What's a good definition of LitRPG?

Discussion in 'All Things LitRPG Discussion' started by Conor Kostick, May 17, 2017.

  1. Conor Kostick

    Conor Kostick Level 7 (Cutpurse) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Let's bounce this around and arrive at a really good definition shall we? One that can be quoted elsewhere e.g. on the Wikipedia page for LitRPG.

    At the moment they have this:

    LitRPG, short for Literature Role Playing Game, is a literary genre based on combining all the key components of MMORPGs with science-fiction fantasy novels.

    I would say:

    ... is a literary genre where MMORPGs form an essential part of the landscape. LitRPG novels can be considered a branch of Science-Fiction or Fantasy (or even other genres, like Westerns), depending on the type of MMORPG featured in the book, but they operate a narrative from a standpoint that exists outside the straight Science-Fiction or Fantasy story. The characters in a LitRPG novel are humans playing a game. So, while Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is a fantasy novel, a book about people creating avatars and interacting in a Lord of the Rings MMORPG would be a LitRPG novel. Typically, in a LitRPG novel the events in the MMORPG have significant consequences for the real world and often the resolution of the conflicts within the MMORPG are matters of life and death for the player.
     
  2. Jenny Haviland

    Jenny Haviland Level 5 (Veteran) Citizen

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    I like your definition, it takes away the argument about stats/levels etc. If you had a game with no levels and wrote about playing it, that would still be litrpg under your definition and I agree.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2017
  3. teh602

    teh602 Level 6 (Footpad) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    The one I tend to go with is one where the players and NPCs are in a game and are meta- aware. They talk about things in game terms freely, sometimes blatantly exploit glitches or engage meta behavior that "wouldn't fly" if it wasn't a game. Conning people into playing Gravity Chicken, for example.
     
  4. Conor Kostick

    Conor Kostick Level 7 (Cutpurse) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    That's what I think too: that the crucial issue is that the players are 'meta-aware'. Good term! So how about this:

    ... is a literary genre where MMORPGs form an essential part of the landscape. LitRPG novels can be considered a branch of Science-Fiction or Fantasy (or even other genres, like Westerns), depending on the type of MMORPG featured in the book, but they operate a narrative from a standpoint that exists outside the straight Science-Fiction or Fantasy story. The characters in a LitRPG novel understand that they are playing a game: they are 'meta-aware'. So, while Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is a fantasy novel, a book about people creating avatars and interacting in a Lord of the Rings MMORPG would be a LitRPG novel. Typically, in a LitRPG novel the events in the MMORPG have significant consequences for the real world and often the resolution of the conflicts within the MMORPG are matters of life and death for the player.
     
  5. Jake Bible

    Jake Bible Level 2 (Initiate) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Personally, and this just me because I hate constraints, I go for a broad definition. Basically, if the characters are forced/immersed/trapped in some type of gaming environment and must follow the rules of the game to survive/live/thrive. That's it. What type of game makes no difference. Saying only MMORPG automatically kills tabletop gaming or other game styles/formats, which has been part of the genre since before it became a genre. Just like any genre, Scifi/horror/fantasy, there are hundreds of iterations. Keep it broad and let the imaginations flow!
     
  6. Matthew Siege

    Matthew Siege Level 8 (Thug) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    I think (as with all new genres) the more narrow you are the more you are going to shoot yourself in the foot. I like all the stuff about the rules of the game being the central thrust of the narrative/arc, but saying it has to be an MMORPG doesn't make the definition robust enough to last the next few years. Would a MOBA based novel therefore not be litrpg? That's the sort of schism and splintering that will inhibit the growth of a genre, not encourage it. In my head, the definition swirls around a few things.

    1. The main characters (be they human, alien, bacterial, etc.) are engaged in a "game". That doesn't mean they have to be aware that they are. It only means that the "rules" of whatever game they currently inhabit are clear and consistent to the reader. It may or may not mean that they get experience points or see the hit points or names of other PCs. If it feels like a game, it's a game. If it doesn't, it ain't...

    2. The main characters are aware of or partake in an "otherness" in regards to their existence. Either only part of their "lives", as the reader experiences them, take place in the game AND/OR knowingly access a world outside of their own AND/OR (eventually), realize that they are in fact inside of a world that has clear, consistent rules the likes of which we know as a "game". I would absolutely say that TRON is litRPG, for instance (the novel, else it wouldn't qualify as "lit", of course).

    3. Personal Opinion: I feel like the RPG in litRPG is more about the READER taking the ROLE of the PLAYER and much, much less about the game they're in having to be an actual RPG of whatever flavor. If there's a novel about a guy who plays out the same endless combat scenario over and over, dying and being respawned in waves like COD or Battlefield, that's litRPG. If it isn't, we are going to have a real mess on our hands when every genre of game needs its own subgenre of fiction. :)

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. I don't mind disagreement, but I'd also be surprised if we found consensus. :)
     
  7. Conor Kostick

    Conor Kostick Level 7 (Cutpurse) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Hi Matthew, I think you are quite right to point out that 'MMORPG' is too restrictive and ten years from now, who knows how games and LitRPG will have evolved? So if we substitute 'game' for 'MMORPG' does that work. We certainly would want a definition wide enough to include TRON. So:

    ... is a literary genre where games form an essential part of the landscape. LitRPG novels can be considered a branch of Science-Fiction or Fantasy (or even other genres, like Westerns), depending on the type of game featured in the book, but they operate a narrative from a standpoint that exists outside the straight Science-Fiction or Fantasy story. The characters in a LitRPG novel understand that they are playing a game: they are 'meta-aware'. So, while Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is a fantasy novel, a book about people creating avatars and interacting in a Lord of the Rings MMORPG would be a LitRPG novel. Typically, in a LitRPG novel the events in the game have significant consequences for the real world and often the resolution of the conflicts within the game are matters of life and death for the player.
     
  8. Scargro

    Scargro Level 5 (Veteran) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    As a working author, I come at a genre from the perspective of "market research." That means I'm analyzing the genre for what is already popular. Right now, I'd agree that the most popular tropes with readers are: the protagonist is trapped inside a VMMORPG that is a high fantasy world.

    That is what is most popular right now and the tropes I personally plan to work with for my first series.

    But the bare bones of the concept seems to be that the protagonist is participating in a clearly defined game, and the reader is given consistent updates on the protagonist's interaction with the game. How the protagonist is positioned within the world, his awareness of the world, what kind of world, what kind of play style, etc, seem very open ended and that is what makes this genre so exciting.
     
  9. Jason

    Jason Level ∞ (Lord of Darkness) Roleplaying Shop Owner Citizen Beta Reader Aspiring Writer

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    Definition
    LitRPG: E-Mailing personalized love poems to your mistress but accidentally sending them to your wife. Right before she stabs you in the nethers, you "Explain" you were only joking...
     
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  10. Matthew Siege

    Matthew Siege Level 8 (Thug) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    I like where we are headed, but don't think we need the last sentence. I can't think of another genre's definition that includes rules about the gravity of the plot or the stakes of the conflict. There are already lighthearted litRPGs where player's aren't trapped and can easily step away from the game, and I don't think we should exclude them.

    And here's a question. Say there's a novel about a group of "cavemen" running a basic RPG that allows them to go over their roles for tomorrow's hunt. In their heads, they "play" their character and the village elder guides the "game". I'd have a hard time saying that, so long as the fiction made the rules clear and the plot was run with clear and concise rules that mirrored the "trapped world" stuff a lot of this is focusing on now, that wasn't litRPG. My point is that we can probably axe the "LitRPG novels can be considered a branch of Science-Fiction or Fantasy (or even other genres, like Westerns), depending on the type of game featured in the book" stuff. At the very end, it's a genre where the storyteller (AI or otherwise) runs the game and the characters participate. Bottom line... Not sure if it needs to be a branch of Sci-Fi or Fantasy (or Horror, for that matter.) If we need to define what genre it most often spawns from, I would say that we should credit Speculative Fiction, so that we don't have to make later allowances for some awesome wacko who makes a series based on something haven't thought of. :)
     
  11. Conor Kostick

    Conor Kostick Level 7 (Cutpurse) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Good stuff. I'll iterate again below. Meanwhile I saw these on another website:

    1) A LITRPG SHALL involve some type of expliticitly stated progression (ie leveling, report of item finds, quests, etc)
    2) A LITRPG SHALL involve a game-type world of some kind that the main character has been involved in

    What do we think?

    Ours at the moment:

    ... is a literary genre where games form an essential part of the landscape. LitRPG novels operate a narrative from a standpoint that exists outside that of a conventional story. The characters in a LitRPG novel understand that they are playing a game: they are 'meta-aware'. So, while Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is a fantasy novel, a book about people creating avatars and interacting in a Lord of the Rings MMORPG would be a LitRPG novel.
     
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  12. lordnova

    lordnova Level 9 (Burgler) Roleplaying Shop Owner Citizen Aspiring Writer

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    I like the definition at the beginning of the thread, and how it's evolved through the last few posts.

    One thing I've seen people argue about on the is it litrpg or is it not topic is the subject of explicit stats. XP, HP, Damage. And such. A lot of people seem to require those for a story to fit the LitRPG genre.
    Personally, I don't like such things in a story. Maybe it's due to dealing with such things at my weekly table top rpg games, but they kill the narrative for me. I'm pretty new to the LitRPG genre. In fact, I wasn't aware it was a genre till recently. I'm more for the Cyberpunk genre. Two of my favorites, which opened the door to this genre are Ready Player One, and Snowcrash. I like the story, the action. Things like "Player gained 100 experience points" or "Player dealt 10 damage to enemy" in a story kill it for me. Though this is just personal preference.
     
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  13. Paul Bellow

    Paul Bellow Game Master Staff Member Shop Owner LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Yeah, it depends on how the stats are done, I think. Some use a lot. I tried to find a balance between none and too many. This is a great thread so far, tho!
     
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  14. Jayden

    Jayden Level 5 (Veteran) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    The definition should probably make it clear that the story is "game like" and not necessarily a game.

    Many good stories (sold and read as LitRPG) are not actually taking place in a game, they only have "game like mechanics" going on.

    This is an important distinction.

    Using The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis, as an example, what are the "Minimum Requirements" to make this a novel an acceptable and acknowledged LitRPG?

    The children, in the real world, go to the country to avoid a war. Okay, real world setting, this is fine for LitRPG.
    Lucy discovers a portal into a fantasy world. Okay, this is standard in LitRPG portal stories, and they are even gaming when she enters Narnia for the first time, albeit the game is Hide and Seek.
    We call the White Witch the leader of a faction and the "free" players another faction of some kind. Basically Alliance and the Hoard, or any other two sides, as long as there is a distinction. It's a minor tweak to become LitRPG like.

    Lucy picks the Alliance/Rebels/Freedom Fighters.
    Peter picks the Hoard/Empire/Evil Bitch Queen.

    Now, to make it LitRPG, we need to create some game elements like magic levels. These exist in the book as C.S. Lewis wrote it, but he doesn't use game terms, it's just....thinking form memory....Deep Magic and then Even Deeper Magic...or something like that. It's a minor adjustment to give the magic system clear levels (game-like) and explain a way to acquire the magic.

    Now, another way to make Narnia more like LitRPG is to allow the players to become another character. Like, say, give them away to become a fawn or a giant. Now, this isn't strictly required, as some LitRPG novels have a character go through a portal and the existing land has existing characters and that's that.

    But I like the idea of being able to play a magical horse or something...but that's just me.

    Now, loot drops.

    Aslan gives Lucy a Healing Potion.
    Aslan gives Susan a Calling Horn (which is like a portal for calling help).
    Peter and Edmund get swords (and I think matching armor).

    Simply make these things earned in some way instead of just gifts (although in the book they actually do "earn" them, it's just not specified how, which would be a good requirement for making the story LitRPG: Well defined mechanics of "how" the players (or the MC) acquire upgrades to weapons and gear, etc.

    Now, the story as written leads up to a war, which is totally easy to turn into a LitRPG like battle, simply incorporate leveling and perhaps, depending on the story, define the roles a bit better.

    In TLTWTW we have Lucy being a Healer. She has a potion and can give a drop to wounded players for healing and also make a stone statue return to its normal player state of being alive.

    Susan is also a healer (she assists her sister) and has the horn.

    Of course, to our modern readers, we won't be so f**cking sexist. Paul, I hope it's okay to swear here once in awhile.

    So, to make it a modern LitRPG, we'd give Lucy and Susan swords too...OH, wait, I think Susan gets a bow and arrow!!!

    Sorry, it's been a good decade since I've read these books....

    Alright, so Aslan is basically like an indestructible NPC and the Witch is a slightly less powerful, but still awesome, NPC, who plays a character just below the Big Bad level. She's able to be destroyed, but only by teamwork.

    Granted, if someone were to make only these minor tweaks, the story probably wouldn't sell the LitRPG crowd, but we'd be close enough to call it LitRPG, and of course, if it's a good story, like RPO, it'll sell broadly, so pleasing the hard core fans might not be the first concern.

    I do think it's fair however to have some basic guidelines if you're going to try and market a book as a LitRPG...

    And I think this exercise can help us determine what the absolute minimum requirements are.... my thoughts anyway.
     
  15. Paul Bellow

    Paul Bellow Game Master Staff Member Shop Owner LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Great discussion going on here...
     
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  16. Conor Kostick

    Conor Kostick Level 7 (Cutpurse) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Thanks for making such a considered response Jayden. Taking the example of Narnia is a good way to clarify the issue. You've come up with good answers to, 'what would make those books LitRPG'? I think if Narnia were a game and the kids were challenged to win the game, that would do the trick. Then all your ideas about loot drops and progression would work well. But I don't agree that this would be a minor change. It wouldn't take much rewriting of the books, true, but it would be a major change to the feel of the books. The readers' heads would be in a very different world.

    For me, it is important to give LitRPG some elbow room, to keep it distinct from other genres. This is for practical as well as literary reasons. We want readers to know what they are getting, at least in broad terms. So I'm inclined to stick to 'game' rather than 'game-like' in our definition so far. Just to make it clear that books like Narnia are fantasy, not LitRPG, because they are missing that essential aspect.
     
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  17. Scargro

    Scargro Level 5 (Veteran) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    A lot of these books don't even have digital elements and are more like portal fantasies.
     
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  18. Jayden

    Jayden Level 5 (Veteran) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Well you'd be excluding many of the top LitRPG as listed on Goodreads as well as many of the top selling books.

    The Land isn't in a game, it's a portable fantasy with game elements.
    Super Sales on Super Heroes is not a game.
    In Ramon's book, the MC dies and goes through a portal to a heaven which has game mechanics, but it's not a "game" per se. Or no?

    I'm thinking the one....the Russian book, Way of the Shaman, he's in a prison, right? Not a game at all, just game mechanics.

    And of course, Ready Player One (perhaps only barely on the edge of LitRPG...) it's not a game, it's a contest or challenge to find the clues and get the prize (so game like) but not really a game.

    So, I don't know. I think "game-like" mechanics would cover books that readers are calling LitRPG but saying "game" would exclude many books that readers have voted as their favorite LitRPG....
     
  19. Conor Kostick

    Conor Kostick Level 7 (Cutpurse) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    You make a good case Jason. I'm won over. So how about this:

    ... is a literary genre where games or game-like challenges form an essential part of the landscape. LitRPG novels operate a narrative from a standpoint that exists outside that of a conventional story. The characters in a LitRPG novel understand that they are playing a game: they are 'meta-aware'. So, while Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is a fantasy novel, a book about people creating avatars and interacting in a Lord of the Rings MMORPG would be a LitRPG novel.
     
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  20. Matthew Siege

    Matthew Siege Level 8 (Thug) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    "LitRPG novels operate a narrative from a standpoint that exists outside of a conventional story."

    Maybe I'm just being dense (and if I am, it wouldn't be the first time), but this is slippery and loses me. Can you operate a narrative? I got curious and googled the phrase, and the only place I found it was on the Wikipedia page for litRPG. :) Nevertheless, even if you can "operate" a narrative, I'd say a word like "constructs" or "crafts" might be better. More to the point, is this sentence referencing the meta game? If so, the sentence that follows the one I quoted does that fine on its own. If it's saying something else, I think it's too vague.

    Not knocking what's being evolved. There's only 79 words in what you've got, which makes them all important. :)
     
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