The role-playing genre perhaps has the most interesting history in gaming. Spawning from the table-top pen and paper D&D and advancing to the computer in the eighties, it is a fascinating development that I can't ignore when i boot up GW2 or Skyrim. These games become very personal to the player, where you would invest hours into your imaginary table top character (and many still do), more people nowadays invest time into their save files. This is a good thing, a little escapism, a little suspension of disbelief and you can teleport yourself to a land of dragons and magic all encapsulated in a detailed and wonderful world.
It may come as a surprise then that I am a bit of a new-comer to the genre. My first RPG experience that wasn't Zelda (which you can argue for or against its status as an RPG), was Diablo 2, my uncle was an avid player and I found the endless looting and graphic violence to be highly entertaining. Shortly thereafter I discovered the elder scrolls and it was decided, I was an Rpg fanboy, I didn't play Morrowind extensively but when my little brother picked up a copy of Oblivion I found myself playing it almost as much as he did. For those who haven't played that title I would highly recommend it. I suppose what got me hooked was the fact that the game didn't play by the rules of most rpgs, the combat and leveling systems were tweaked to appeal to more people than just hardcore RPG'ers and yet there was still enough content to keep the invested player coming back for more, and that's really what its all about. RPGs are the most long lasting titles in the industry because they offer more content and replayablilty than any other games. It isn't unlikely to be playing an RPG ten years down the road, but trying playing a sports title after that period of time.
I suppose what initially prevented me from getting engaged with rpg titles was their unfriendly nature towards people who don't play RPGS. Just look at the Japanese RPG market and you can see that accessibility is not the strong suit. So through childhood I muddled through shooters, driving games, platformers, and movie games, more movie games than I would care to mention. In retrospect I think my younger self viewed RPGs as a "nerd" genre, all the while I was playing with magic cards. I guess the reality is don't knock something until you try it, even though I was turned off by some of the more abrasive titles in the Rpg and Jrpg market I consider Oblivion to be one of the top games in my library.
But what does this mean? Certainly RPGs were not and still are not for everyone. But maybe this is a good thing, if everyone and your grandmother played Dragons Dogma it would cease to be the challenging bad ass title that it is. So ultimately the RPG games cult status serves to benefit it in alot of ways making the games special and of an acquired taste like a finely aged wine. Of course this is not entirely true RPGs have definitely found their way into the mainstream, especiially with films like LOTR and the upcoming hobbit. Games like Skyrim and WoW have shown us that RPGs are some of the most widely played titles in the world (e-sports aside). But that said for every skyrim or world of warcraft there are maybe 20 or 30 RPGS no one has heard of. I use Dragon's Dogma as an example, though relatively mainstream, the title garnered less attention than Bethesda's love child, thus it became quite a hit in the RPG community. The games excellent visuals, traditional and secondary storyline, along side punishing gameplay and responsive action-game like controls left the player feeling immersed in an environment that offered cruel and punishing death more often than instant gratification. This was a welcomed departure from alot of modern games' hand-holding as the DD often gave you an objective but never forced you to muddle through tutorials that told you how to play the game. This to me is what makes a great RPG, sure story, context, and setting are all important but if the game doesn't let me go about the game as I please. If it doesn't let me take down those baddies in the distance without first initiating a twenty minute cutscene and then a brief tutorial then to me it lacks a certain raw element that makes games challenging as well as highly engrossing.
So maybe my major gripe is that modern games are too... modern. They value impressive visuals and movie-like gameplay over challenging opponents and environments that help immerse the gamer. If death ingame (especially an RPG) is never a threat than I will cease to care. I often find games are more interested in keeping you alive on the brink of death than just shutting you down entirely and forcing you to restart from your save. Personally I like it when the game has an advantage over me and I think an RPG, a title that garners immersion should put more emphasis on the player trying to stay alive than just breezing through the quests like your shopping for groceries.