Do you love reading (or listening to) LitRPG books? You’ve come to the right place. Before we get to our lists of GameLit and LitRPG novels, here’s our definition of LitRPG.
What is LitRPG?
LitRPG is one of those terms you see if you poke around in online literary circles often enough. As a genre, it’s not quite big enough to receive space on average bookshelves but it’s certainly large enough to inspire a whole host of authors. Understanding a bit about LitRPG’s origins and structure can go a long way towards explaining what the genre is all about. While there are relatively few definitions of LitRPG that can be agreed upon by fans, there are enough bits of scaffolding out there that we can construct a fairly simple guide to explain the genre to new readers.
The Background of LitRPG is murky at best. Novels that fit within the LitRPG mold have been around since at least the early 1990s, but there are a fair number of works that could be considered LitRPG that go back to at least the 1970s. The actual term comes from Russian’ publisher EKSMO, which began publishing an initiative with the LitRPG name around 2012. That gives fans a date at which the name came into existence, even if it’s impossible to determine exactly when works in the genre began being produced. More difficult than describing the beginning, though, is a description of the genre itself.
Definition of LitRPG
While there is not necessarily a universal definition for LitRPG floating around right now, most fans can agree on a few things. The simplest, of course, is that anything in the LitRPG genre is fiction. It has to be fiction because all LitRPG has to take place in a fictional world. That’s at the core of the premise – you’ll never get a true LitRPG story in which the character spends his or her days in a world exactly like our own.
This isn’t to say that the protagonist can’t be from something like our real world – it’s just to say that he or she won’t be spending most of his or her time there. Another necessary part of LitRPG is that the main character must find himself or herself trapped in a fantasy world. In the vast majority of LitRPG, that world has to be the world of a game. It’s usually a video game, but the genre can easily be stretched to accommodate settings like tabletop games or even board games.
This isn’t just a genre about the character in a game-based world, though. The character absolutely needs to be aware that he or she is in a game. That’s why a game set in the Dungeons and Dragons world, for example, isn’t LitRPG even though it follows many of the other tropes – those are characters native to that universe and thus they don’t experience the same kind of progression as the protagonist of the LitRPG universe. There has to be some kind of consciousness that the main character is aware of the various systems at play in the world and that he or she understands that the progress being made is all in service of the game itself.
Progress is another key feature of the genre. The main character is always growing in power, in some way, shape, or form. In some cases, the character might literally see his or her stats grow as if he or she was looking at a character sheet. In other cases, the progress might be towards the completion of a certain quest, gaining specific artifacts, or even literally moving spaces forward on a game board. The character must grow in power or experience throughout the story, even if that growth isn’t something that’s typically measured by numbers. It’s largely where the ‘RPG’ part of ‘LitRPG’ comes from.
Beyond those basic form constraints, though, anything goes. How the character gest to the game world doesn’t matter, nor does it really matter what he or she does there. It’s the framework that really matters to this genre, not anything else. That’s incredibly useful for those who want to tell stories within the genre, but it’s very difficult for those who are trying to assemble anything close to a canon of LitRPG. There’s an incredibly wide range of media that can fall under that umbrella, and any attempt to catalog all of it is an exercise in madness. Too much of what lies in other genres easily fit here.
Beyond LitRPG Books – GameLit and More
In fact, one thing that’s for sure about LitRPG is that a work doesn’t have to declare itself as such to fit into the genre. It’s not like science fiction or fantasy – this is a loose collection of ideas more than it is anything else. As such, you’ll seem many works that are otherwise classed as fantasy, sci-fi, or even magical realism showing up under the LitRPG banner. It’s even entirely possible to make a LitRPG work without ever intended to do so. If it falls within the confines of the rules above, it’s usually considered by at least a few people to be part of the overall genre.
There are actually plenty of famous works that can at least arguably fall under the banner of LitRPG. Fairly well known is Ready Player One, which absolutely features a character going into a game world and progressing through it via the game’s rules and structures. Likewise, Sword Art Online is a fairly clear-cut example of the restrictions of LitRPG. If you really want to open up the definition, you can even look at movies like both the original Jumanji and the recent sequel to see how the LitRPG genre can be portrayed on screen.
So, what is LitRPG? It’s a sub-genre of fiction that features a protagonist from one world being transported in some way to the world of a game, and in the process he or she experiences some kind of progress while realizing that he or she is playing with or against a great game system. It’s not something that’s restricted to any one form of media and it’s very rare that a book or movie is only advertised as being LitRPG. It’s a genre that’s growing by leaps and bounds, and one that’s a lot of fun to participate in if you love a good story.
Types of LitRPG Novels
- Hard / Crunchy LitRPG – Lots of stats, numbers, and “crunchy” game elements.
- Soft / Creamy LitRPG – Light on stats and numbers, but very much LitRPG.
- Fantasy LitRPG List – Elves, Orcs, Goblins, and Slimes, oh My!