There are many kinds of roleplayers. The most important differentiating point I think is the type of encounter that each player likes the most. The classic roleplayer is the geeky, skinny teenage boy who wants nothing more than to smash monsters with his strong, powerful, invincible fighter. It isn't hard to see this as someone who desperately wants to act out their dreams of physical domination but who is not capable of doing so in real life for a variety of reasons. These sorts of players often simply want fight after fight, victory after victory. The fun part of roleplaying for them is being in the body of someone who wins through brute force, someone who always wins and never has to back down.
This isn't me. Now, to be clear, I don't disparage this sort of person or this type of behaviour. People act out all kinds of fantasies in all kinds of ways and sitting around a table with stacks of tiny polyhedral dice, pencils, erasers and paper while pretending to smash monsters in the head is fine by me! There are lots of other roleplaying types that aren't me, for example, The sexy man. This sort of person is most interested in finding someone of the opposite gender to have sex with. They often end up in conversations like this:
GM - "Okay, so there is a girl there"
Player - "Is she hot? If she's hot, I hit on her"
GM - "Ummm, okay, I guess she is kind of hot"
Player - "Awesome, do I score?"
GM - "Yeah, sure, you score"
Player - "YEAH!"
Note of course these conversations tend to take place in teenage roleplaying games. More mature roleplayers still exhibit the exact same type of urges, but it will often end up being slightly more subtle. Slightly being the operative word here. This second sort of roleplayer tries to have a character that is beautiful and attracts everyone. Their roleplaying goal generally revolves around being the sex magnet, the type of person everyone either wants to sleep with or hates because they are competition! You can certainly make the same sort of guesses about what this sort of player is missing in their life, most of which are quite unflattering.
My type of roleplayer is a bit more specific and involved: I am a romance roleplayer. Note I don't place myself on any kind of pedestal compared to other roleplayers because of this. We all have our particular fantasies to indulge and stories to tell and mine is simply different. Any particular roleplayer can be mature or juvenile, wise or foolish. What my particular kind of roleplayer likes to do is tell a long, involved love story. Preferably I would tell one with classic examples of misunderstandings, betrayals, stumbled steps forward and backward down the path of committment and intimacy, desperate gambles, failures and triumphs. Of course the best way to tell such a story is as part of a long, involved fantasy campaign where the characters involved in the story are a part of a magical battle between good and evil. There certainly must be a magical sword and a last stand against all odds too, or it just wouldn't be the same.
Since in the other two examples I listed there were things missing from the lives of the people involved, can we guess at what is missing from my life? Is it really possible that tragic, difficult, conflict-filled romance is something that I am missing and greatly desire? My relationship with my wife is shockingly empty of fighting, shouting, misunderstanding and conflict, though that is something I very much approve of rather than something I really want and can't get. Certainly roleplaying a situation where the two people involved are happily in love and things are great isn't particularly appealing to me; I am interested in conflict and uncertainty in my games. Perhaps it is that I know that in real life complex romantic entanglements aren't really much fun and people are generally happier in stable relationships, but nonetheless the rush of new love and the thrill of uncertainty in a diffcult, new relationship is exciting.
The trickiest thing for me at the moment is that the romantic style of roleplaying requires two. You can fairly easily go on a quest to go bash up some ogres if the other people involved are nominally willing, but a involved romance really requires a partner with both an understanding of the ways in which these things are done (rarer than you think) and also the desire, perhaps the desperate need, to be a part of it. To really make it work you absolutely have to have a great sense of acting, storytelling, and dramatic timing. I have only ever found one other person who really filled that niche for me, and unfortunately Hobo has moved far, far away. I have met quite a number of roleplayers in my time but only Hobo was ever really at the same point as me; ever able to dance to the same tune. I don't know where, when or if I will find another, sadly.
Both Hobo and I being really principally interested in roleplaying a hetero relationship we ended up having to swap off who would play the girl in each campaign. Interestingly enough we both ended up with really good character ideas for females or males at random points so we both played both roles at various times, neither of us really seemed to have a particular affinity for one role or the other.
My memory goes back to a time in University when Hobo and I were playing characters in a game run by one Barrel Plug. We decided ahead of time that I was going to be the girl, so I built a girl with an attitude, magical six guns displayed loud and proud and desperate to convince the world she was more experienced and wordly than she was. Hobo's character was a quiet student, inexperienced and obviously so, but with a strong will and a belief in himself and what he was destined to do. When we first interacted there were sparks undeniable; both of us could feel the story coming together, knowing what we would do. We forgot of course that the game was being run by one Barrel Plug, and our dreams of a beautiful story would go unfulfilled. Damn you Barrel Plug. Damn you.
Someday soon I hope to being roleplaying again, though likely only once the maniacal WOW fever has left me for a time. Perhaps in the new year I will begin again, and tell once more a tale of tragedy, love and magic. All I need is a dance partner.