The relationship between rolelplaying and real life is a multifaceted one. If you have read this column before, you've probably seen some mention of roleplaying as a creative art form, but for some readers, it might be a bit difficult to imagine roleplaying as an art. After all, some might say, it's just a bunch of people sitting around, pretending their characters are real people, having real problems and real stories, all in spite of a game environment in which one's character can't actually affect the world in any way that matters. Problems of continuity, such as instanced dungeons in which many people can slay the same monster at the same time over and over again, make some people feel as though there's no story value to the game at all, and that anything roleplayers do is a waste of their time.
The trick for roleplayers is to think of roleplaying as something more like freeform play art, in which the main point of the art isn't so much the end product that results from one's efforts (as it would be in painting, novel-writing, or composing music), but rather the thoughts, feelings, and inspiration that come to mind when we actually engage in the process of the art itself. The closest parallel to another art form might be improv acting games, where the whole point is to make things up for you and the other actors to enjoy, rather than to deliver a performance for a separate audience; but if you've enjoyed something so simple as building a sand castle on the beach, then you probably have a good sense of what it feels like to roleplay. Fingerpainting, mandala-making or even just freeform music and dancing can all give a similar feeling like what you get in roleplaying: the sheer joy of creation.
Some roleplayers need no more justification for their art than that they enjoyed themselves. But others look at their own roleplaying careers and see certain things that they've taken away from their roleplaying experience over time. These things are usually not as solid as an actual painting or recorded song, but they still have a kind of solidity in the roleplayer's mind, as they positively impact his or her real life in several ways.