Have you ever played an RPG (Role Playing Game), whether on a gaming console or tabletop, and think… “Boy, I wish I could live in this game world!”…? Yeah, pretty much the inspiration of any LitRPG / Gamelit author out there.
If you’ve read or watched Ready Player One, you’re in the ballpark of what the genre entails, but it goes much deeper than that. Sword Art Online is another popular example, yet it doesn’t fully encapsulate the LitRPG experience.
So in this article, I want to give a general concept of what LitRPG and Gamelit are for my readers. It won’t be exhaustive, by any means. But it’ll help you understand the genre my novel, Path of Relics, falls into.
A Little History
The concept of LitRPG isn’t new. Stories like Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992) and Otherland by Tad Williams (1996) were early novels exploring ideas of cyberspace, the metaverse, and visiting other worlds via virtual reality.
Earlier examples exist, but in the 2000s, when stories like Connor Kostick’s Epic and Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online arrived, the genre took shape and joined the mainstream awareness. Russian authors progressed the genre, introducing a more “crunchy” narrative which focused on the RPG statistics of the characters.
So What IS LitRPG and Gamelit, Exactly?
The term stands for “literary role playing game.” I’ll get into the various types below, but in its simplest form, a LitRPG story involves a character being in a game or a game-like world.
But just as important, this game world also features visible elements of an RPG, so things like health bars, statistics (strength, constitution, wisdom, etc.), and numbers representing those statistics. Also, the characters are aware of these game elements and the game-like nature of the world, and they strive to progress in relation to them.
This visual and tracked progression of stats, levels, and character / avatar growth in the game-like system is what most avid LitRPG readers crave. A “crunchy” or “heavy” LitRPG story features more of these statistics thrust into the narrative. A “creamy” or “light” LitRPG has less.
Many consider Gamelit a broader genre than LitRPG, with LitRPG falling under its umbrella. In Gamelit, the characters are in a game or a game is a major part of the story; however, these tales don’t feature the avatar’s progression. Stats aren’t mentioned, if they exist at all.
Ready Player One is a great example of Gamelit, since the leveling of the character plays a minor role in the story. Jumanji is another.
But how broad does it go? Should we consider 1987’s Running Man starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Gamelit? I don’t know… but man, I loved that crazy ass movie! The guy with the lightning? I mean, come on!
By the way, if this sounds like a type of storytelling you’d be interested in, check out my post on some Gamelit and LitRPG stories to read.
Types of LitRPG
As the genre matures, more niches join the fray. Here’s some of the broader and more popular styles and tropes:
- Apocalyptic – A very popular genre where suddenly, the Earth says… “Okay, I’m done.” Then, humanity has a game-like system thrust upon them and good luck surviving. Lots of variations on this, from advanced aliens destroying the planet to gods to unknown physics.
- Virtual Reality – Often a VRMMORPG (VR Massively Multi-player Online RPG), where the characters play in the game, and often get stuck there with the possibility of dying. Several of these stories feature the game as a way to improve the character’s life financially, or torture them in some way. Sometimes, the virtual world is an afterlife for the characters.
- Portal – Something plucks the character from everyday life and deposits them on another world or some other plane of existence. The mechanism for this varies greatly, sometimes being an actual portal, other times a mischievous god.
- Dungeon Core – Lots of dungeon crawling, of course. But also stories featuring a sentient dungeon, where it tries to thwart those meddlesome adventurers plotting to steal its plunder.
- Harem – Um… haha. To put it as PG as I can, these stories are often about a male protagonist who gains a large following of female companions (think groupies) to accompany him through his adventures. That’s an oversimplification, and I’ll admit I haven’t read much of this (other than SAO, lol). But it is incredibly popular, so, who am I to judge?
- Building – Focuses more on the characters developing a town or dungeon or military base.
- Crafting – Features the creation of weapons and magical skills, as well as upgrading these items through relics found or crafted in the world.
What Kind of Story is Path of Relics?
Path of Relics is a LitRPG (Lite) fantasy VR story. But it also shares elements of the Portal genre, since the game world becomes a fleshed-out “other world” for the characters. This mix of fun science fiction and fantasy elements is why I was excited to write Path of Relics.
When my characters’ avatars die in the game, their physical bodies are fine. However, life and death stakes in the real world still play a major role in the plot. And while stats and leveling are important to my story, they aren’t as prominent as other, more “crunchy” tales.
Excitement, Escapism, and Empowerment
The Gamelit and LitRPG genres are often action-packed. They take us on life or death journeys in fantastical worlds, where swordplay and magical duels (or phaser-pistol duels) are the norm. In fact, this aspect of indulging our fantasies to escape everyday life is part of their appeal.
But most of all, these genres are about living in the skin of characters who, while they may start weak and neglected like we often feel, they grow to become respected, confident, and incredibly skilled.
That’s an alluring combination, and I can see why LitRPG and Gamelit become more popular year by year.
Image by Stefan Keller