In Defense of LitRPG

After telling a friend about the LitRPG genre, he asked me, “Why would anyone read a book about someone playing a game when they could just play a game themselves?” This friend was a pretty passionate gamer, for a while it was how he made his living, so I could understand why he would ask such a question. But when thinking of an answer I couldn’t give just one, as I was sure different LitRPG fans enjoyed reading it for different reasons.

Reasons I attempted to convince him of . . .

The first answer that came to mind was that gaming technology hadn’t reach the point that it could create games as realistic as those portrayed in many science fiction books or films. I thought this was a good argument, until my friend countered with the fact that the level of immersion a good game could create through its level of interaction and engagement far surpasses anything that a book could reach. Although I’m not sure I agreed with this, I obviously wasn’t going to convince him with this answer, so I tried another.

My second answer was that it was simply a modern manifestation of portal fantasy and that with fans of books like Chronicles of Narnia or Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, games were becoming the new doorways at the back of the wardrobe because it’s easier to relate to plot elements in a game than an entirely new fantasy world. Of course, this didn’t satisfy him either. He once again claimed that someone would get a better feeling of being in a different world with game elements by simply playing a game with those elements.

I was beginning to see a trend to his counter arguments. Whatever answers I used to defend LitRPG, he was just going claim playing a game was preferable. I then realized a key difference between games and almost every other medium. In order to play a game a player usually needs to be very active in their level of interaction with it, where with books you can be passive and just sit back with your own thoughts. So my next answer related to my love of watching game playthroughs online. Some people just like to game vicariously.

For some, the story is the most important part of a game. Even if the story elements they enjoy might be based on the game mechanics or world, it doesn’t mean they’ll enjoy the grind or puzzles one might have to go through to get to that story. I feel this is the reason many people might prefer to read LitRPG than play a game themselves, because, similar to watching playthroughs, we want to game vicariously and get lost in world similar to portal fiction, but in a way that surpasses the technology that gaming systems have today.

Using the different strokes for different folks argument seemed to sway my gamer friend a little, but because of his love for games, didn’t fully convince him of why reading LitRPG might be enjoyable. If you can think of other reasons why LitRPG may be preferable to playing games, I would love to hear them as well as my friend’s counter arguments to them. While on the subject, my LitRPG book has now been mentioned on two LitRPG websites LitRPG ReadsLitRPG, and I was also on the LitRPG Podcast if you’re interested in checking those websites out. They have an array of books that might start you on your own journey into the genre.

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11 Responses to In Defense of LitRPG

  1. Well, there is the ‘reality of the situation’ approach. When your friend says, “I could just play a game,” you could say, “Yes, but the game in this book doesn’t exist as an actual game.”

    He could call that a non-starter since he might not want to read about a game he could not play. That’s when you pull out a copy of the LitRPG that you believe has the most immersive game world and actual story line. You could point out that in a novel, the characters can come to life in a way that NPCs can’t, plus there are options for characters not available to a game player.

    Imagine playing a game like Dark Souls, for instance, where you can literally move like a normal person to traverse locations in a way that isn’t ruined by pre-rendered background art.

    Does he also dislike, or ignore, television shows/movies/anime-or-whatever, that involves game characters? Did he despise Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World? Does he know of Ready Player One, or Sword Art Online?

    Get him hooked on a LitRPG novel that has an anime/manga/movie adaptation and let him know that there is a book version. Pick one with stats. It’s like drugs. Give him a taste then jack up the price.

  2. I would go with a very simple answer.

    Some people just don’t like to play games.

    Regardless of whether it’s tabletop, pen and paper, board, or video games, some people just don’t want to or like to play. That doesn’t mean however that they wouldn’t be interested in reading that type of material because as you have pointed out, it’s simply portal fantasy.

  3. AlleyGator19 says:

    For me, LitRPG is the only way I can get my fix. I live in a very small town and may well be the only gamer here. After 30 seconds of solo tabletop RPG, LitRPG become wonderful. CRPGs do help a bit, but after getting stuck on the first BOSS fight for three weeks, their appeal diminishes. MMORPGs I’ve found to be worse, particularly since they have gone pay to win. Get places to get liars, thieves, bullies and weird deviants off the streets (assuming they do and don’t just encourage them before letting them loose) but since I don’t see myself in those categories, I can find characters in LitRPG books who I don’t loath.
    So tell your buddy to stop being selfish. Wonderful as live RPGs are, they can’t satisfy everyone. Probably LitRPG can’t satisfy everyone as well, but some of us need them.

  4. Silvachief says:

    Unfortunately this is an argument that directly disagrees with a statement made by your friend but I believe that books have a far greater potential to be immersive than games, and that’s coming from someone that loves both and considers story a priority. Books require more creative input from the reader than a game does from its player. The reader, using (or perhaps ignoring) description from the book, creates the world, characters and events in their own mind. Their imaginings all have their own flavor added to them from personality quirks that aren’t necessarily canon to tone of voice and atmosphere. Readers feel more personally involved with books.

    That’s not to say games can’t be immersive. For me, however, games feel more like a window to someone else’s story and that’s a bit of a barrier; there’s no room for your own touch or imagination when everything is already laid out for you (which is absolutely not a criticism, it’s just a medium difference). Gameplay is also a distraction that often (but not always) precludes true immersion.

    Just my two cents. Games can be immersive, but only the best of them succeed to any great extent. Books are better set up for immersion.

    The other thing is that VR of LitRPG quality is likely very far off. Maybe something that won’t ever be achieved in our lifetime (though i’d like to think we’ll get it), and it’s the feeling of being able to experience that by proxy that genre fans love.

  5. Lazarinth says:

    Been told several other good reasons for this:
    – Not having the time.
    – Not having enough money for games or tech.
    – Physical problems like RSI.

    • Ian says:

      For me, some of these stories are the only way I’m going to get to experience parts of some of the games. I played WoW for a while and had fun. I’m a narcoleptic. Low level pick-up group dungeons yes. I’m not going to be tanking in raids. I’m working on a book to get ideas out about games I want to play in the future as I’m not likely to be to one to make them.

  6. kanundra says:

    Reblogged this on Kanundra's Blog and commented:
    Great post 🙂 For me, litrpg audiobooks take me back many years, to when I used to do RPG and tabletop 🙂 I don’t think anyone has as much time as they used to, but books, I can do easily.

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