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LitRPG, the Literary Role-Playing Game, is a subgenre of fiction where characters interact within a game-like world complete with rules, levels, and quests, much like in a traditional role-playing game.
As I began to read more LitRPGs, there was something about them that I couldn’t seem to isolate. It was bugging me until a realization broke through.
So, there’s a strong divide between Western and Eastern LitRPG. (Note that I’m calling them Eastern/Western based on their origins, but cultural attitudes towards storytelling, heroes, and escapism may also play a role in these differences.) The Chinese / Korean / Japanese version has a heavy overlap with isekai and puts characters in a world where they have extraordinary abilities that work as you would expect them to in a computer RPG.
The Western version tends to take people and put them in adventures that use RPG tropes, but they are usually tied to tabletop RPGs and the tropes are layered on, but not part of, how the world really works. E.g. stories are set in a virtual reality, where the game provides RPG mechanics, but the people themselves live in something approximating the real world. The California Voodoo Game was an early example of this.
I think they’re driven by very different tastes and I’m steadily leaning toward thinking of them as two different genres. Western stories usually have “everyman” characters who excel despite adversity. Eastern stories often have “chosen ones” who tend to be Mary/Gary Sues – seemingly perfect characters who may have hidden depths, or whose perfection may serve a narrative purpose.
An example of the Western style that is very popular is Dungeon Crawler Carl. He is a guy in a post-apocalyptic world who has to compete in a game with elements of magic / super-science in a fantasy genre reality TV show.
Meanwhile, one of the most popular Eastern titles right now is Solo Leveling, where the world is like ours until magical gates start opening and some people gain powers like those of characters from fantasy novels. The protagonist actually interacts with screens and prompts like a video game (a common trope in the Eastern style).
What are your thoughts? Do you lean more towards Eastern or Western LitRPG? Any idea why?
ABOUT LETO ARMITAGE
Leto Armitage was born in America under a set of circumstances that prophesied that he would one day unite the lost tribes and return the Ever Summer. Somewhere around twelve, he realized he had been left unsupervised and binged too many Arthurian movies in his formative years and that he was just another kid who accidentally got an education while reading above his age level.
By the time he turned old enough to get a passport, he started finding excuses to travel determined to find out what culture, food and women there were to experience. After learning to grill in Oaxaca, do kinbaku in Japan, and being banned from several former Soviet block countries, he returned home to settle down and see what damage he could do locally.
After working jobs including being a short order cook, bodyguarding strippers and professionally doing reader’s advisory for erotica he realized the most reasonable path forward was to become a writer. Today he lives with cats, dogs, and humans who seem to like him despite actually knowing him. He prefers to sit on his back deck, listening to the birds and Barry the Bumblebear bee, while he writes cozy, uplit romance and raunchy erotica.