Ages ago, I think it was in the 80-ies of last century, one of my best friends wrote a role playing manifesto. We weren't supposed to just roll the dice, he said, but we ought become our characters. We ought to feel how they felt, and actually play their roles. At least for the duration of the game.
Rolling Dice and Just Having Fun
We were playing a variation of the Dungeons & Dragons game then, and for most of us it took some time to understand what he meant. Weren't we supposed to just go into a dungeon, roll some dice, and slay some hapless monsters? Collect some treasure, roll some dice, and meanwhile imagine that we actually were Aragorn, or Gandalf? Was it wrong what we were doing?
Not necessarily. Basically it's a difference in play style. There are more possible play styles, sure, but my friend made a very important distinction. You either shove your persona around the board, and roll some dice, or – to an extent – you become the persona. Most people start out doing the first, as it is less scary. It's also easier to say: hey, that's just a puppet, it's not me. My character does this or that. My character now attacks your character because he failed his sanity roll. Haha. No offence meant.
Or Being Someone Else a Bit
But it's – I for one think so – much more interesting to crawl into another skin. Slip into a role, and be able to say – I hit the dragon with my sword! I am the one whose parents were slain by the evil Imperial troops, and now I am out for revenge. Or if you dare: “dear princess Arwena, I love you”. Scarier, for sure, but also more rewarding.
The more you try it, the more you may be surprised how it really is to be in someone else's shoes. I still am, especially when playing evil non player characters, often finding out and feeling on the spot why they act as they do. In that way, role playing may actually prove to be better social training than you'd expect after seeing another nerdy portrayal of our hobby.
Where are you at your own games? Do you prefer roll playing or role playing? Or is it a mix of both? When do you use which method? Do you fall back on dice to avoid intimacy, conflict, something else that's scary? Or do you just use it to condense time, and seek role playing out in other situations?
It's an old distinction, but it's fun to make it explicit for yourself.