Definition of Roleplay

1. to assume the attitudes, actions, and discourse of (another), esp. in a make-believe situation in an effort to understand a differing point of view or social interaction: Management trainees were given a chance to role-play labor negotiators.
2. to experiment with or experience (a situation or viewpoint) by playing a role: trainees role-playing management positions.This is the definition you’ll get when you look up roleplay on And it seems to get the basic point across as to what it means to roleplay. However, I think this definition is rather short-sighted.

It is very true that when roleplaying, you take on the attitudes, actions, and discourse of someone else other than yourself, just as it says in the first part of the definition. However, it doesn’t have to be limited to just a method of training, or a method of seeing another point of view.
Roleplaying is really just acting, just as you would see in a tv show, in a movie, or even on a stage. Those actors take on roles of imaginary characters, and act as those characters would. Roleplaying is very much like being an actor.
However, usually actors will have some sort of script they can follow. They have a good idea of what they need to do, what they need to say, perhaps even what to feel. A roleplayer has no such luxury. When you’re roleplaying an imaginary character, especially one of your creation, you need to imagine what that character would say or do in any given situation. And those situations are never pre-scripted.

So in a way, a roleplayer is akin to someone who does improv comedy. You have no clue what to expect, so the best you can do is just improvise. However, you don’t want to just come up with something completely random, since you’re not actually doing comedy. Since you’re playing some sort of character, you need to know more about your character, and base your decisions on what you think that character would do.

For example, if you’re faced with a brutally injured person while you’re roleplaying, and your character is a benevolent healer, then you would probably choose to help that person out, since that would be what your character would do. Conversely, if you were roleplaying a brutal, heartless character you would probably just kill him (or maybe you’re the one who brutally injured him in the first place!).
So when you’re roleplaying, it’s not like you’re completely without guidance. You have a character who has his or her own personality, as well as a sense of morality. When you choose actions for your character to take, it should be based on what that character would do, not yourself.

I recommend getting a bit of practice, especially if you’re a beginner to roleplaying. You can roleplay a character that someone else has created, or you can roleplay a character of your own imagination. Then just play out a roleplay scenario with someone else.
And of course, don’t be shy (unless your character is)