Role-playing involves a person playing make-believe, in essence, pretending to be another person or character, often in a variety of imaginary or fantastical situations. Role-play can be used for psychotherapy, for gaming, for children's games or for adult games.
An example of role-playing, often referred to as "RP," would be the popular board game "Dungeons and Dragons." In this game, players assume the role of other people and characters who are involved in unrealistic and fantasy situations. Another good example of role-playing involves psychotherapy sessions and couples counseling. Often, couples are asked to play each other in short role-playing sessions. This can help one person get a better understanding of how the other person feels as they react to certain situations.
Children also play simple role-playing games as well. This could include being a fireman, race car driver or doctor. Online role-playing games such as "Runescape" are also very popular among children and teens.
It is believed that role-playing began in the 16th century with the advent of improvisational theater. At this time, this theater was known as the "Commedia dell'Arte." Modern improvisational theater became popular in the 1950s when it was modernized by a woman named Viola Spolin. The term "role-playing" is very broad and can include improvisational theater as well as historical reenactments.