What’s up with LitRPG?

I don’t really understand LitRPG. Granted, I’ve only read one novel in the genre and it was, admittedly, mindless fun – but I still don’t really get the appeal of it.

For those of you who don’t know, LitRPG is literature (and I use this term loosely) based on role-playing games (RPGs), such as World of Warcraft or Star Wars The Old Republic, to name a few. In LitRPG stories, the main character is physically immersed in an RPG world and the reader follows their adventure as they, quite literally, level up in the game. There are stats galore as we see the character lose hit points or gain buffs or attain better gear or learn a new skill. It’s like reading about playing your favourite game.

A gnoll hits you for 5HP! Current HP: 15/20
A gnoll hits you for 5HP! Current HP: 10/20
A gnoll hits you for 5HP! Current HP: 5/20

And that’s where I fall out of the bus. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people reading more, but really, why not just go and play the game? I reinstalled and reactivated my 18-year old Everquest account after finishing one of these books, because it made me so nostalgic about the “good old days” that I wanted to recapture the fun.

So it makes sense if the novels were written in recognisable worlds and perhaps used as marketing material for existing RPG games to get old players to come back or entice new ones, but they’re not. They’re original inventions (possibly loosely based on the writer’s own favourite game or on an old Dungeons & Dungeons campaign, but likely not). And again, I ask, what’s the point?

If you’re going to create a new fantasy world, why not write a straight-up fantasy story? Why encumber it with game mechanics? And why would you want to read about game mechanics when you can go play a game first-hand? Have we reached a new level of laziness where it’s just too much effort to play and level up a game character ourselves and would rather just lie back on the couch
and read about it instead?

Games and Books © Unknown

I can’t really comment on the quality of the genre (having read only one book), but some reviews have indicated that a great many of these LitRPG novels lack in many of the things required for a good story: well-developed characters, a coherent plot and interesting themes. Some of them are basically just a novelisation of a kill-10- rats-receive- a-reward quest line up until you’ve killed enough rats to be able to defeat the big boss. Yawn. Okay, so it’s about the little guy improving his lot in life and moving up in the world, but still, yawn.

A friend suggested that I rewrite my Everquest fan fiction as a LitRPG novel. I was tempted at first, but I’ve decided against it. I would have to change so much to make the world and the magic system unrecognisable from Norrath, and with that kind of effort I may as well just write something original.

Using your characters and campaigns for the basis of a story – that makes sense. Reading about their stats and quest progress – no thanks, I’d rather be behind the keyboard or a console any day.

Do you read or write LitRPG? What is the appeal in it for you? Can you recommend some of your favourite LitRPG novels for anyone interested in giving the genre a go?

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