Short answer? A little over 30 years ago when text based RP began on bulletin boards that were dialed into on old 800baud modems. I’m not entirely sure of the format myself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was makes action here or something similar.
Later with the advent of the web and instant messagers and chatrooms, they had the /me /em commands for emotes that would change the color. This continued into MMORPGs like Everquest and World of Warcraft where emoting would say something like ‘Nameofcharacter makes an action.’ and like earlier instant messagers and chatrooms it changed the color.
Eventually we did get premade animations in MMORPGs that required specific commands such as /sit, /dance, /cheer, ect. Other genres picked up on this so that players could express themselves in game in various ways and these also were called emotes.
Of course in the modern day we now have emoticons which is a combination of all text based smilies and emotes for text based mobile communications.
But emotes have been around for decades to show actions in RP. They probably existed in written format prior to the internet in written letters and the like even decades before what I’ve mentioned.Documentation of the word has it go as far back as 1915 as a means of showing emotion in a theatrical manner.
In regards to how Conan Exiles RP goes. That’s going to vary. From server to server, and individual to individual. I haven’t played without Pippi for nearly a year now, but I do remember the emote command in the base game being limited. It would broadcast to everyone on the server, not merely who is in the locality. Pippi fixes this.
But I’ve also seen people even with Pippi on a server, use the local chat for emotes, usually using the asterixes (*) like I showed before. Sometimes they show simple and to the point actions, and othertimes they put a god damned novel in the form of paragraphs. Others will use the R menu and show it.
But as to why people do things, you’d have to ask them. Personally I use the /emote channel in Pippi to express character actions that the R menu doesn’t cover or in conjunction. Its the way I’ve been doing RP for the last 20 years. And I usually keep it short and sweet so not to waste much time.