The genres of Gamelit and LitRPG are fairly new in the west by comparison to countries like Russia, and technically they are one in the same. LitRPG is a combination of literature and RPG game mechanics. The sub-genre of LitRPG fits under the umbrella of Gamelit which is, as you could guess, a combination of gaming and literature.
Gaming has been woven into the last generations, and the slow cultural changes we’ve seen are apparent in our entertainment. In the 80’s and 90’s, your average parent would likely have been confused over terms like “hit points” or “mana”. However, those gaming conventions from our younger digital culture are now known more broadly in society.
The first place I personally noticed the cultural shift was in anime, as I didn’t have much time to do any reading at that point in my life. I had cut my teeth on early Forgotten Realms series in my teens before moving up to Robert Jordan and Jim Butcher. At that point in my life, I reaaally wanted video games that could encapsulate the awesome worlds that these authors painted. And, we’ve pretty much seen that in my lifetime since.
The teenagers who would have been reading Forgotten Realms novels in the early 90’s are now experts in game mechanics for online worlds like Fortnite or World of Warcraft. We all now accept different conventions in our fantasy or sci-fi content which embraces the game mechanics we’ve become accustomed to.
This brings us to the fiction category of Gamelit, which encompasses any type of gaming (e.g. cards, strategy, and rpg) as a device in the narrative. The reader’s willing suspension of disbelief simply has to accept the concepts of gaming having a modicum of control over the narrative as the author stretches through the arch of the plot. The narratives are packed with infinite possibilities and the type of game is the will of the author.
LitRPG is a sub-genre of Gamelit, and it falls under that wider umbrella of fiction. The genre has been extremely popular in Russia and was first pioneered in the west by the author Aleron Kong, a former doctor turned Indie author. And to be honest, with Kong’s knowledge of game mechanics and old-school Dungeons & Dragons conventions, I would love to see a documentary on that guy’s old job. I’d personally love to see a revelation that doctors were avid gamers due to their hellish work schedules.
Kong’s works contain similar mechanics throughout and he helped brand the term LitRPG in the west, and his work inspired dozens of Indie authors to write stories within that same structure. The mmorpg fantasy world his protagonists enter into span from gamers at home into real environments which behave similar to those games. It’s not unlike the concept of Tron, the Disney movie.
Amazon’s Kindle platform allowed for a wave of Indie authors to push content of all types into the stream of book sales, which has given Gamelit and LitRPG a boost which it might not have gotten from traditional publishers. The conventions that make LitRPG and other Gamelit fun would be much more costly to produce in older models of publishing for taking up space for a stream of text-imagery throughout the novel. You’ll find that every LitRPG author has their own style for these rpg mechanics sheets which dictate the protagonist’s power, skills, health, talents, etc etc. And by including these visual mechanics, it reminds the reader that the hero is limited by rules they can’t get past… unlike your action hero protagonists that can have endless ammunition or the super-human ability to act calmly and intentionally while bullets are whizzing by him by panicked shots from goon characters that are just tools to move the plot.
While the author has the ultimate creative control over how the chances will land for the characters, it follows a system which the reader can follow along and get a similar effect to watching a streamer through the eyes of the characters they play.