Reviewing and Responsibility

Paul Campbell Jr. posted an interesting article, and I’d like to talk about it.  I agree with most of what he’s posted, but there’s some context either he doesn’t know about or is choosing to be diplomatic about.

His first point is that the genre is fairly new, and thus the rules are in flux.

Since this genre is newly minted, and quite in its infancy, the “rules” or guidelines are loosely observed in some cases. This creates a kind of problem for most people within the genre, authors, readers, and reviewers a like. Lets start with the author’s perspective, if a novel is penned with just LitRPG guidelines in mind and author is writing strictly based on that for fear of public backlash, 100% of the time the book will take the punishment. This puts the author in a strange predicament, so bow down to the masses and potentially damage the book or be true to him or herself and follow the path they’ve set for themselves.

If you’ve been around sci-fi for any length of time, you’ve heard this sort of thing before with arguments about “hard” vs. “soft” sci-fi.  In LitRPG, the term usually used is “crunchy” vs “soft” LitRPG if the author is consciously following all of the conventions.

For me, I don’t care about conventions.   The question I always ask is, “How does this influence the novel?” There’s several books with pages and pages of stats, but they actually play no role in the book. The hero can always cast the spell, side step the attack, etc.

In fact, and ironically, one of the books that isn’t technically LitRPG but does this really well is Robert Bevan’s books. His characters in the game are completely limited by their stats, there’s a lot of things they can’t do because their stats won’t let them.

That’s pretty much my question on anything Whether it’s LitRPG or not is meaningless to me, it’s whether the elements are actually adding anything to the story. This applies to quests, armor bonuses, spells, etc.

I’ve seen a lot of reviewers praise books just for having elements in them, even when those elements don’t add anything, and trash books because those books don’t have elements in them, even when they aren’t missed.

LitRPG elements are just props used to construct a story. They shouldn’t be regarded as anything more than that.  Thus you can look through all of my reviews, and you’ll find that none of them really talk about LitRPG conventions except and in so far as they contribute to the story.

On one hand, if books reviewed aren’t truly targeted at the genre, then by all means make it known, but be sure to take the actual book into account. Loving this genre isn’t a witch hunt, it’s a development process and should be treated as such.

Well that brings us to the point that’s lacking context.  I write critical reviews, being that I am a critic.  If you’re an author, I’ll talk about what works and doesn’t work.  If you’re a reader, I’ll tell you why a book works for me or doesn’t work for me.  You can of course, tell me to eat a dick, but the premise I follow is straight from gaming:  Git Gud or Git Reckt.

However, I’ve been banned from discussing this on certain forums because the moderators have told me that they want their forum to be a place of happy discussions and fun atmosphere.  Critically discussing issues like characters who have no idea what they’re doing throughout the book, overuse of plot coupons and cheats, incoherent storylines and redundant chapters, lack of significant characters or plot development, these sorts of discussions are simply not allowed.

It’s all rainbows and sunshine, every book is equally as good as every other book in the LitRPG community.

For me, I don’t depend on this for any sort of financial revenue, so banning me isn’t really an issue.  But for reviewers who are both authors and reviewers, this puts them in a huge predicament.

So, if you can’t discuss whether a book is any good or not based upon common understanding of what makes any story good, (plot, characters, writing skill, humor), what are you left to talk about?

The only thing left to talk about, if you can’t criticize any LitRPG book, is to criticize it for not being LitRPG.  That’s the loophole left for a reviewer.

That’s why the focus of the reviews is on how LitRPG a book is, rather than is it any good or not.  It’s simply a consequence of prevailing rules, if you want to post on the largest facebook group for LitRPG, or post in the largest Reddit forums for LitRPG, you have to pretend everything is sunshine and rainbows, or else get threatened with a ban.  If you’re selling a book or promoting yourself through your reviews, this means that you can either be honest and face losses, or put on a brave face and work within the rules as best you can.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” — Upton Sinclair

While I wish for a World more in line with Paul Campbell Jr’s hope of more honest reviews and dialogue, the current market does not support that.  So long as market forces are aligning against this happening, I suspect that focusing on how LitRPG a novel is will take priority over whether or not the novel is worth reading.

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