This post will probably increase my dork factor by a large magnitude, but what do I care? All four of you readers can judge me as much as you want.
Earlier last year, I was reading Shamus Young's synopsis of his Dungeons and Dragons campaign as he wrote it on his blog. It sounded neat, like something I might actually enjoy. So, back towards the beginning of the fall semester, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons. I actually have two games going; in one I'm the game master (Note to my players: Don't follow that link above, I'm using his campaign as my basic outline), while in the other I'm just a player. I've never played an RPG aside from video games, and those have almost nothing in common with their tabletop brethren.
The point of this post isn't really to talk about the games themselves, but more to talk about the things I've learned since starting.
First and foremost, I can understand why people have a hard time picking up the hobby. Bad press over the years and obnoxious, stereotypical fanboys already stack the cards against it, but most people don't have a soft spot in their heart for reading text books. When you first start out, you typically have a lot of rules to learn. Now, that's not to say that you can't do it in easily digestible bits; nobody starts out learning chemistry with the equations for electron behavior. Still, it's intimidating. Ideally, you'd have someone who already plays introduce you and hold your hand through it.
But that directly contradicts my next thought: There's really a lot of people these games should appeal to. Dungeons and Dragons was spawned by The Lord of the Rings, and that's pretty popular since the movies. Even if fantasy isn't your cup of tea, most people have a fictional genre they love (historical, sci-fi, horror, etc.), and there's an RPG out there that would probably fit that bill.
I realize that some people liken it to being an 8 year old "playing pretend," but I like to think of it in other ways. It definitely gives aspiring actors/actresses an outlet for practicing their craft in their spare time. Writers also get to put their skills to use. If you've ever watched a movie or played a video game and thought, "Oh, I wouldn't have done it like that, I'd have totally done it differently," well, these games give you a chance to play that out. Did you ever read those "choose your own adventure" books? It's a lot like that, except instead of a book you get a live narrator.
Hm . . . I have more thoughts, but this post is getting quite lengthy already. Perhaps I'll add more in the future.