military history, the history of the novel] to my game?"
• Because roleplaying is social. Roleplaying requires players to interact with each other, whether face-to-face or through some form of computer-mediated communication. Roleplaying games (RPGs) are much more social than sitting in front of a television or computer game all day. And for some people—for example, those whose responsibilities or physical challenges keep them at home all day—roleplaying by computer can became a significant form of social interaction that would otherwise be closed to them.
• Because roleplaying encourages teamwork. Roleplayers who only look out for No. 1 aren't going to be invited back to games very often. RPGs usually pose players with a problem to solve, and every player's participation is essential to achieving a successful solution. Players learn that their characters must work together to succeed—a good lesson to carry over into real life!
• Because roleplaying is about more than winning and losing. Roleplaying games encompass far more than the win/lose scenario prevalent in most sports and board or card games. RPGs can include self-sacrifice (see how far that'll get you in a computer game!), romance, negotiation, and other scenarios that most other types of games simply can't handle.
• Because roleplaying teaches conflict management. A good gamemaster (GM) encourages different methods of problem-solving within the game—sometimes problems are solved by combat, but other times they must be resolved by peaceful means. Players get a chance to explore different methods of conflict management within the safety of a fictional setting and can later apply those methods to the real world.
• Because roleplaying encourages creativity. Many roleplayers enjoy painting miniatures, sketching characters, carving terrain and models, writing game-related poems or short stories, composing game-related songs, and even, especially in the case of live-action roleplayers, sewing costumes or cooking "in-character" meals. Even those who just play the game exhibit creativity by developing their characters and interacting with the fictional world in which the game takes place.
• Because roleplaying is relatively inexpensive. RPGs don't need memory upgrades, expensive equipment, or high-priced tickets. After the rulebooks and dice have been purchased, roleplaying can be as expensive or inexpensive as the players care to make it. RPGs can be run with nothing more than paper and pencil, or they can be run with detailed terrain and handpainted metal miniatures.
• Because roleplaying doesn't discriminate. Roleplayers can be of any age, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, shape, size, or level of fitness. A skilled GM can tailor a game to accommodate all sorts of special needs or considerations.
• Because roleplaying improves speaking skills. Roleplaying is a verbal game (textual, if you play over e-mail or in chat), and through practice, players improve their verbal (or writing) skills as they play. It's also a form of acting, and players learn to convincingly present themselves to others while they play.
• Because roleplaying is extremely portable. At the minimum, most RPGs require dice and character sheets ... and maybe a rulebook, although if the players know the rules, they can often get by without one in a pinch. RPGs can be played just about anywhere, unlike many physical sports, and they don't require batteries or a nearby electrical outlet, unlike many computer games.
• Because roleplaying is wish-fulfillment. The daily grind gets everyone down sooner or later, so it's a relief to become a devil-may-care space pilot, a fearless warrior princess, a gorgeous rock star or a brilliant computer programmer for a while. Players can step out of their own lives by roleplaying characters of different genders, ethnicities, social classes, physical or mental abilities. Roleplaying allows everyone to become someone else for a while ... and most of us need that break in our lives.
So, why roleplay? Why not? Not only is roleplaying fun, but it's been used by educators and counselors for decades to improve skills and encourage learning. So, if you don't roleplay, consider finding a group and trying it out. And if you do roleplay, remember these reasons the next time somebody asks you what the hobby is all about. Roleplaying is about a lot more than books and dice and funny metal figures!
originally written May 15, 1999
This article was reprinted in Packer, A. (2000). Highs! Over 150 Ways to Feel Really, Really Good ... Without Alcohol or Other Drugs. Free Spirit Publishing.