Due to doing this thing called "growing up," I have less and less free time for tabletop roleplaying. Back in high school and early college, I was playing sometimes up to five nights a week either at various kitchen tables or at the local comic shop. Now, I have a group that plays on Thursday nights with decent reliability and occasionally find a Fiasco group on Tuesday evenings at a local gaming store. However, just because I have had to cut back on my roleplaying evenings, it does not mean that my urge to roleplay has dwindled. Quite the opposite. As the years have passed, my craving for RPGs has grown into a steady hunger that refuses to be sated.
Enter the internet. Now, if I could figure out the webcam on my laptop (and if it wasn't a piece of crap), I might venture to strange new vistas like Skype and Google Hangout (and I still may). Currently (actually, on and off since I was about 16), I have been roleplaying via forum. By roleplaying, I mean mostly freeform stuff on fandom boards like Firefly, Heroes, The Dragonriders of Pern, and even a dark and weird foray into a Sailor Moon site. My current poison is The Hunger Games. As I write this, I just finished posting in the bloodbath of my fifth games.
A lot of bad can be said about forum roleplay. The rules often consist of "be nice to each other out of character" and "don't be a forum troll," and few players actually end up following them at all. Roleplay sites often become incestuous hotbeds of Mary Sue cliques and stagnant plots. Since writing is the key element of that medium, they are often riddled with illiterate teens who angst worse than a Twilight novel. Finally, having to wait possibly days to get the reply in a simple conversation drives many away from Play By Post.
All of those reasons are reasons I hate the medium. I would rather sit across a kitchen table with some plastic polyhedrals than in front of a computer screen any day of the week, but the great part about forums is that I can do it on my time. It's a placebo, albeit a crappy one to get me from Thursday to Thursday. However, there are the rare few play by post sites that transcend just being roleplaying sites and become actual communities, and that is where they become awesome.
I have been a part of a few communities. The Hunger Games site I'm on now is one*. The players there are awesome writers, funny as hell in the chat, and generally great people many of whom I've communicated, vented at, laughed with, and even shared deep fears and secrets and damages with outside of the game. I talk to some of them more often than I do my own family, as sad as that is. Most of the players on that site and I have developed a rapport and trust that lends itself to creating great stories. Some of those stories even rival the best that I have participated in during pen and paper RPGs. I've been writing there for almost a year and have had more in character heartbreak, adventure, and drama than I've actually had with my face to face group in the past year.
Basically, the merits of play by post are simple:
1) They require far less time and player coordination than face to face games.
2) Writing out character thoughts and actions means that character motivation is clear from a storyline perspective
3) You get to use pretty pictures for your characters.
4) You can participate in multiple timelines and with multiple characters at the same time.
5) Certain fandoms like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter which do not lend themselves well to pen and paper games work brilliantly in this format.
So, if you find yourself with a yearning to roleplay and a lack of a group, wander over to sites like rpgdirectory.com and find a game. It might tide you over. You might hate it. But you might just find a new outlet for your creativity that might provide a rich experience that you've never had before.