What is LitRPG?

Written by B.F. Rockriver

Audiobook cover final 01.png

LitRPG is a literary sub-genre of fantasy that focuses on stories with game-like settings and leveling systems. But it is so much more than that. There are layers, like an onion. So, let's start peeling...

The genres of LitRPG, Gamelit, and Progression Fantasy are growing rapidly. They are also interconnected. Every day new authors and hundreds of new readers find their way into the genres that we love. As they expand we get a lot of questions asking us to define these genres and sub-genres. While a lot of people have provided their own answers to this, we want to add our voice to the conversation.

What is LitRPG? What is Gamelit? What's the difference?

LitRPG Basics: LitRPG's are books about games, or game-like worlds, with characters who interact with them. They have levels, statistics, or some other system for improvement. This usually takes place with traditional MMORPG mechanics.

 

According to Wikipedia... "LitRPG, short for Literary Role Playing Game, is a literary genre combining the conventions of computer RPGs with science-fiction and fantasy novels. The term is a neologism introduced in 2013. The proponents of the term state that in LitRPG, games or game-like challenges form an essential part of the story, and visible RPG statistics (for example strength, intelligence, damage) are a significant part of the reading experience. This distinguishes the genre from novels that tie in with a game, e.g. those set in the world of Dungeons and Dragons, or books that are actual games, such as the choose-your-own-path Fighting Fantasy type of publication. Typically, the main character in a LitRPG novel is consciously interacting with the game or game-like world and attempting to progress within it."

While this article does a fantastic job of explaining the very basic premise of LitRPG, as well as some of the history, it does leave out quite a lot of information. For instance, there is a difference between a book written about characters playing a game and a book written about the game itself, how players interact with it, and the many stories that may be taking place within it. 


Example: Sports Novels. They are about games, sports, or their players. Often times they show a character's progression through standardized measurements. The main character may start out barely able to run a twenty-minute mile, or throw a ten-yard pass. By the end of the novel they may have improved significanlty. It may been written in some easy to understand way, such as a faster lap time or longer throw. This is the basic premise to LitRPG, except with video games. However, sports novels are not LitRPG or Gamelit. Why? The simple answer is intention. Everything is about what the author is trying to convey and how it is framed.

Intention matters more than how they are written these genre. LitRPG and Gamelit authors take a specific audience into account. This audience is and the subject matter of games themselves are the most important facters in these genres. A book written about characters inside of a sports video game is not the same as one written about a professional chess player or athlete. LitRPG and Gamelit are about people interacting with a game or a game-like world in a way that has a direct impact on the story and characters themselves.

 

Think of it this way. Writing LitRPG is like an author creating a new sport then the players to play it. Simply put the game, and more importantly, the system that makes it up is as essential as any character in the story. It is one of the main characters. This is not to say that there cannot be a LitRPG novel involving sports. I would love to see a Gamelit or LitRPG novel about some future form of virtual sports.

Okay, so LitRPG and Gamelit are about the games themselves, as well as the characters who interact with them. But, what's the difference between the two?

 

This is where things get a little weird. The simple answer would be to say that there isn't any major difference and move on. However, that wouldn't tell the whole story and it would make a lot of people upset...

The most basic and widly accepted answer is this: LitRPG is a subgenre of Gamelit. In  this way, they it is similar to how Sci-Fi and Fantasy are subgenres of fiction. Under this opinion, LitRPG is simply the more number heavy version of Gamelit. It contains character sheets, ability scores, and level-ups. These are all presented directly to the reader. If listed as an Amazon category it would look something like the list below.

  • Gamelit​

    • Dungeon Core

    • LitRPG

    • Etc.

    • Etc.


While this is how a large majority of websites answer this question it is not definitive, or accepted by major retailers, publishers, or even all LitRPG / Gamelit authors. The long answer changes depending on who you ask. It also gets into copyright/trademark law and drama. I will not get into this because, well, I don't really care to. I'm just an author trying to write good books.

 

In my opinion, it doesn't really matter what the genre is called. Why? Because of how genres are created. Modern literary genres are generated by large publishers and retailers like Amazon. They tend to dictate how things are labeled, not fans or indie authors. There is also an emerging genre called Progression Fantasy that is quickly gaining steam. It's also backed by authors with connections to said publishers and retailers. So, it might be out of our hands entirely anyway. To me it's more about what the fans want and what they call it.

8.6.20.005.png
What is Progression Fantasy? and what does it have to do with LitRPG and Gamelit?

Progression Fantasy is a sub-genre of Fantasy made popular by authors Will Wight, Andrew Rowe, and a handful of other authors. As stated by Rowe, "Progression Fantasy is a fantasy subgenre term for the purpose of describing a category of fiction that focuses on characters increasing in power and skill over time."

Sound familiar? It is in no way a new idea (Dragon Ball...), but in my opinion, it is the perfect umbrella term for all things LitRPG, Gamelit, Isekai, Wuxia, and Cultivation related.

Essentially, progression fantasy is any story where the main character grows in power through a set system. This system can be power levels, character levels, ability scores, spell power, or any other form of quantifiable statistic. It can be set in a game, another world, or even another universe. It doesn't matter, there are no barriers to entry other than - Do the characters grow in power via a set of hard statistics? It's simple. It's easy to understand. I love it. Using this term there are no complicated explanations for how that progression happens, story setting, how many stats are shown, or what type of person the main character is. It can also be split into subgenres. My personal opinion is that Progression Fantasy would be split into a few main categories, then possibly split yet again if necessary. Something like one of these two listings.

If the LitRPG Trademark is dropped. I think the major players will adopt LitRPG because of its broad usage and popularity. In this case, Gamelit might not be used at all.

  • Progression Fantasy

    • Gamelit or LitRPG​ (Depending on how things play out)

      • Dungeon Core

      • LitRPG (If Gamelit is used as a genre tag and LitRPG is adopted as a subgenre.)

      • Etc.

      • Etc.

    • Cultivation

      • Western Cultivation​

      • Wuxia

      • Xianxia

      • Etc.

​​​

If the LitRPG trademark isn't dropped, major retailers and publishers will most likely go with the more catchy, but less widely used Gamelit. LitRPG most likely won't even be listed out of fear of a potential lawsuit. In this case it would look like this.

  • Progression Fantasy

    • Gamelit

      • Dungeon Core

      • Etc.

      • Etc.

      • Etc.

    • Cultivation

      • Western Cultivation​

      • Wuxia

      • Xianxia

      • Etc.

Personally, I feel like the gamelit subgenre has a better name but is not necessary. I also feel that it would be unwise to use a term with a trademark attatched as an official genre. So while the term LitRPG feels like home, I would probably side with Gamelit being the catch all term in the long run falling under Progression Fantasy as the parent genre. However, these are just my ideas and explinations. They are in no way law. This decision isn't really up to us indie authors. It's up to major retailers and large publishers. I just like to write and read whatever it's called. Gamelit, LitRPG, Progression fantasy, I love it all and plan to write in these genres for years to come. Whatever you decide to believe, I hope you continue to love LitRPG, Gamelit, and Progression fantasy novels. I'll be here waiting to hear what you think about my latest book.

Thank you for reading!