Imaginary situations and the nature of the players' characters in Roleplaying can be almost anything from Conan-style hack'n'slash fantasy to animals wishing to escape from the zoo to bored housewives in the suburbs. Even though the genre of roleplaying games is more or less centered on fantasy, science fiction, and horror themes, roleplaying in general can take form in any kind of setting.
Example: Dungeons & Dragons, perhaps the best known tabletop fantasy roleplaying game, is actually a game system that can be used in different Game Worlds. These Game Worlds can be totally player-created, but there are also commercial game worlds available. The gameplay is based on the group of players that roleplay members of a party going adventuring in sometimes exquisitely detailed fantasy settings with elaborate plot structures. In Dungeons & Dragons, most often only one of the players is the Game Master (actually Dungeon Master but Game Master is the more generic term) who acts as the game facilitator presenting and resolving the imaginary situations to the players. The gameplay is usually almost wholly based on verbal communication between the players and the Game Master. Rules, resolution tables, and dice are used to resolve the conflict situations, which usually involve combat between players and monsters.
Example: In Live Action Roleplaying Games (LARPs) the players act out their characters in real life and not only sit around the table talking to each other. The real world is used as the basis for the setting of the game, and sometimes the players put in countless hours of work to make the settings and their characters fit the theme of the game as well as possible. LARPs, of course depending on the play style, are usually more oriented on acting out the roles of the characters than tabletop roleplaying games, and some play styles are closer to improvisational theater than playing games.
Two main elements of Roleplaying games are the players' Characters and the imaginary Game World, which is often a Player Constructed World and Persistent Game World. In immediate Social Interaction situations, such as in tabletop Roleplaying games, the Game World itself is in the players' imagination. These Game Worlds, however, may have extensive amounts of background information available to the players that may include detailed histories, geographies, novels, short stories, campaign settings, and even movies.
Computerized online roleplaying games, such as MUDs and MMORPGs, have and maintain their Game Worlds in digital format. Text-based MUDs also use the players' imagination as an important "game engine" for making the Game Worlds come alive while the current MMORPGs shift the focus from the players' imagination to offering Immersion in detailed audio-visual representations of the Game World.
The players must obviously somehow have access to the Characters in the Game World. Many games, especially computer roleplaying games, offer ready-made Characters with different kinds of Skills and abilities for the players, but it seems that the Emotional Immersion is more vivid and likely if the players have at least some Creative Control over their Characters and especially Character Development during gameplay. Even seemingly small things, such as changing the color of the hair of an Avatar, allow possibilities for further Identification with the players' Characters.
Roleplaying games are often played by groups of players promoting Team Play in general. Games with more stable teams also offer possibilities for not only Character Development for single players but for Team Development for members of the team.
Roleplaying, strictly defined, is based on Identification between the players and their Characters in situations of Social Interaction. As Roleplaying requires that both players doing the roleplaying and players watching it accept the acting, Roleplaying requires Cooperation between the players to create an Alternative Reality. It is possible to imagine solitary Roleplaying situations, but they are often marginal cases of Roleplaying in general. Single-player computer roleplaying games are an example of these situations and they are usually more about Resource Management of the Characters in the game than proper Roleplaying.
Roleplaying games naturally tend to have strong Narrative Structures to motivate the existence of the Characters and to also widen the possibilities for Identification and deepen possible Emotional Immersion. Especially Roleplaying games with human Game Masters are more or less based on Storytelling, where players and Game Master together create and tell the story. The Storytelling in Roleplaying games not only drives the game forward but is also a consequence of events in the game and explains events or provides more Emotional Immersion to the events taking place. All Roleplaying games happen in imaginary Game Worlds, with the possible exception of some of the therapeutic uses of Roleplaying, and these Game Worlds are shared fantasies created during the gameplay by the players themselves. Even in cases where players use commercial Game Worlds as the setting for their campaigns, players have to make these settings alive while playing the game, making them Player Constructed Worlds.
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