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LitRPG, short for Literary Role Playing Game, is a literary genre combining the conventions of RPGs with science-fiction and fantasy novels. Games or game-like challenges form an essential part of the story and visible RPG statistics (for example strength, intelligence, damage) are a significant part of the reading experience. This is in contrast to GameLit, which involves game-like worlds but does not typically provide visible statistics. At least some of the characters in a LitRPG novel may understand that they are playing a game or are in a game-like world: they are 'meta-aware'.
A definitive history detailing the infancy of LitRPG is difficult to track down. Larry Niven and Stephen Barnes's Dream Park (1981) has a setting of LARP-like games as a kind of reality TV in the future (2051); Andre Norton's Quag Keep (1978) enters the world of the characters of a D&D game. With the rise of MMORPGs in the 1990s came Science Fiction novels that utilised virtual game worlds for their plots. Early examples are Tad Williams' 1996 - 2004 tetralogy, Otherland, Conor Kostick's 2004, Epic and Charles Stross's 2007 Halting State. In Taiwan, the first of Yu Wo's nine ½ Prince (½ 王子 Èrfēnzhīyī Wángzǐ) novels appeared, published in October 2004 by Ming Significant Cultural. In Japan, the genre has reached the mainstream with the release of the media phenomenon Sword Art Online in 2009, which might be the originator of the genre's growth. Online serial "Munchkin" fanfiction such as Harry Potter and the Natural 20 in early 2012 may have helped bridge the gap to Western literature.
While these novels and others were precursors to a more stat-heavy form of novel, which is LitRPG proper, a Russian publishing initiative identified the genre and gave it a name. In 2012, EKSMO, Russia's biggest publishing house, started its bestselling multiple-author project entitled LitRPG. According to the Russian LitRPG author Vasily Mahanenko, the actual name "LitRPG" was coined in late 2013 in the course of a brainstorming session between himself, EKSMO's science fiction editor Dmitry Malkin and fellow LitRPG author Alex Bobl. This explains the seemingly grammatical awkwardness of the name: in Russian, the proper grammatical form is "LitRPG", not "RPGLit". Since 2014, EKSMO has been running LitRPG competitions and publishing the winning stories.
Many of the post-2014 writers in this field insist that depiction of a character's in-game progression must be part of the definition of LitRPG, leading to the emergence of the term GameLit to distinguish those books that don't necessarily embody levelling and skill raising. Game-Lit, however, is sometimes used to denote books that are being turned into computer games.
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