Hello player. Challenge: make it through this article and receive +10 WP (Wisdom Points) and +10 CP (Context Points).
The web spirals onward around keywords, these categorising incantations. There used to be ‘Cyberpunk’… ‘Dystopian science-fiction’… ‘Cyberspace’ science-fiction. Fighting Fantasy. RPG. Now there’s ‘GameLit’ or ‘LitRPG’ books. It’s more specific, but basically ‘video-game science-fiction’ writing.
Kids from 1980s have gone from text-based adventures to full-blown VR immersion in one generation. We’re now in our 40s and are (almost!) too old to play games. So we write books and think about what’s happened. We write about the magic and wonder of future games, and also our nostalgia for those even more magical, retro days.
Maybe we believe we’re all locked inside one big game itself with harsh, evolutionary parameters built-in, but where love and collaboration exist to help us all evolve.
We think about the older language: floppy disk, programming, interface, jacking-in, crash, point-and-click, arcade, joystick, bitmap…
Before any of these terms (even ‘Neuromancer’ and ‘Cyberspace’) I just knew I played a lot of PC games or simulations and witnessed each new title getting bigger and more elaborate; more involving. I wanted the next experience and when I couldn’t buy one, I wanted to imagine my ideal one… my ultimate game. Or I’d watch movies like TRON or Wargames. I didn’t really know what that ultimate, special game was, but it was going to be massive, social, persistent, accessible… We all knew games would be huge.
Computers have evolved, certainly. VR is here now. These new ‘LitRPG’ and ‘GameLit’ genres have surfaced to feed both ‘mature sci-fi’ and ‘young adult’ categories. The future that the older, precursor genres wanted and explored seems now closer than ever, even closer than ‘outer-space’. The wonder of donning masks and suits and entering ‘inner-space’ or cyber-realms is capturing imaginations, being experienced for real and is ‘in development’. LitRPG or GameLit is not Fighting Fantasy exactly, but they contain a lot of game terminology, stats, etc. that are supposed to provide a further dimension to a protagonist’s progress or quest-path. I was happy to dive under the umbrella of all this, as when I started I thought I was writing ‘speculative sci-fi’, which felt like too broad a heading. We needed something to describe more modern games and literature cross-over. ‘VR science-fiction’ can be too specific.
Technology, you see, has arrived to alter our lifestyles, possibly enhance them, but writing remains an ultimate, eternal form of Virtual Reality. You can hide a whole concept for a game-world within a story about a game. Writing is about things which are lacking or don’t yet exist. At many points in history it could be dangerous to write and imagine such realities. In the reality of ‘1984’ by George Orwell, even thinking is dangerous. Instead of ‘News-speak’, we can have ‘Games-speak’, perhaps.
The demands of writing are still the same, unfortunately. Peace. Solitude. Focus. But words are easier to throw out and blend with image ‘hooks’ and sounds, and people are less used to writing with careful pens; with constructing careful, virtual worlds – alone – in writing. I’m not saying I’m one of these either, but I had a go, and found it hard to write solo on such a long-term project without getting distracted by modern games themselves. But still, I wanted to find something deeper to say about all this gaming within our natural, already game-like real world.
But as I was writing the annoying question was ‘why?’ Why not stop and just go and play video games or this great game of life? Well, maybe because I do find that a lot of these ‘LitRPG’ books are pretty bad. People write for getting onto Amazon and putting out an ebook series and not because of a need, a whole idea or any thematic motivation. They write more for some imagined crowd rather than for themselves, maybe.
Others write clearly from a deep love of games and have great fun playing with fresh terminology, concepts, magical VR ‘powers’ and blending fantasy with technology. It can all get pretty far-fetched and test the resilience of any reader dipping their sci-fi toes into this game-drenched water. But nothing hits – truly – home like a Blade Runner or a Dune. Deep books and deep movies, that make atmospheric games too. Maybe you have suggestions for some relevant, entertaining sci-fi? Alex ‘Ex Machina‘ Garland maybe? Comments welcome.
Some of these books do hit home. But are they good books? They might make pretty good movies. Or more directly, scenarios for future game franchises. They pay their debts to previous things. But in themselves they’re pretty lost. A very few of them might become ‘great books’ or be turned into ‘sci-fi film masterpieces’. That’s just fine, but the percentage will be low. Is this because it’s harder maybe to have something ‘great’ to say? One of the leading lights, ‘Ready Player One‘ by Ernest Cline, [‘pseudo-LitRPG’ and more GameLit since it has few statistics and RPG elements?] managed to do this but is ultimately redeemed by its debt to Roald Dahl and by a tribute it pays to circa 1980s+ gaming culture and its history. Of course Spielberg reached out for that. But is the stuff of a classic, or just a rallying cry for the heights that video games have now reached and are destined to become?
One thing’s true; gaming culture is bringing a whole lot of fresh new tech vocabulary into the real world; into everyday thinking and philosophy; even lingo. There’s a nice overlap and as mentioned, nice parallels with ‘life-as-a-game’ philosophy. Level-up. Grinding. Progression. Avatar. Completion. Free-roam or Open World. Persistence. Yes! This is what we’re all doing already. Now we have a way to explain life and contextualise its competitive vs cooperative nature. Game-playing – of the modern, complex, immersive kind – have given many a perspective on how to lead their lives, like a psychiatrist telling us the syndrome we’re all locked into. ‘Open-world, MMO survival adventure’ [a bit like Rust]. What great stuff to write about! The Hunger Games.
These terms take the place of other words and find new relevance. Technology evolves – or expands – language and society. Even more quickly; the global online society. Maybe that’s because there’s a strong trend of scientific awareness taking deeper root into culture. Climate change, ecosystems, nature, evolution and change, Player vs Player or Player versus Environment. The awareness of entities such as ‘games’ or even books being susceptible to change when shared by many, ie, ‘Beta world’. A Beta world is like a test version of reality before we become adult. A ‘sandbox’. The world itself doesn’t even know what it might become before it’s ready to test its players. Then: the full game is like a mirror or mini-arena of our own, mutually defined (rule-bound) Massively-Multiplayer Online competitive – yet co-operative – reality. We must work together, craft and be skilled. Gain XP and value as we remain in the game. But careful who you trust and forge alliances with.
Where’s it all going?
Where are the big themes and ideas for new stories in these genres? Themes – even if the writing be poor – can carry a book into the hearts and minds of a technology-saturated society.
I remember disliking most of everything about Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World‘. I found it difficult and abstract and no fun to read. And yet it’s still so relevant – every time society veers towards anything too artificial.
Philip K. Dick’s brilliant ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?‘ (still to be properly filmed) is immersed in the artificial. Its characters are struggling for purpose and a sense of the real, and kindred, in a society lost by technological progress. We are forced to face that lack of feeling by reading and understanding the book and its themes, even if we don’t feel this loss (!) – although it’s hard not to.
Well, we all have a similar purpose these days. A nature quest. To escape the artificial. To find balance and harmony again with nature? To ‘find’ nature and slow-time again and bring it into a co-existence with modern life – before the planet rinses itself of us. Just a suggestion. There may be more extreme ways to send out such a message, or more slick, action-filled, franchise-y ones – most probably.
But most titles find themselves forgotten but at least enjoyed in the middle; perhaps more diluted and transitory but more fun, or simply just positively energised by new technology….
And if these emerging ‘gaming literature’ genres be written by people either too old to play games anymore – at least they’re still inspired by them. Or… they’re written by people who see huge potential in the immersive and educational – and exciting of course – arenas that are virtual games. It’s likely that some of the ideas may well end up in the games of the future. Many are about heroes or fantasy and may be hugely successful and inspire ideas or uses for virtual technology. It’s likely they will serve their time, its lifestyle or spirituality, featuring Matrix-style upgrades to ancient, spiritual-led philosophies or training. I haven’t read nearly enough LitRPG or GameLit to outline all their particular tributes to former games or book genres.
Beyond this, there may well be some gems which will shine on to provide ‘big’ warnings or statements about the way we live with games. Or they’ll act more like shiny, enthralling mirrors that highlight and reflect our game-saturated culture and our relationship with technology.
But, it seems, science and science-fiction are walking hand-in-hand again – thanks to technology, games and VR. It’s the science-fiction ‘implosion’ that was predicted since Neuromancer. We’ve explored the whole exterior ‘lost in space’, time travel, alien cultures and the final frontier. Now it’s more the time to look at ourselves, through game-player goggles, at our own nature, moving towards a final level or trapped inside and forever struggling to unlock and live with its secrets. We need to survive together on this planet without destroying everything. Did Facebook’s Farmville game help us at all?
The practical or entertaining applications of VR etc. will evolve and they will empower – or imprison – its players or users. A quick look at the range of cover artwork would suggest the former.
So here we are.
I’m still developing a book – about a game. Of course, I’ve ended up writing about being inside a game, but.. it’s actually more about this game. Reality. Nature. It’s a nature world where players must progress through a Taiga-style biome. I’ve thrown some fantasy elements in there, but they too are symbols for forces which are real to me. The animals are ‘artificial life animals’. And it became a little more scientific, spiritual and ‘new age’, just because that’s how I see things. You can take a look at the Spiral and Fountellion project site, if you’re up for the challenge. It’s supposed to be more of a challenge as there is a design for an actual game there too, embedded or interwoven into the written ‘experience’.
So I can hope that to some readers at least, gaming ideas may spill out into a vision of nature as one vast game, where we must play a game of energy to survive and collaborate and find a reasonable distance – yet harmony with – ourselves and our environment. Permaculture, if you like.
That’s certainly more of a challenge (which is also how I wanted – or I should say, discovered – my own books to be). It’s possible that these GameLit or LitRPG books – even mine, I’d hoped – can play a role towards this challenge.
If you know of any other ‘Greenwise Gamelit’ or ‘Permaculture litRPG’ – within the spiral of new books, doorways and rising titles – please comment! A rare few may seed a brighter future for VR, AR or MR worlds – as well as this real one, our ‘source’.
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Interested in GameLit or LitRPG?
Then hook up, jack in… and click on…..
LitRPG Books forum on Facebook
LitRPG Society group on Facebook
LitRPG Group on Facebook
LitRPG Podcast via Facebook (also Youtube)
Geek Bytes website
GameLit group on Facebook
GameLit Society group on Facebook
RoyalRoad Legends – website for reading and supporting new works
Magic Dome Books – litRPG publisher