Role Play is another enormous group of things, and as with everything else in this series, vanilla people do it too.
A vanilla example of role play would be something like this:
A husband and wife are bored of talking about/doing the same old things. They plan to meet at a bar, but both pretend to be different people. Maybe Sally the Housewife turns into Candy the stripper, and Dan the Accountant turns into Bob the Fireman.
They flirt as different people, go home as different people, and have sex as different people. This helps fulfill the desire for variety that can be difficult to satisfy in a monogamous relationship, and it can also just be fun to try on a new persona for the night.
However, some people like very specific things. I once got asked to join a threesome dressed as Black Widow, where the other two participants would be Hawkeye and Captain America (though Captain America was going to be played by a girl with a strap-on.) I was down for the idea, but had already scheduled an event out of town when they visited. I am still disappointed that I missed it.
Still, this is a perfect example of a very fetish-specific form of role play. In this case, the fetish was comic books. However, it could just as easily have been role play of elves, animals, or incestuous family members. There are all kinds of people with all kinds of fetishes.
The most maligned of all role play fetishes that you see in media/culture is furries.
Furries are people who like to dress as animals to meet, date, and have sex. This seems to attract negative attention as a fetish for a few reasons. First, the suits are expensive. A good furry suit can cost more than $1,000. So I think discriminatory people find the cost extreme for what they consider to be a “sex thing” (though like with many fetishes it’s really more of a lifestyle thing.) I also think people find furries an easy target because they think dressing up as an animal has to cross some line in culture where everyone can just agree that it is wrong. They find furries easy to point to and say “but that is weird!”
I would argue that it’s actually a really neat fetish. You don’t have to be self-conscious, because no matter what you look like, you’re hidden in a suit. So if you don’t like your height, weight, nose, or anything else; that’s okay because all anyone sees is a sexy fox or a cute raccoon.
Plus, many furries don’t exchange real names, instead staying in character as their animal. So it’s also anonymous sex, which many people find exciting. You don’t know if the person you are having sex with is young or old, or what they look like. I think glory holes appeal to the same sort of call of the mysterious.
Obviously the most prominent role play in the kink community is the power exchange between a dominant party and a submissive party. This is the underlying role play that we all do in our relationships, and what makes sex more fun for us than when it is just vanilla.
Sure, sometimes we role play the kidnapper and the hostage. Some folks enjoy rape play. Some enjoy race play. And there is an underlying power dynamic that is generally involved in these types of role play.
However, at the end of the day, we all role play master and servant, or dom and sub, or mistress and pet. That is really the very essence of what the kink community is all about.