What is LitRPG? Get the Definition

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What is LitRPG? LitRPG is a book genre that allows readers to experience an RPG in a narrative format. Basically, it’s a novel that includes game mechanics and some sort of progression that is shown to the reader via stats familiar to gamers. While most LitRPG novels take place inside a game, there are also books where the characters are in a world with game-like mechanics.

Basically, when you add game mechanics (especially stats, experience, and leveling) to science-fiction or fantasy, you get LitRPG books (shorthand for Literary-RPG or Literary Role-Playing-Games or Literature RPG – depending on who you ask.) Long story short, Books + RPG = LitRPG. Ready to learn more about this exciting genre?

As a LitRPG author for over four years now – and an author in other genres for even longer – I’m happy to help explain this sometimes confusing book genre. If you want to understand the definition of LitRPG, keep reading…or go on a side-quest and check out the LitRPG video game!

What is LitRPG?
What is LitRPG?

Definition of LitRPG: What is LitRPG?

According to Magic Dome Books, if you ask, “What is LitRPG?” this is the answer…

LitRPG is a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy which describes the hero’s adventures within an online computer game. LitRPG books merge traditional book-style narration with elements of a gaming experience, describing various quests, achievements and other events typical of a video game.

Why would they know? They’re responsible for publishing a lot of the Russian LitRPG that has been translated to English. The history of LitRPG is also connected to Japanese light novels – both fiction and the anime based off the books. Confused? So were we, which is why we put together this post.

UPDATE: (1/16/17) We’ve heard back from Magic Dome Books and have a bit more information from them about the origins of LitRPG in Russia and elsewhere in the world. This is a great answer to the question – What is LitRPG?

Some experts track the origins of the genre as far back as the mid-1980s but its initial popularity indeed peaked with the arrival of The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor. Its first translations appeared in Russia around 2010, triggering a wave of fan fiction from new budding Russian authors who came up with a name for the new genre: LitRPG.

Three published authors became the founders of the genre in our country. I’m talking about D. Rus, V. Mahanenko and D. Mikhailov. All three originally contributed their series to Russia’s bestselling “LitRPG” project which is published by EKSMO, Russia’s biggest publishing house, since 2013.

The word “LitRPG” as the project’s title was suggested by the project’s producer Alex Bobl in a brainstorming session with V. Mahanenko and EKSMO’s science fiction editor-in-chief Dmitry Malkin. Later, other gifted Russian authors joined the project, such as M. Atamanov, A. Osadchuk and A. Livadny.

We will be conducting a more in-depth interview with them soon. Check the blog or sign-up for our newsletter to find out when it’s published. You can also visit the “What’s a good definition of LitRPG?” thread over at LitRPG Forum. Author Conor Kostick and others are discussing the topic of “What is LitRPG?”


History of LitRPG in the United States

Whether the father of LitRPG is Piers Anthony or Joel Rosenberg is up for debate, but “soft” LitRPG has been around for at least a couple decades if not more. Recently, as in the last few years, a new wave of American LitRPG written in English for a U.S. audience has hit.

Writers like…

A Third Wave of Authors?

This is a definite possibility with the Ready Player One movie coming out in 2018. Many current authors are looking into publishing Lit-RPG novels soon. A whole slew of newbie authors are also entering the ring to duke it out for the attention of readers. “What is LitRPG?” is searched a lot every month!


Standard Definition of LitRPG?

This is definitely a difficult question. It depends on who you ask. As mentioned above, Conor Kostick recently started a thread titled What’s a good definition of LitRPG? Both authors and readers have weighed in on the discussion. It’s an interesting thread, for sure.

While they’re still hammering out the details, a more detailed definition of LitRPG is slowly emerging. One of the great things about this new sub-genre is that it’s still evolving. It’s also been around since before the term LitRPG was coined by three Russian writers.


Again, this is a subjective question and depends on who you ask. Over at the LitRPG Forum, we have a running thread of LitRPG Recommendations. While you’re there, you can also check out the latest releases – and easily sort them by release date.

With that said, here’s a few great books to get you started if you’re brand new to the genre.


Best Series?

This too depends on your opinion, but the popular books mentioned above are all series. When you find one you love, you can look forward to devouring all that are available. A lot of series are ongoing and have frequent release schedules, like Emerilia by Michael Chatfield.


Toward a Better LitRPG Definition

Over at the retro Forum, a group of authors (and readers) are hammering out a better definition of the genre. You can follow along or add your own input. Here’s what they have so far…

LitRPG is a literary genre where games or game-like challenges form an essential part of the landscape. A work in this genre simultaneously narrates the story of characters inside and outside of the game-world.

At least some of the characters in a novel therefore 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.

Read the rest of the “What is a Good Definition for LitRPG?” thread.

GameLit vs LitRPG

The term GameLit was coined by Dustin Tigner and several others after a supplementary trademark for the term was granted. (More on that in a future article.) Keep an eye on the GameLit.org website for more news.

Gamification of the Genre

We’ve mentioned LitRPG Forum a few times now. Our sister-site offers a place for authors, fans, and readers to gather together and geek out on an old school forum. The site offers gamification features. For example, you earn virtual gold for posting and replying in threads.

You can also earn experience points, level up, buy and trade items, and much, much more. A recent popular thread discusses a formal LitRPG definition. The ideas and comments so far have been very useful in understanding more about the Lit-RPG genre. (Updated: April 2021)


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