Our favorite genre of fiction is one that is relatively new and comes with a murky past. Let’s dispel the mystery and dig into what LitRPG actually is, according to the community and the genre’s various founders.


LitRPG Definition

LitRPG or Literary Role Playing Games is a sub-genre of fiction where characters enter into or play, a role-playing game. LitRPG has the flexibility to encompass other sub-genres depending on the world a character exists in or enters into. This includes but is not limited to: Fables, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, and Mystery.

Often times, characters in a LitRPG story have their consciousness uploaded into a game, or they enter into a game, through fully immersive virtual reality systems. In this game, the characters usually have the ability to level up, complete quests, and gain rare items.


Main Elements of LitRPG

Many forums and groups in the community have discussed what makes a book LitRPG and what doesn’t. Indeed, many new authors want to understand this as they attempt to break into the explosive market of LitRPG.

To understand LitRPG there are three main elements you need to look into;

  • The main world
  • The game world
  • The connection between the two

The main world in a LitRPG book is not limited to today’s landscape. It can take the form of the past, the future, or something else entirely,

The game world usually follows the conventional definition of a role-playing game -“a game in which players assume the roles of fantasy characters”. This point has incited debate about whether or not other games like shooters can be included in LitRPG. More on this later. 

The connection between the main world and the game can also take on a variety of formats based on the story. Most successful authors like Ernest Cline of Ready Player One and Charles Stross of Halting State focus on this element of LitRPG. However, a vast majority of LitRPG authors choose to limit the interaction between the main world and the game. Settling on a story that mostly exists in the game world. Some even completely kill off the real world in an apocalyptic event. This method is often easiest for authors and still admittedly fun for the readers. It allows readers to suspend their disbelief and get immersed in a game world without the story being classified as strictly fantasy.

Some LitRPG authors ignore the game/real world entirely and create a world where game mechanics exist naturally.


GameLit or LitRPG?

Gamelit’s original intention was to cover all LitRPG type books that didn’t actually fall into the LitRPG genre. However, as LitRPG became more popular and it’s definition more solidified by the community, Gamelit has begun to be viewed by the community as a synonym for LitRPG.

Shooters and other games that are not classified as an RPG can and do exist in a LitRPG stories. For the purpose of this example, we will use a shooter as a stand-in for all games that do not usually fit the definition of a role-playing game.

  • The MC enters into or plays a shooter. Effectively role-playing as that character.
  • The MC’s main world or game is a shooter and he progresses over time and gets stronger.

In summary, the third element of LitRPG (the interplay between the main world and the game) often allows for classically non-RPG games to take on RPG elements. If it doesn’t, a common trope of LitRPG is used: character progression.

To understand the differences in these two terms we must dig into common themes and tropes of LitRPG, more below.

UPDATE! The above information regarding Gamelit may be inaccurate. Here is the full history and purpose of Gamelit by one of the authors that coined the term!

LitRPG History

LitRPG is believed to have been around for almost 3 decades, but the genre wasn’t actually named until around 2013. That year, Russia’ largest publishing house (EKSMO) began their infamous campaign that coined the term LitRPG. Here is a timeline of notable events.

1980-2007 – Various LitRPG books are published without the actual term, including the 1/2 Prince.

2007 – The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor was published in Korea.

2010 – The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor is translated to Russian, starting a surge of interest in the unnamed genre.

2011 – Ready Player One, an American novel, was published.

2013 – Spurred on by the popularity of The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor and of this unnamed genre; Russian publisher EKSMO, and authors Vasily Mahanenko, Dmitry Malkin, and Alex Bobl coin the term LitRPG.

2014 –  Moonlight Sculptor surpasses 1 million copies sold and 3 million cumulative readers.

2015 – Magic Dome Books begins translating best-selling Russian LitRPG books to English.

2015 – A movie based off Ready Player One and directed by Steven Spielberg is announced.

2017 – More than 2,200 LitRPG books are available through Amazon.com.


Common Tropes & Themes of LitRPG

Below are the common tropes of LitRPG and what the community enjoys in the genre. These LitRPG tropes often separate the genre from GameLit.

  1. An interface or system messages that inform characters of interactions with the game world. I.E; “experience gained”, “level up”, “weapon acquired”, “you cannot open that treasure chest because your lockpicking skill is too low”, etc.
  2. Clearly defined rules in the game world.
  3. The presence of non-player characters (NPCs) and their interesting interactions with real-world characters.