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What is LitRPG?2021 Update

Written by B.F. Rockriver
What is LitRPG - Altered Realms Ascension Audiobook

LitRPG is a literary sub-genre of sci-fi & 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 significantly. 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's framed.

Intention matters more than how they are written. LitRPG and Gamelit authors take a specific audience into account. This audience and the subject matter of games themselves are the most important factors 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 video-game, table top 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. This isn't to say that there can't be a LitRPG novel involving sports. I would love to see a Gamelit or LitRPG novel about some future form of virtual sports. In LitRPG the game is one of the main characters.

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?


That's 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.


Updated: 05/27/2021

The most basic and widely accepted used to be this: LitRPG is a subgenre of Gamelit. In  this way, it's similar to how Sci-Fi and Fantasy are subgenres of fiction. Under this opinion, LitRPG is simply the more numbers heavy version of Gamelit. It contains character sheets, ability scores, and a lot of leveling up, 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 used to answer this question I feel it's no longer the case. It's also not definitive, or accepted by major retailers / publishers. Heck, the author community hasn't even agreed to this. The reality is that  the long answer changes depending on who you ask. It also gets into copyright & trademark law.


I won't get into this. I don't really care to. I'm just an author trying to write good books, and this type of drama has no place in the LitRPG Legends. We want to support authors, get great books into the hands of hungry readers, and keep you informed.

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, retailers like Amazon, and a little company called B.I.S.G. The Book Industry Study Group is largely responsible for what genres are recognized by the big retailers. Their database, the B.I.S.A.C, is essentially the definitive list of genres. They tend to dictate how things are labeled, not fans or indie authors. At least that's how it was, until Richard Hummel stepped in (more on this later).


To make matters even more unclear, there is an emerging genre called Progression Fantasy that is quickly gaining steam. This genre term is backed by #1 best selling authors with connections to said publishers and retailers.

What is LitRPG - Progression Fantasy - Gamelit Kobold Powering Up

What is Progression Fantasy? 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 others. 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... Power Levels...), but in my opinion, it is the perfect umbrella term for all things LitRPG, Gamelit, Most 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. In my opinion it would look something like this:

  • Progression Fantasy

    • Cultivation

      • Western Cultivation​

      • Wuxia

      • Xianxia

      • Etc.

    • LitRPG​ (Which has is now an official genre.)

      • Dungeon Core

      • Gamelit

      • Etc.​​​

However, something big happened in 2020. Something so big that it can change the road map of LitRPG, Gamelit, and Progression fantasy entirely.


Richard Hummel, an awesome author in the LitRPG space, petitioned the BISG to add LitRPG as an official category in the BISAC... And it worked.

As of February 1 of 2021, LitRPG has been recognized as an official literary genre.

What this means for LitRPG is significant. It will most likely be added to Amazons official list of genres. If this happens more retailers will follow, including Audible, Apple Books, and others. If / when this happens, publishers will be forced to recognize LitRPG for what it is. One of the fastest growing, and most profitable genres in literature.

What comes after that is anyone's guess. Personally, I think that it would be a great leap for the genre. One that would bring stability, recognition, and a lot more readers. Imagine seeing your favorite LitRPG on the front page of the New York Times as a best seller, on the big screen as a movie adaptation, or on Netflix as a series. That's the weight that large publishers & these elusive best sellers lists have and the first step has been taken. LitRPG is officially a thing, and not just a term used by the readers / authors.


But, this is the opinion of a lowly author. They are in no way law. For the most part, these decision aren't really up to us indies. Unless we push hard enough and complain alot. It's usually up to major retailers and large publishers. However this plays out, I'll keep writing and reading whatever it ends up being called. Gamelit, LitRPG, Progression fantasy, I love it all and plan to write in these genres for years to come. I just hope you continue to love LitRPG, Gamelit, and Progression Fantasy novels as much as I do. Because I'll be here, waiting to hear what you think about my latest book.

Thank You for Reading!

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If you want to find more amazing progression fantasy, LitRPG, and Gamelit books make sure to check out the LitRPG Legends web app.
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