This post is going to do double–maybe triple–duty. Instead of offering up a specific story idea I’ve had that hasn’t been written, I’m gonna talk about a relatively new genre that readers of Speculative Faith might want to explore. And mention I’m publishing a story in this genre, GameLit, the novel Animal Eye, the latest from my friend Cindy Koepp.
But instead of me telling you, I’ve asked Cindy to tell you herself. She writes:
What is GameLit?
GameLit is a relatively new genre of the speculative fiction realm that started in about 2012 in Russia (as a narrower subcategory of GameLit: LitRPG). The earliest novels in English were actually translated from Russian, but the genre is quickly growing in the English-speaking world. It involves telling a story from within a game universe. The main characters are playing a game, so the story tracks their progress through the quests, usually but not necessarily set in video games. They advance through levels and improve skills. The most recent Jumanji movies are examples of GameLit.
GameLit has a variety of subcategories ranging from statistic-heavy LitRPG or GameLit Crunchy to almost numerically deprived GameLit Lite. They can be science fiction, fantasy, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, or any other setting you could put a game in. The key is to tell the tale from within the game as a player who is actually playing. If related to a video game, as most GameLit stories are, there probably will be some aspect of Artificial Intelligence or advanced Virtual Reality that would relate to a broad definition of Cyberpunk (though maybe the story would only touch on that a bit).
Although you can find examples of tales that would be considered GameLit some time ago, the genre is coming into its own now (as seen in this website). The reader base is large and growing, and they’re looking for good books.
That audience is dedicated to the genre. The audience is largely (but not nearly exclusively) young men who enjoy playing and reading about role-playing games, both the tabletop version with dice and character sheets and the computer versions with online quests and scenarios. Some stories are quite racy (for example, “Harem” is a subgenre of GameLit), profanity is common, and many are violent.
Not to worry, ladies. This is not a boys-only club. The number of gals writing in the genre is increasing and by no means is all content in GameLit stereotypical hormone-driven-male stuff.
You might even think of this as a mission field. Gaming has long gotten the evil eye from some Christian groups because some of the games focus heavily on magic systems deemed occultic. If you do it right, your tale can bring Christ to folks who have had a lot of bad experiences with Christians who were quick to condemn.
Another reason to consider entering the GameLit genre is to play the games again. There was a time when I was an avid gamer, both tabletop and computer-based RPGs. Unfortunately, a recurring wrist injury and the time constraints of my adult obligations meant that I had to trim back my hobbies. I do love writing, so gaming was the one that had to go. Writing GameLit, I get to play the games again through the story world I create.
Why Not GameLit?
As you might expect, writing GameLit isn’t for everyone.
That dedicated reader base I mentioned? They can be very vocal in their support of certain authors and in their disdain for others. As with any genre, there are a handful of kerfluffles that revolve around a couple specific authors and tensions run high. Even if you do it well, you’ll have some readers who love you, and some who don’t, and neither group is shy about expressing their feelings. This isn’t a genre for the faint of heart.
If you’re not a gamer or if you haven’t been a gamer previously, getting the flow of the story and tropes figured out is going to be tough. The genre has its own lingo like “aggro,” “buffs,” and “debuffs.” If you don’t know the lingo, you’re going to sound inauthentic. Shoehorning game mechanics into a non-game story is going to be obvious to the more seasoned readers. They appear to have little patience for that.
If you’re the sort of writer who must include overt Christian references, you’ll get significant pushback. More than other genres I’ve written in, putting your faith in the open will get you more sneers than cheers. For fewer headaches and greater effectiveness, make the faith a less intrusive part of the story with a real game world effect.
Some Tips to Get Started
So, how would you go about writing one of these?
First, research the genre. I’ve given you a general overview, but do go check out some of the published works. I’m rather partial to my own, of course, but there is a lot of it out there. This will give you a familiarity with the genre and some of its unique quirks. It’s not simply speculative fiction with a game overlay.
Second, build your world. Even if you’re a consummate pantser, you’re going to need to figure out the parameters of your game. I suppose you could “wing it” on the game mechanics, but I think you run a bigger risk of it sounding like speculative fiction with the game mechanics glued on in the end.
Once you know what GameLit is like and you have your game mechanics figured out, it becomes a writing project much like other writing projects. Write your draft, revise it until your red pen runs out of ink, get feedback, revise some more, then chase down your favorite route to publication. The caveat to that is that your feedback should come from someone who knows GameLit. It really is its own peculiar duck.
Examples of GameLit from My Writing include Animal Eye, “Feeling Swamped” in the Rise and Rescue Vol 1 Anthology, “Up a Tree” in the Rise and Rescue Vol 2 Protect and Recover Anthology, “Siren” in the Warrior’s Tribute Anthology, “Seeking What’s Lost” in the Mythic Orbits Vol 2 Anthology, and “The Fall of the Invincible Man” from the Avatars of Web Surfer Anthology.
Back to Travis:
Hopefully it hasn’t been confusing to switch from me to Cindy and back. But there’s a reason why I’m doing so. My interest in Animal Eye isn’t necessarily the same as what Cindy sees in her story and as I’m talking to readers of Speculative Faith about it here, my interest is secondarily in Animal Eye itself (even though I’m the book’s publisher). Mainly I want to talk about how an original idea can open up a market that not many Christians are writing in.
By the way, Animal Eye is a GameLit adventure. In Animal Eye, Khin May and Jake are playtesters checking out the conversion of a popular kids’ game to an adult version. Khin May becomes Ahva, a feisty crow who belongs to Osse, an archer and herbalist. Jake plays Nagheed, a Nethanyan mountain shepherd, who belongs to Baron Rafayel Dorcas. They experience the Virtual Reality game as the characters and learn how to do things the animals can do. Ahva can fly and mimic almost any sound with practice, and Nagheed can track targets by their scent and run fast enough to keep pace with a horse. As the game progresses through a variety of quests, they advance their skills while learning the unusual history of the world. They and their humans gather resources to stop a priestess bent on creating laughing maniacal killers to fulfill an old grudge to destroy all civilizations but her own.
What interests me though is that the convention for video games is for players (in the fiction game of GameLit) to be humans or maybe demi-humans or intelligent aliens. Such players may have animals that help them, especially in medieval or ancient world settings. But in Animal Eye, the situation is flipped. Humans, who are important to the story for sure, are NPC (Non-Player Characters) played by an advanced AI to the point where they seem as real as the PC (Player Character) protagonists. But in the imaginary game of Animal Eye, a human player would always play an animal, never a human being or demi-human.
Animals Stars to Open a Gateway
While some GameLit stories I’ve searched for do feature animal protagonists or important animal characters, none so far has featured a game starring animal players, as far as I know. So by means of adopting an original story setting in a genre which has a negligible Christian author presence, Cindy has created a tale which may (God willing) be of interest to hard-core fans of a new genre and serve as a gateway to get them interested in tales which are not necessarily stereotypical stuff, which do not revel in sex, profanity, and violence, with no acknowledgement in any way of God.
Cindy’s story also does feature a disguised version of faith in God, though it’s by no means the center of the tale. But there’s an opportunity there to draw people into a different way to look at the world than what GameLit is normally doing. A Gateway to get people thinking about God, or a as “mission field” as Cindy said.
Warning: Gateways Open Both Ways
Of course by opening a connection to a genre with only a small amount of kid-friendly content, a genre generally hostile to Christianity (as Cindy reports it), there’s always the danger that connecting an innovative story to that world will not only provide a gateway for people hostile to Christ to get introduced to Christian thinking, it could on the other hand cause inquisitive young Christians to start out reading wholesome works like Cindy’s and follow the genre into slime. Yes, that’s a possible outcome–we should acknowledge that possibility and guard against it. In particular Christian parents should be aware that GameLit contains some very negative stuff and young people should be appropriately warned. Discernment is, of course, key.
The main purpose of this post is not to say “Go buy a copy of Animal Eye.” (Though of course, you can…here’s a link to the Kindle version of Animal Eye…) But rather to talk about an opportunity to reach readers in the GameLit genre and to give an example of how Cindy is doing it. As a means to explore the power of innovative story settings.
Though in fact, if any aspiring writers reading this would be interested in writing a story that’s similar to Animal Eye or would like to work with Cindy and I contributing to a sequel story that’s part of her game-featuring-animals story setting (though not with her same characters), we might be interested in that, too. Contact us.
Readers of this post, have you read any GameLit? What are your thoughts and impressions? How about stories with animal protagonists? There’s no shortage of such stories–what are your particular favorites?