The answer here is supplied by none other than Gary friggin' Gygax. The 'heaven forfend!" makes me imagine him clutching a string of pearls, which amuses me to no end.
Q: I realize the term "roleplaying" was not used right at first, but when it was used, what did the term ROLE signify? Today most people consider role to mean you invent a fictional persona complete with emotions and feelings and then somehow try to faithfully become that person. I suspect that it was not nearly so pretentious way back in the day, that role simply meant you had a job to do (I'm the cleric!) or perhaps the psychological sense of role-play (what would you do if you were in this situation?) Was there a pretentious thespian elite right from the beginning?
A: Heaven forefend!
Back in the day all the participants realized it was nothing more than a game for diversion and amusement, did not pretend to thespianism or consider play an "art form."
These days some do give themselves airs in order to try to elevate their hobby activity into something grander in the eyes of others, perhaps even to fool themselves.
I must say that you absolutely nailed the sense of what the term role-playing was meant to mean--a role in the game and role assumption in regards to problem solving.
First Thoughts: White Boxes
10 minutes ago