When we start to play D&D and other roleplaying games, you focus in on the rules and try to figure out how to play. It can be stressful, confusing, and a little overwhelming. (Side note: We're happy to help you with that!) All true things. Once you get past those feelings and start to settle in, you will find that there are different ways of playing, and ultimately the only wrong way to play is to ruin other people's and your own fun. This is why finding a table that matches your play style is important.
People have a range of silly to serious in their games.
You have fantasy, sci-fi, western and more. Monster hunting, political intrigue, mystery, horror, grimdark, light and fluffy content, parodies and loads of puns. (I tend to like a mix of stuff, really enjoy the grimdark horror and serious story lines, with the jokes and gags thrown in by the chaos of players.)
One way people play is to treat it like an MMO or video game. This is usually the case for those coming from a video game background. You build your character, you go on quests, gain loot, level up and get more powerful. You talk to the NPCs as two dimentional quest-givers, or shop keepers, etc. You do dungeon crawls and clear out ancient temples, caves, or literal dungeons. You fight big monsters. You may or may not have much of a back story? It doesn't matter very much. You're there to work your way through these quests and have a good time with your mates.
And that's a totally legitamate way to play the game. For my part, that's not how I, nor most of the people I game with, play.
I create characters and get to know them through game-play. I write backstory and figure out why they act the way they do. I find their motivations and play to those during the game. I also seek out and make intentional choices to become interested in the other player characters. I actively build relationships with the other characters, affording a bond between mine and theirs. In this way, I celebrate their character growth and even participate in it, and vice versa. Yes, there is still the quest hunting, monster slaying, and loot collecting side of the game. But I'm also protecting my found-family from those monsters; pursuing quests that may not directly relate to my character (but does to the other party members); and we're sharing the loot as a good crew does.
I have sat in games where the GM has sat back and just watched us players roleplay with eachother, playing out intense emotional scenes. I've watch other (player) characters pour their hearts out to each other after character deaths and intense battles, not feeling the slightest bit bored as I sat entranced by their story. I've had my moments with these things in several games (D&D 5e, Scum and Villainy, The Darkest House, and others). This is and can be made available in any roleplaying game if the players are willing.
And it's not all tears and drama. There are a fair share of shinanigans, as with roleplaying games you are really only limited by your imagination.
I would like to cultivate that kind of space for my players, but unfortunately haven't yet managed it. I've ran several one-shots, but this kind of depth and character developement requires a longer-form game. I've managed 3 campaigns, and only one to completion. They've all been published 5e campaigns. The first one, I was a brand new D&D player, as was everyone else, and we were gaining our footing. The second ended due to life changes. And that final one technically isn't done yet. We reached the finale of Waterdeep Dragon Heist, but there are some loose threads...
BUT with these loose threads, I will be doing my best to create the space I had mentioned. Starting on Sunday, Sam Carey and I will be streaming on Twitch a series called "Behind the GM Screen." We will be building a campaign for my players where we will take from backstories, weave them in with the over-arching plot, and fully absorb the PCs into the world. I am moving from the published materials to our own original story. We have been working and brainstorming ideas, and we would love for you to come watch us build out this campaign. Starting Sunday, the 26th, 10am BST, and then continuing fortnightly.