When I was young, I role played all the time. When it was snowy out, I'd pretend I was a dinosaur and build a nest out of snow and pine needles. Sometimes I was an arctic fox or a squirrel or a unicorn. Sometimes I'd be my favorite Ninja Turtle or a Time Traveling Scientist. And there's some part of us that never really out grows this love of role playing...being someone we are not.
You could argue that ALL video games are in a certain sense a role playing game. (Just not in the genre). In a first person shooter, you are playing the role of a soldier, in a flight simulator you play the role of a pilot, in a real time strategy you play the role of a god. Yes you can be whoever you want to be in a game. You can disregard the rules of proper society and set things on fire without remorse or guilt.
However, the concept of Role Play as in the RolePlaying Game is vastly different than my child-like concept of playing pretend. I don't get to immerse myself in a role playing game. In fact I find RPG to be a huge misnomer. It borrows from table top role playing sure but what makes a table top experience immersive is that you still have to use your imagination.
I think the current scope of RPG games is frightfully limiting. I can be some breed of warrior knight, some kind of thief that does a really terrible job of sneaking around, or some sort of magic user that can also resort to fighting. Suddenly the only conflict presented to me is a combative one. Even in Japanese RPG games which usually have more colorful characters paints me into a fighter character somehow.
Obviously a game can not hope to please everyone. However, I'm starting to like the concept of 'sandbox' gaming. Or Mod gaming. The development team of the game give me a storyline to follow but I'm also in a sand box. I can flit my time away not doing the main story mission of kill baddie x in doom fortress 25 and instead picking space flowers for my collection. The character may have a preset personality and look but when he's not in the main mission he's my performing monkey.
Granted, Red Dead Redemption is really my first taste of what a sandbox game is. I had played a moddable game before and loved it. But this was a new kind of fun. Sure, most games have elements of side quests and exploratory elements, but in a game like Zelda, I might get punished for it by means of a nagging NPC reminding me that there's another leg of mission to complete. It still has a linear structure to it.
Too Much Sand
On the other end of the spectrum, a game that is just a sandbox becomes The Sims. There is no objective unless you make one. Any game that has a large modding community usually lets a less than stellar programmer/3D artist create their own world, their own persona and act out nearly any fantasy.
This allows for what I would call "True Role Play" in the sense of playing pretend. I can be whoever I want to be in The Sims. I can be an anime character, a furry, a robot or if I pop in Spore I can be a dinosaur.
I can create my ideal friends and play dollhouse. However, the Sims is largely a single player experience. And as everyone should know, it's no fun being a deinonychus without a poor sucker stuck being a defenseless Anatasaurus.
Role Playing Together
I'm sure some days there are people that wish that the internet and by default online gameplay wasn't full of immature dickheads ruining the overall experience.
This ease of communication makes it possible to Role Play as your fantasy with another person. Both or you (or more) are free to make up the story as you go and live an experience not offered by graphical places. The downside to Massive-Multplayer games is the crowded space which doesn't allow for those of us playing 'pretend' to play in peace.
In that case...thank goodness for LAN multiplayer games.
My ultimate dream then would be a sandbox game that I could mod so that I can play with a small group of friends over a LAN connection. This brings out the best environment for child-like, narrative roleplay. Which at my age...I actually better play out by myself or only through text.