You've had everything on the menu, and from here on out it's just the same burgers until the end of time. And so you wind up leaving the restaurant and eating at a fast food place, and then you wind up in divorce court.
You are not married to your roleplaying characters. But you're still in a situation where you're inside of this character's head at all times, and eventually you don't even need to guess what happens next. So just like a marriage, you need to keep things fresh even when you know your character inside and out. Which is trickier than it might sound, but still eminently doable. And it might even be that as long as I'm making the marriage analogy, some of the same advice applies.
Spend time apart
This is the first piece of marriage advice you get anywhere for a stable long-term relationship. It's also the piece of advice that one partner always detests, because they don't want to spend time apart. They love their mate and want to spend all their time together. Not everyone needs to be apart.
You can also recognize this couple because they will be stuck in an acrimonious divorce in about seven months. So there's that.
See, spending some time apart is good for both people because it reduces the soul-crushing familiarity of seeing the same person every day of your life. No matter how much you like one another, you have certain hobbies and interests that aren't shared and a need for human interaction outside of one another. And quite frankly, no matter how awesome your favorite roleplaying character may be, there are times when his or her traits can get pretty grating. If you play someone with a deceptive streak and a penchant for wordplay, it's nice to occasionally log in and be able to just say what you mean.
Alts are a great way to accomplish this. Failing that, it helps to play different characters in your games of choice at any given moment rather than just having different versions of an old favorite. If all else fails, you can take the occasional evening off to just play a single-player title with a different character (assuming roleplaying is even a concern there, as there are a limited number of personalization options in most Mario games).
Force yourself to notice
How many times have you thought about your mouse over the past half hour? I'm going to guess few or none. It's a mouse. It performs a function. There's nothing new or wonderful about it.
But now I want you to notice it. Pick it up, turn it over in your hand, examine it. Maybe you remember when optical mice were new and exciting instead of the standard that now exists. Maybe you've just never noticed the places where buttons and case have been worn smooth from use. Stop and think about your mouse a little bit.
You probably like it a little more after really looking at it. You had a reason for choosing that mouse over the other ones, after all. The same is true for anything in your life -- you occasionally need to step back and force yourself to notice something familiar, because it's hard to notice what becomes functionally a background element of your life. The same is true of your spouse (you live with the same person for years and you're going to overlook certain things) and your favorite roleplaying characters.
Character history is one of those things we tend to internalize, but try taking a step back and really thinking about your character's history. Some cool things have probably happened to your character during RP, and you probably have some character traits you still think are really neat. Instead of looking from the inside out, trying looking in from the outside for a little bit. You might find that your character feels fresh all over again just from that look alone.
Try some spontaneous kindness
Look, part of the problem of a marriage not feeling fresh comes down to you. Sure, your spouse always does the same things, but so do you. And that wasn't the case when you started seeing one another, because you hadn't yet had time to sink into a routine that you maintain with a fierce unconscious devotion. Everything was still novel.
The good news is that if part of the problem is routine, you can do something specific to throw off that routine. Do something spontaneously nice for no reason whatsoever that's entirely out of the norm. If you never cook, make dinner. If you're not the one who does the laundry, take it over for a day. Or just stop off on the way home from work and buy your spouse a present. Not to make up for something or to apologize or any of that, just for the joy of being kind to someone you care about.
I am the first person to advocate making your characters' lives worse and worse over time, but you can always make them better on occasion. Especially if your favorite character feels stagnant or boring. Have a windfall that comes out as an unambiguous win. Let her finally fix her money troubles, let him have a happy relationship for a while, whatever. Heck, it makes the next awful event carry that much more impact.
Feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I say it every week and you're probably used to it by now. Next week I'm going to talk about being a part of the groups presented by in-game lore, and the week after that I want to talk about fears.
Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did. If you need a refresher, check out the Storyboard Library.