Hi GreatLitRPG readers!
LitRPG author, Edwin McRae here. I’m based in New Zealand and the NZ Book Council recently interviewed me about LitRPG. Our beloved genre is still relatively unknown in Australasia so it was a cool opportunity to raise LitRPG’s profile ‘Down Under’.
Here are a few highlights from the interview that focus on why LitRPG is thriving as a feisty toddler kicking at the ankles of the grownup science-fiction sub-genres.
How does LitRPG complement or expand the scope of traditional RPG?
The genre is still young and in a process of finding itself, but there are a few books that are already venturing beyond the simple definition of “gamer plays RPG”. Books like Carrie Summers’ Temple of Sorrow and Matthew Seige’s One in the Gut are starting to question the gamer’s relationship with RPGs and virtual reality, exploring why people immerse themselves in video games, and the impact hard-core gaming has on their lives. Carrie Summers also looks at artificial intelligence, depicting NPCs that are code and graphics underneath but think, feel and act like real people on the surface.
I’m excited by the potential of LitRPG as a medium for dissecting our fascination with games and virtual worlds. Through our gamer and NPC characters, we can explore the relationships between real lives and virtual lives, and gain a better understanding of our own psychology around the human-technology interface. Why do we want to lose ourselves in digital fantasies? How are we motivated by quests and level-ups? What is it about virtual relationships that are so satisfying (or not)? By trying to answer these and many other questions through LitRPG, we can strive to understand the actions and motivations of the hundreds of millions of people who now call themselves “gamer”.
Why would a reader pick up a LitRPG novel (where the adventure has been decided upon by the author) rather than a ‘Pick a Path’ adventure book?
Interestingly, I’m not seeing a lot of crossover between readers of gamebooks and LitRPG readers. Gamebook readers enjoy the mental challenge of decision-making and seem to want agency in the story they’re experiencing. LitRPG readers seem to enjoy the vicarious delights of seeing someone else meet and conquer the challenges. They enjoy seeing battle plans drawn up, reading about the player’s cunning use of skills and spells to defeat a formidable monster. They especially appreciate watching a protagonist level up and build up the power of their character.
But for me, and I think this is the case for many LitRPG readers, it comes down to time and effort. As a father with a demanding career, I simply don’t have the headspace or energy to play as many RPGs as I used to. Games are challenging and time-consuming. They require concentration and stamina that I simply don’t have at the end of the day. By contrast, a good LitRPG novel gives me all the pleasure of a game world, interesting quests, character progression, combat and loot drops, without the grind of having to play the game myself.
When done well, the vicarious experience of a LitRPG like Dungeon Lord can be just as satisfying as the hands-on experience of an RPG like Witcher 3.
You mentioned that LitRPG is on the cusp of being a best-selling and popular genre. How is that being manifested at the moment?
Up until recently, LitRPG has been created by independent authors like myself and Rachel Rees. Together we form Fiction Engine, our little indie publishing outfit. LitRPG just isn’t on the radar for traditional publishers, but independent LitRPG authors have been doing extremely well over the last couple of years. Here’s an example.
Debut LitRPG writer, Xander Boyce.
Kindle Rank as at the 7th of October 2018 = #301
That equates to 331 book sales per day according to the Kindlepreneur Calculator. At a per book price of $5.69, Xander is earning $1883.39 per day from Kindle sales. Once we take away the 70% commission from Amazon of $565.01, Xander is left with a take-home gross income of $1318.37 per day.
Xander isn’t some rogue one-hit-wonder. These sort of numbers have become increasingly common among LitRPG titles. There’s a hungry and highly vocal readership out there, and considering the hundreds of millions of people who have played and loved RPGs like Skyrim, Witcher 3 and World of Warcraft, I’m confident the genre will only continue to grow.
Would you say that this genre is largely being read and written by males? Why is that, and do you think it could entice non-readers to pick up a book?
Rachel and I have been researching the LitRPG community through Amazon, Facebook groups, Goodreads and Reddit. So far we’ve found that the vast majority of LitRPG writers are male, and males also form the bulk of the readership. There are notable exceptions, such as Carrie Summers who is a female LitRPG author whose series features a strong, female protagonist. But LitRPG seems to follow the same gender demographics as the RPGs they have been inspired by.
When I wrote for Path of Exile, an action-RPG created here in NZ, the player base of 20 million was 90% male. Other dark, grind-focused RPGs such as Diablo 3 and Grim Dawn would likely show similar numbers. Other RPG brands like Witcher and Dragon Age have been more popular with female gamers, but those player bases still have a strong male bias. In fact, most sources I’ve seen show a roughly 60/40 split between male and female players of MMORPGs. So just as the RPG world is male dominated, so is the LitRPG world.
And why would a gamer guy who doesn’t read much pick up a LitRPG? Once you dodge around the obvious but dubious appeal of the harem LitRPG titles that plague the genre, there are three main reasons that I can think of for picking up a LitRPG novel.
Plot over Description
LitRPGs tend to be written as page-turners. They use accessible language rather than ‘fancy prose’. They’re high in action, focusing on combat and legendary executions of physical, magical and technological prowess. They seldom dwell on long descriptions of characters, environments and inner thoughts unless it’s about the planning of a character build, the abilities of an epic weapon or the intricacies of battle tactics.
Just as RPGs are about building up a powerful character, LitRPGs are often about protagonists who lack personal power in their real lives but who gain in confidence and agency in their virtual lives. A great example is Dungeon Lord by Hugo Huesca. A young man works at a job he hates and is bullied by his boss. But he’s an awesome gamer and is offered the chance by a dark god to become a Dungeon Lord in a full-immersion RPG. It’s real “zero to hero” stuff, something I think we guys are hard-wired to enjoy.
RPGs have gotten extremely good at motivating players through quest goals, level-ups, combat achievements and loot drops. LitRPGs have all of these elements, and the result is very similar. You experience the same dopamine-fuelled enjoyment when you read about an epic quest line as you do actually playing an epic quest line. You feel that same thrill when the main character scores a kickass sword or slays some tentacle monstrosity from the netherworlds. As a gamer guy, if you’ve ever enjoyed watching a playthrough of an RPG, you’ll enjoy reading a LitRPG.
Any particular LitRPG titles or authors to look out for?
Warlock: Reign of Blood from Fiction Engine, of course! ;-P
I’ve mentioned a number of awesome LitRPG books already, but this last one was the most enjoyable for me. Restart by Dan Sugralinov. Instead of being transported into an RPG, the protag ends up with an RPG interface inside his head. He’s a Russian gamer and his real life is falling apart. Via his RPG UI, he takes on real world quests (Get a Job), levels up his actual abilities (Persuasion) and gains experience points and level ups that he can use to improve himself (+1 Perception). He gets fit, founds a successful career, builds a community of friends and allies, and even finds love. And it all plays out as an RPG.
Edwin has been a game writer for 8 years. He started as Lead Writer on Path of Exile and has since worked with numerous Indie game developers, turning their ideas into stories that players can experience and enjoy.