As a fan of role-playing video games, I feel I should mention that most of them really don’t feature true role-playing, in the sense of really getting into a character’s head. Do you really play the role of Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy VII any more than you do that of Mario in Super Mario Bros.?
You don’t have a whole lot of choices beyond choosing whether to fight or cast a spell, and character-building moments are usually not controllable. This in turn makes me think of the issue of character design. Dragon Quest IX, for instance, lets you name and design your hero, but the story is the same regardless.
It’s an illusion, in a sense, as you don’t have a whole lot of control beyond that. A lot of the time, it seems like heroes you create don’t have much of a personality, and I’d kind of rather have one defined by the game itself. Would Final Fantasy VI have been as interesting if its main protagonist had been user-defined, rather than featuring a well-defined character like Terra Branford?
I find The Sims Medieval to be an interesting game in terms of character definition. It isn’t considered a pure role-playing game, but rather a combination of simulation and role-playing. You can create your own heroes, but in addition to name and appearance, you can also give them personality traits. As such, even though the quests are pretty much already defined by the game, how your character reacts to situations depends on the traits you gave them. That’s something I might like to see transferred into more traditional RPGs, as it makes a user-created hero less of a cypher.