A short while ago, an author I had not yet heard of joined the State of Black Science Fiction Facebook Group. After introducing himself, the brother – Dr. Aleron Kong – informed us that he was the “Father of LitRPG.” Someone in the group asked “What, exactly, is LitRPG?” Dr. Kong just said “It’s a cool new genre of science fiction that mashes up MMORPG video gaming with fantasy or science fiction settings and elements,” and he posted a link to his Amazon page. As a writer of cyoa-style and Fighting Fantasy-style gamebooks and as co-creator of a roleplaying game with quite a bit of buzz, I considered myself in the know about anything in literature that has something to do with gaming.
“New genre?” I scoffed. “We’ll see.” Out of curiosity, I checked it out. “I’ll be damn,” I said, perusing pages of Kong’s The Land: Founding. “I have NEVER read anything like this!”
And thus, my journey down the rabbit hole that is LitRPG began.
Wait… what? “What, exactly IS LitRPG,” you ask?
While LitRPG is still developing, so many people have their own ideas, the good folks over at LitRPG Forum provide us with a clear and concise definition:
“LitRPG is a literary genre where games or game-like challenges form an essential part of the landscape. A LitRPG work simultaneously narrates the story of characters inside and outside of the game-world.
At least some of the characters in a LitRPG 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.”
As LitRPG Forum founder, Paul Bellow says, when you add game mechanics – especially stats, experience, and leveling – to science-fiction or fantasy, you get LitRPG, which is shorthand for Literary RPG or Literary Role-Playing Games.
Think the manga and anime, Sword Art Online or the Jumanji book and films.
In Sword Art Online, NerveGear – a helmet that stimulates the user’s five senses via their brain – allows players to experience and control their in-game characters with their minds. Both the game and the NerveGear was created by Akihiko Kayaba.
One day, 10,000 players log into the SAO’s mainframe cyberspace for the first time, only to discover that they are unable to log out. Kayaba appears and tells the players that they must beat all 100 floors of Aincrad, a steel castle which is the setting of SAO, if they wish to be free. Those who suffer in-game deaths or forcibly remove the NerveGear out-of-game will suffer real-life deaths.
The story centers on young Alan Parrish, who becomes trapped in a board game while playing with his best friend Sarah Whittle in 1969. Twenty-six years later, siblings Judy and Peter Shepherd find the game, begin playing and then unwittingly release the now-adult Alan. After tracking down Sarah, the quartet resolves to finish the game in order to reverse all of the destruction it has caused.
As far as the origins of formally calling the genre LitRPG, that began in Russia. Its first translations appeared around 2010, triggering a wave of fan fiction from new Russian authors who came up with a name for the new genre: LitRPG.
Three published authors became the founders of the genre: 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.
Now LitRPG has gained popularity all over the world.
While there are hundreds of good books in the genre and many great ones, I will introduce you to a few, along with their authors:
The Land: Founding, by Aleron Kong
In The Land: Founding, the first volume of the award winning Chaos Seeds saga, by physician, “Father of American LitRPG,” and founder of LitRPG.com, the Exiles and Eternals toy with the lives of unwitting humans. Gamers sign away their souls in unread contracts as they log online each day. One at a time, these people are stolen, mind and soul, into a world of magic and adventure that operates by the same laws as the game they worshiped at for years.
Goblin: A LitRPG Novel, by Paul Bellow
Sarah, Eric and Josh secretly log onto the new Tower of Gates VRMMORPG and stumble on a world unlike any they have seen before. Swords, sorcery, and intrigue abound. While not planning on staying in the unreleased game long, life happens.
They soon learn the stakes are even higher than they imagined. To survive, they will need all their strength, courage, and wisdom, not to mention help from friendly NPCs, magic items, and everything else uncovered as they delve deeper into the game.
One more level becomes a matter of life and death. A great read from the founder of LitRPG Forum and LitRPG Reads.
Adventures on Terra – Book 1: Beginnings, by R.A. Mejia
Armon Ellington is a nineteen year old kid that always felt out of place. He’s an orphan, a gamer, and a role playing game geek. When he dies after a seventy-two hour gaming marathon, instead of going to an afterlife, he’s transported to a new world, governed by rules that are eerily similar to the RPG games he loves. On this new world, Terra, he can be anything he wants, a warrior, mage, or even a crafter. Only, Armon wants more than that, he also wants friends and family.
Join Armon on his journey through this amazing new world where he’ll go on adventures, explore dungeons, slay monsters and hopefully find the friends and family he never had on earth. This is an excellent work from the founder and host of the LitRPG Podcast.
Dembo’s Ditty, by Balogun Ojetade
You are Dembo Daji, a Maroki – a Griot. But you weren’t always. You were once a struggling DJ in the near future. Home for you was a tiny efficiency in the Pittsburgh Projects – a 50-story housing development in the crime-ridden, ultra-violent area of Pittsburgh, in southwest Atlanta, Georgia… until you finally saved up enough credits to purchase the U.R.E. – the Universal Reality Engine – the world’s most popular gaming console and you decided to play Ki Khanga – the world’s most popular MMORPG – on it.
Now, you’re stuck in the world of Ki Khanga and looking for a way out.
All isn’t bad, though. You’re in love with Joni, a beautiful and brilliant princess. But in order to win her hand in marriage, you have to first win over her father, who demands his daughter marry someone of great fame and fortune. Becoming the official Maroki of Yoro Mosa, the hero of heroes, is the best way to do it. The problem is, Yoro’s life is fraught with dangers. Hordes of evil, intelligent chimpanzees, sorcerers, gargantuan monsters are just some of the terrible things you’ll have to face if you get the gig.
This gamebook is similar to the Choose Your Own-type books, but with cool game stats, weapons, skills and funky spell-songs to choose from!
Hack, slash, talk and sing your way out of trouble and into fame and glory as you choose your path through a hilarious and dangerous LitRPG adventure!
If Afrofuturism and Sword and Soul had a baby full of the Funk, Dembo’s Ditty would be its name! The gamebook is set in Ki Khanga, the African analogue that is the world of the popular tabletop Role-Playing Game and anthology of the same name.
Pick up a LitRPG book today, but be warned… you WON’T be able to put it down; you’ll be having too much fun. So, if you’re the type of person who hates sunsets and dolphins and frowns whenever a baby giggles, LitRPG might not be the genre for you. Everybody else, run and go read some LitRPG!