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In almost all the LitRPG stories I read, the start of the stories is full of system messages, +1 here and there, even damage prompts saying "Goblin hits Hero for -8 HP". Classes, skills, experience points galore.

For those that don't know, LitRPG (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LitRPG) - it is a genre more prominent in asian literature, where "transported into or living in a game-like world" kind of stories happen. Not to be confused with "trapped in a game world" like Sword Art Online, that is GameLit.

Then as the story progresses and the characters power growth characteristic of a true RPG creeps in, these elements are blatantly discarded, never to be mentioned again. Gone is the damage message, gone is the skill growth, gone is all but the most superficial elements of the RPG and it becomes just a normal (insert genre) story.

To the point I feel like the LitRPG element becomes just a crutch to get the story kickstarted. One that could be entirely discarded for the sake of brevity. Or sent to the Checkov firing squad.

But almost all authors do it that way. Therefore, is it a genre convention to do it that way?

  • Disclosure: I have two ongoing LitRPG webnovels. – Mindwin Aug 14 at 12:35
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    Do you follow the convention? I don't see how these point systems would make the reading more pleasant or more engaging (Disclosure: I also don't get why people watch videos of other people watching movies)? – NofP Aug 14 at 12:41
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    @nofp regarding your last point, it is the "reaction" part. Google "red wedding reaction videos" for videos of unaware people watching GoT's eponymous wedding recorded by people that knew it would be brutal from the book that was 13 years old at the time it aired. It is a sliding scale between Schadenfreude and antropology research. – Mindwin Aug 14 at 14:18
  • What are LitRPG stories? – celtschk Aug 15 at 13:21
  • @celtschk en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LitRPG - it is a genre more prominent in asian literature, where "transported into or living in a game-like world" kind of stories happen. Not to be confused with "trapped in a game world" like Sword Art Online, that is GameLit. – Mindwin Aug 15 at 13:23
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It is an unfortunate example of the hook and content curve. It is a measure by which the artifact of the work takes precedence over the actual story at any given point.

This usually takes on the form you described for two main reasons:

  1. The author wants to avoid fatigue regarding the format.

  2. Story event density goes up over time (working towards climax) which makes such interesting touches more intrusive to flow.

For another genre in which this happens a lot, look at musicals. In nearly all cases, the first half will contain almost double the number of songs of the second half.

  • I think you might be onto something with the musicals analogy. – Mindwin Aug 14 at 18:18
  • Do you have a source for this "Hook and Content Curve" theory? I searched for a while and found nothing. – Mindwin Aug 29 at 13:29
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Different narrative media have their own modes to tell a story. A novel uses written language; a movie uses images replacing each other within a frame accompanied by spoken language, sounds, and music; a comic uses static images placed side by side on a printed page; and a role playing game uses a group of players taking turns casting dice to decide one of several possible outcomes for a narrative situation.

Usually one medium doesn't employ the narrative modes of another.

When a film is made after a book, cinema goers don't usually see a book on screen that they have to read page after page for 90 minutes. When an author writes the novelization of a movie, he does not describe how on screen the protagonist was only visible to the knees and how the antagonist teased him from off screen. When a comic books is turned into an RPG, the players don't trow the dice for which panel they are going to place on the page next.

When one story told in one medium is retold in another, it is not the representation in that medium that gets retold, but the story that was being told.

If you attempt to recreate an RPG in a novel, the result will be utterly boring:

Lord Voldemort rolled and inflicted 20 damage to Harry Potter. Taking his turn, Harry rolled and raised his protection by 15 points, reducing the damage to 5 points. His health had nevertheless fallen to 18 points now, weakening him so much that he had to pause a turn to recover.

Therefore, novelisations of RPG might begin with a reminder of the game mode to draw in the gamers, and will then switch to the narrative mode that works best in this medium.

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    I'm sorry, but you missed the forest for the tree. It is not the novelization of an RPG session. – Mindwin Aug 15 at 13:26
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Current practice for attention-calling literary elements --I'm thinking primarily here of things like accents and dialects --is to start out with enough to give the flavor, and then to assume that the reader can extrapolate that those same things are continuing in the background, even if they are no longer being called-out or fully rendered. It's an anti-realist convention intended to make things less tedious and annoying for both the reader and the writer.

A story filled from beginning to end with stats adjustments would be practically unreadable. That doesn't entail that the the gamelike aspects might not still be an important part of the background setting and atmosphere. It may be true in some instances that those conventions could be entirely removed without any loss --and perhaps to the story's overall benefit! --but it sounds like that would migrate the story to a different subgenre.

From the little I know of LitRPG, it's already an anti-realist subgenre --it's founded on artifice and the deliberate suspension of disbelief --so it doesn't surprise me that it has ritual conventions of form.

  • I think you confuse LitRPG with GameLit. – Mindwin Aug 14 at 18:17
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    @Mindwin - That's quite possible. Can you explain what you see as the difference, and why that makes you think I'm confused? If I agree, I'll either edit my answer or delete it. – Chris Sunami Aug 14 at 18:22
  • @Mindwin - I've edited my answer. – Chris Sunami Aug 15 at 20:47
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I am completely ignorant of LitRPG. It is entirely possible that some reader get pleasure from the insight into these numerical statistics alongside with the plot. The OP question suggests however that most author get tired of providing these numbers. More than a convention it sounds like a sign of maturation in style.

The issue: Don't tell, show it

In my opinion it is mostly an issue of showing vs. telling. You can tell the reader that the character just lost 8 points, or you can show it by letting the reader feel what the character feels. The first may be interesting in an instruction manual, the latter is more suitable for a work of narrative. I have the impression that as the writer progresses with the LitRPG they try to create a work of narrative and hope that the readers forget they have been reading an instruction manual until a few pages earlier.

The second issue: Clickbait into an uninteresting story

Crunch in the first few pages some elements that you believe would attract readers. A reader that is into RPGs may find the reading facilitated if it resembles notes from a gaming session. Unless LitRPG is intended to provide guidelines on how to play a particular RPG, this would suggest that the story is not that interesting to start with, or that it started too early in the timeline.

The awkward points

1. Why not give all the numerical data of the world?

Why limit the numerical representation to characters statistics? Why not providing the change in geographical coordinates for each movement? Or the change in temperature perceived by the character? If the counter-argument is that the numbers should just reflect a particular RPG system, why not switching for a more comprehensive one? Afterall, if someone enjoys all the number-crunching, they may enjoy even more the fact that the entire world is designed with a rigorous numerical mechanics.

2. Filler fluff

In contrast to an actual RPG session in which a character may be defeated and die as a consequence of these numerical contraptions, in a novel there is the concept of plot armour. It is quite unlikely that any major character would die as easily as the fodder that is thrown at them. This is particularly true if you have one MC. In this paradigm, all the numerical evidence about numbers and classes become filler faff as they serve no other purpose than to fill pages: the MC is going to survive and no amount of damage or class growth is going to alter the arc of the story. One could argue that the arc is determined by these numbers, and while that is true for a live session, it is less true for a novel in which the author hopes to engage readers for many and many pages.

3. The tune of ads

Using a particular RPG system and making it obvious in a commercial product is likely motivated by an advertisement campaign. The company selling the action figures, the books, and the RPG game are trying to create an easily identifiable brand. Why would you as an unrelated author imitate it? It is as if the employees of a cleaning company would sing the tune from the detergent ads every time they mop office floors.

  • You are right with the clickbait part. Some authors do use LitRPG to jumpstart a story and later drop it or just pay lip service to the genre. However, the other points are completely out. Especially the last one. – Mindwin Aug 14 at 14:16
  • @Mindwin Why? Magic the Gathering novels exist, as well as an animated TV series based on DnD. Not to mention Yu-gi-ho animes, and the like. – NofP Aug 14 at 16:04
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Most readers, and most authors, eventually realize that such constant interruptions to narrative flow are bloody annoying. Yes, there are a few who claim to like them, but they're a distinct minority. Vocal, but a minority.

The problem is translating a game mechanic into a setting where said game mechanic is pointless. In a computer or tabletop RPG, you need such a system because it's the only way of evaluating how a given character is doing due to the limitations of technology in an efficient manner. In prose, such a technique is pointless because the author is capable of getting inside the characters to show what's happening. You don't need to say that a hit was for 25 HP instead of the normal 10 HP because you can simply describe the fact a character was hit by a really hard blow that sent them reeling. You can show them getting tired instead of simply listing off dwindling stamina points. You don't need to say that you blocked 9 points of damage and only took 1, because you can describe how a blow was blocked and barely caused a nick, and so on.

The other thing is that, in real games, you do not see this happening:

Okay, I just levelled up and got 1 point I'm going to put into Strength, so I now have 15 Strength, 20 Perception, 12 Endurance, 8 Charisma, 9 Intelligence, 16 Agility and 13 Luck (list all the other stats the character has).

(Three pages later) Oh, levelled up again! So one more point in Agility, so now I have 15 Strength, 20 Perception, 12 Endurance, 8 Charisma, 9 Intelligence, 17 Agility and 13 Luck (list all the other stats the character has, none of which have changed).

(Five pages later) Oh, levelled up again! I'll drop another in Intelligence so now I have 15 Strength, 20 Perception, 12 Endurance, 8 Charisma, 10 Intelligence...

If someone actually did that, other players would beat them senseless for wasting time needlessly repeating things that are already known and especially that did not change. Yet some LitRPG authors start off doing this. It's pointless and absurd and annoying filler, and some/many authors and readers eventually come to that same conclusion. What's more important is quite often said numbers are (a) utterly pointless, as characters defeat enemies that by all rights they shouldn't be able to even score hits on due to level differences, and (b) most authors aren't game designers, so unless they specifically rip-off an existing game, usually the numbers wouldn't even make sense in creating a game people that wasn't an illogical, bug-ridden, unplayable, and unenjoyable piece of garbage.

Another factor, which should be taken into account, is that as tech improves those kind of mechanics aren't as necessary. Many computer games now don't spew out numbers, they simply show graphical effects to indicate what's happening. And, in one of the single most annoying things I see in LitRPG, if you have full-immersion VR, these sorts of things are utterly unnecessary for the same reason the prose makes it unnecessary. I don't need numbers to tell me I'm getting the crap kicked out of me if I can feel I'm getting the crap kicked out of me.

Other mechanics, like pop-ups providing information, don't require the reader to be reminded of the information constantly. The first few times the player/protagonist gets a skill that lets them, say, identify the type of enemy they're facing with a small window that pops into their field of view, fine, but after that constantly reminding the reader of it is akin to showing that a character has a cell phone, but thereafter always making a point that the whenever the character makes a call they haul out their cell phone. Great, wonderful, thanks for reminding me for the 20th time they have a cell phone.

If the character looks at an enemy and the author simply notes what it is, the reader takes it for granted that there's a little window that popped up that provided the info. They don't have to be constantly reminded unless something different happens: the window, for some reason doesn't provide the information for instance.

To take it away from games for a bit, imagine how annoying something like this would become:

My Uncle Bob, who is my uncle because he's my father's brother, was at the park when someone came up to him and said, "Hey, Bob!" Bob, my uncle, responded with a cheerful hello, as Uncle Bob does when he talks to me, his nephew. Because Uncle Bob is a really good guy, and although as I am Uncle Bob's nephew I could be biased, I don't think so because everyone thinks Bob is a good guy, even though, unlike me, his nephew, he isn't their uncle.

And for the rest of the story, every time Bob was mentioned, everything grinds to a complete halt to remind everyone that Bob is the narrator's uncle. That's what continually tossing in those reminders that the characters are in a LitRPG story is like.

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