This is the second in a planned series of posts explaining the genre. If you are new to LitRPG and GameLit, and have not checked out the first post in this series – What is LitRPG – then we advise you to do so now.
GameLit is a term used to describe a genre of books where the mechanics of the world are reminiscent of a video game or where video game mechanics are present, but play a secondary role in the story. As stressed in the previous post on the definition of LitRPG, a LitRPG story does not need to be set in a video game; the same applies for the GameLit genre.
Unlike LitRPG, GameLit’s classification is nowhere near as certainly or solidly defined. While LitRPG fixates on mechanics as the metric of what is and is not LitRPG, GameLit cannot be so neatly categorized. GameLit is in many ways a rebellion against the strict limitations of LitRPG and those who would enforce it, as well as a way for authors to market their books and avoid low ratings by readers who expected a traditional LitRPG.
The history of GameLit
In early September 2017 a group of authors met to discuss the future of the genre and their place within it, this wasn’t your average cult ritual or blood sacrifice, however; rather, they were concerned about the marketing of their books, which didn’t conform to the average LitRPG reader’s expectation.
To put things into context, these authors were primarily small indies, struggling with negative reviews on the basis that they “weren’t LitRPG”. While they had various acronyms, widgets and doohickeys to describe their individual books, what they lacked as a whole was a cohesive front and term with which to properly market their books without giving the wrong ideas as to their books’ nature.
By the end of the first meeting, they had set upon a winner: GameLit. And, while the definition of LitRPG developed quite organically, GameLit was a wholly artificial entity and an intentionally vague one at that. By the end of the month, that definition solidified into the incredibly helpful “A story with gaming elements essential to the plot”, which tells us practically nothing at all.
On the 30th of September, the official definition was launched.
And nothing happened.
These authors lacked the traction and resources in order to permeate public consciousness with the new moniker they had chosen to classify their books by. And that would have likely been the end of it…
Of course, nothing’s ever simple.
The trademark saga (like twilight, just worse)
On the 9th of September, an anonymous Reddit post tipped the community off to the fact that Aleron Kong had resurrected his trademark filing – this time under the supplemental register. For those of you unacquainted with trademark law – Trademarks can be split into two categories, the principal register and the supplemental register. Applying on the principal register means that you created the mark (mark = brand/term/marketing material) and also that you must enforce your ownership of that mark in order to keep it (enforce = sue the shit out of “infringers”). In early 2017, Aleron initially attempted to place LitRPG on the principal register, attempting to claim ownership of the fledgeling genre. This attempt failed.
However, like a persistent herpes infection, he crept back 8 months later and at the end of Fall attempted once more to push his trademark aspirations through – this time on the supplemental register. The supplemental register, fortunately, doesn’t allow for trademarks to be enforced, but still comes with its own complications which we won’t delve too deeply into here.
It was this second attempt (which ultimately succeeded), called out by the anonymous Reddit post, that kickstarted the GameLit genre.
Several prominent authors, worried that the supplemental trademark would impair their ability to market and sell their books (it wouldn’t, but they were afraid it would), jumped ship from LitRPG and began making plans to adopt the new label that until that point had gone mostly unknown and underutilized. Over the course of a month, a small number of authors (and one facebook group – formerly the LitRPG Society) changed their branding from LitRPG to GameLit. Which explains the somewhat top-heavy nature of the overall genre, with the count of LitRPG books vastly outnumber GameLit ones, despite GameLit technically being the umbrella genre.
And while Aleron didn’t (and couldn’t) do anything with his trademark, the damage had been done and the shift had been made. What had started with a small collection of authors who felt disenfranchised by their treatment by readers morphed into a reactionary community movement in response to attempts to monopolize the genre.
Of course, this wasn’t a ubiquitous change and LitRPG remains the larger and better known genre, despite being a subsidiary to GameLit. However, the bird had already flown the cage and there was no putting it back in. Over the course of a year GameLit developed, eventually becoming what it is today, a sub-genre (but not really a sub-genre) of 250+ books. They are all searchable and regularly updated through our GameLit and LitRPG Book Finder.
What makes a book GameLit
Academically, all LitRPG books are GameLit. In practice, LitRPG is the dominant term and is used in favor of GameLit. Typically, an author will only market their books as GameLit if they’re already aware they’ll catch flak for describing their books as LitRPG.
Like LitRPG, GameLit stories require a certain level of game-like mechanics to classify. However, these mechanics don’t need to be as overt or central to the story. If you want a romp through a game-like world, without the fixation on stat screens and health bars, then GameLit is the genre for you. Once again, it should be noted that a book need not take place inside a video game for it to be classified as GameLit or LitRPG, rather the importance is, as ever, on mechanics and their presence/absence. Sufficiently Advanced Magic is a novel that could technically be classified as GameLit, despite not taking place in a video game, this is because the world itself is gamified. If you have not read it already, check it out.
In the next post we’ll be discussing the different Categories of LitRPG (and GameLit).