Roleplaying Games as Personal, Emotional Challenges

Before I gave them a try, all I knew about roleplaying games (RPGs) was the tropes I saw on TV: a game master (GM) sitting behind a trifold with I-don’t-even-know-what printed on it, players mouth-breathing and rolling twenty-sided dice, Tolkien-esque orcs, machismo-heavy dwarves, sexy elves, and players responding with cheers or groans to tell those watching the cartoon whether the story within a story was going well or poorly. At its best, this was disinteresting; at its worst it was arbitrary (GMs deciding outcomes based on unknown mechanics), crude (killing monsters to level up and get coins), and sexist (damsels in distress within the narrative, and no non-male players).