Are PBeM (Play-by-email) games actually roleplaying? Why or why not? How does PBeM differ from or approximate roleplaying face-to-face, or other activities that you feel it is similar to?
I’m going to say no, using criteria that some folks wouldn’t or don’t.
1. To me, a roleplaying event of any kind is characterized by a social gathering — I’m not going to be entirely meat-exclusive and say that it requires everyone be in the same room, but it is a social situation for the players (anecdotes and laughter that have nothing to do with the game itself… that’s my style of play I guess — PBeM’s aren’t social for the players as a general rule — they are for the characters, but not players.
2. A roleplaying event involves a level of immediacy — in responses, in formulating reaction, et cetera. Talk to me about IRC, chat, or MU* environments meant to roleplay and I’m on board with the idea that you can have a roleplaying game going on in that environment, simply because of the immediacy of it… PBeMs are a kissing cousin to that; collaborative writing experiments.
Some folks might argue against that assertion (that PBeM is more of a collaborative story-writing exercise than roleplay), saying that writing is much more structured than PBeM, but for all that you might be firing emails off to people quickly, nothing in an PBeM compares to the instantaneous online interaction of a chat room or IRC or what-have-you, and forget about face-to-face — regardless of the speed of emailed replies, actions is more considered, prepared, structured, and planned with PBeM… yes, to the point where, IMO, what you’re doing is writing the story of what your character is doing in character than being in character.
Caveat That doesn’t make it less of a good experience — it just makes it different. (Not the kind of different I enjoy, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.)