Compared to all game genres discussed to date, role-playing games are truly a revolution in gaming.  Whereas all other games have a clearly defined goal in mind as integrated into the mechanics, role-playing games generally don’t.  There may be individual long-term and short-term goals that can be accomplished, but those do not necessarily end the game right then and there.  Role-playing games (RPGs) are games that are characterized as the players taking the active roles of individuals within the game and, essentially, living out their lives; they are playing the roles of other characters.  Various descriptions of RPGs range from improvisational play to reading a story as one writes it to acting in a play.

Examples– Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire the Masquerade (or Vampire Requiem), Dragon Storm, Hollowed Earth Expedition, Seven Seas, Legend of the Five Rings, Mech Warrior, Hero System

Developmental Potential
Mental-among the most obvious, role-playing helps one develop creativity and the creative process; chiefly in developing character and story ideas.  Through role-playing, players learn to flesh out their characters and stories with important details that can range from small and subtle to wide-range and overt.  Along with character development, players learn more about the complex and intricate psychology of real people; after all, the players are portraying realistic, albeit fictional, people.  So, in order to better play those characters with real foibles and neuroses, the player had better brush up on their Psychology 101.   Speaking of studying, role-players often end up doing tremendous amounts of research in pursuit of character and story development.  As such, this is both a great opportunity for them to nurture their researching skills; which can be applied to any number of fields beyond gaming.  Some RPGs, like some miniature games, will plunge the characters into real-world settings (e.g. the Renaissance, the Dark Ages) and so the players will find themselves learning about all kinds of anachoristic mannerisms, fashions, politics, and beliefs; and as with miniature, all depending on the exact game system.  On a very, very subtle and educational stand-point, RPGs can be a very detailed demonstration of the cognitive process.  How?  In games where the players will form some type of team (as most often happens), also referred to as a party, the players will design their characters to fulfill certain roles within the group (i.e. leader, spokesperson/negotiator, sneak/scout).  Players often will assume a role that they are personally familiar with first and often branch out into other roles as they gain experience.  However, each role requires the players to think in terms of how that character should operate given that role.  For example, leaders would be concerned with how to keep the group together and organized; scouts will be thinking about maneuverability and stealth, not to mention gathering information.  The idea is better articulated by Dr. Gee of Wisconsin in his books on gaming.

Interpersonal-as RPGs are interaction by nature, playing in a RPG gives people a chance to develop their interpersonal skills.  At any given game session, people are constantly interacting with one another in either casual out-of-game conversation or in-character and with the other characters.  This is also a safe way for otherwise shy or reserved individuals to comfortably branch out and interact with others; it is an opportunity to foster confidence in “public” speaking and “come out of one’s shell” (to use a cliched phrase).  RPGs offer a great opportunity for creative expression.  Think about it: as a player, you can be anybody.  One can play out a fantasy or simply enjoy a safe out-of-box experience; of course, managing the escapism that RPGs offer can be difficult for some people and could be a topic of discussion for a later article.