I've been roleplaying for more than fifteen years, much like Tashiro, and I've had quite a few things influence the way I game. If I had to pick one place to begin, though, it would be with my parents.
See, while I don't think my parents have ever been roleplayers, they've always been geeks. My mother enjoys fantasy and science fiction, and was an avid fan of computer adventure games (primarily King's Quest); my father, on the other hand, has an old box of Ares magazines and SPI wargames from long ago. One of them, long ago, picked up a book called Fantasy Wargaming, which was the first exposure I had to Gygaxian-style roleplaying; the system was atrocious, but it was a valuable introduction to the hobby. I still have that book in my library.
Roleplaying wasn't "weird" for my parents, they considered it normal... and so they approved of and encouraged my hobby. I've lost count of the number of game books I own which were originally birthday or Christmas gifts. I never had to deal with people who saw it as "evil" until high school... by which point I was well beyond hope. =)
From my parents, then, I developed the belief that roleplaying was normal, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of. My family, my friends, even my co-workers know what I do for a hobby.
Come junior high, though, I was still a newbie to roleplaying. Out of all my friends at the time, I was the one best-suited to GMing; whether it was because I was the brightest or simply the most creative, I'm not sure, but I was stuck with the role until senior high. In the meantime, though, I did what I could.
All through my schooling, one of my favourite options to take was drama. Acting and roleplaying have always seemed very similar to me - in both activities, you play the role of someone else. (Even now, I often describe roleplaying to non-roleplayers as being a lot like performing a radio drama that you make up as you go.) In particular, I was getting good at improvisation... which turned out to be a very handy talent to have for roleplaying.
One of my friends, you see, let's call him D, was very into RP, more than the rest... but D didn't have the patience for stats. Instead, what we frequently did was off-the-cuff roleplay (often in the middle of the night during a sleepover, when we were both still too hopped up on sugar to sleep). I'd start with a basic concept, and improv-GM my way through hours of entertainment.
From D, and my love of drama, I learned improvisation: thinking on my feet, working without a net, and gaming in the absence of rules of any sort. Which probably explains why, no matter how often I dig into the crunchy bits of a system with glee, I'm always game for a bit of freeform.
Senior high came, and with it a reunion with old friends, including one who now ran a BBS (bulletin board service - for those not familiar with it, think a primitive form of AOL, run locally). I got into BBSing for a time, and joined up with a roleplaying BBS. It was there that I ran into Ollie, creator of RYM, and played in what was easily the most influential game of my life.
Up until then, you see, I'd been a GM most of the time... and when I did get to play, I really hadn't reached the point where a character was more than an extension of oneself. In short, up to that point, roleplaying was just a game.
Mirabourne's Adventure changed all that. Ollie wove an entire other reality for me, and showed me that one could do more than play a game; they could develop a character and come to CARE for that character. I felt sadness when a young dragon sacrificed itself for me; I felt joy at falling in love; I felt loss, and later rage, at losing that loved one, and went to hell and faced that which I most feared to get her back.
From Ollie, I gained my passion for the game. The more you invest in a game world and its denizens, and the more you manage to get your players invested in that world, the more profound the experiences become. Since then, I've always striven to put as much effort into my design as I can, and always seek to find ways to bring my players into the game... to make them care for their characters and for the NPCs.
I also met a girl online through roleplaying, who I would eventually come to marry in real life. This didn't actually change my gaming style signifigantly, but I can safely say that roleplaying found me true love. =D
Some time after I met my eventual lady love, I ran into C at college, and started gaming with him and his group. It was from him, and later online roleplaying experiences, that I learned about my limitations. Specifically:
- I have an angst threshold. There's only so much death, destruction, and darkness I can withstand before I can't take any more. As a result, I've sworn off all White Wolf games (though I still toy with giving Changeling or Exalted another chance), and I make it a point to temper angst and serious plot in my own games with lighter moments.
- I can't handle more than three or four players at a time without dropping the ball. Since I believe strongly in keeping players emotionally invested in my games, I like to make sure everyone has something relating personally to their character crop up every couple of sessions. However, I can only keep this up for so many characters at a time; in a larger group, I always feel I'm neglecting someone. As a result, I favour running solo or small group games.
- I prefer RPing with, and GMing for, friends rather than strangers. For me, interpersonal relationships among players in a group trump interpersonal relationships among characters in a game. If someone's not getting along outside the group, you can't honestly expect people to put aside their differences while playing. This isn't work, where your continued employment depends on it; this is a hobby, a pastime, entertainment.
I'm still on good terms with C, though we haven't gamed together in years. It was other people in his group who I had issues with, and were the primary reason we stopped going to those games...
I've run out of influences I can think of, though. Unless you count the Internet itself, and the fact that I've been roleplaying exclusively online for at least five years now... which is probably a topic for a separate post.
I've no idea if there's anything here that commentable... except maybe whether you folks think I'm mad or not. =P
(Edited: A few items for clarity and consistency.)