Zombie Apocalypse LitRPG… whut?

I know I haven’t blogged for a while. The realities of limited creativity under Covid and the stresses of a house move are to blame but now! I’m back and I have news, BIG news. Now, you might be looking at the article title and thinking ‘Dave, I understand three of those four words. What the heck is LitRPG?’ Well, I’ll tell you.

The chances are you’ve come across one of the inspirations for LitRPG and not even realised it. You probably remember The Matrix (1999), maybe you’re familiar with Sword Art Online (the Light Novel ran 2002 to 2008 and A1 Pictures released the animation 2012, it has since received wider recognition via Netflix) or ever the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon series (1983). Well each of these share and have contributed to LitRPG or ‘Literary Role Playing Game’, that is, a narrative centred around players within a game. For the most part the players are trapped in the game world, it’s an alien experiment or maybe a punishment programme. In some instances it’s life and death, sometimes you get extra lives, whether death ingame equates death in real life… usually yes. There has to be threat but the level does vary. So you’re following the story of a player, usually in a high-stakes game simulation, gottit? Good.

Anyway, as recently as last year I’d never hear the phrase ‘LitRPG’ myself (and I count myself something of a geek) let alone thought I would write one. I’ve written several times my experiences at Dublin Worldcon as a trader and panellist. I’ve talked about the networking opportunities of big conventions well, now I can share a little more detail about what you can achieve from such shows from personal experience and don’t worry, we’ll get to the Zombie Horror LitRPG soon.

I was lucky enough, on the second day of the Con, to be relocated to a front and centre table of the Trade hall (another trader had failed to attend and I lucked out by being chosen to replace them). On that same block were two independent publishers one of which was LevelUp Publishing. During the ebb and flow of actual trading traders themselve often pass the time chatting and so it was that I ended up asking Conor Kostick what in the world a LitRPG was. Dublin Worldcon was spread over five days, there were plenty of lulls in the flow of visitors to the trade hall as attendee’s took in the many wonderful panels that were going on so I had plenty of time to look into LitRPG and something occurred to me. Although the number of titles was steadily growing the genre seemed split into two sections, Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Now, I’m a gamer too, I’ve played titles ranging from FPS to RTS to Survival Horror, I’m a big fan of Zombie games and I couldn’t see any titles that feature zombie survival during my perfunctory searches so, since Conor (as commissions editor) was actively pursuing new writers, titles and concepts I voiced the idea of a Zombie Apocalypse LitRPG.

I thought about writing a zombie horror but, with the explosion of the genre to mainstream popularity over the past decade or more I didn’t feel there was anything ‘new’ I could add. I couldn’t see myself bringing anything to the genre that hadn’t been done already, until I talked to Conor about LitRPG. We discussed the possibilities, hashed out some rough ideas over coffee during the course of the Convention. Conor himself came up with the fantastic idea of lacing the narrative with quotes from famous Nihilists, one of which in particular I hope will end up on the cover or in the blurb. And so we parted ways at the end of Worldcon with my head buzzing with new possibilities.

It’s been just over a year in writing. I’ve delved into the tropes, forms and traditions of zombie horror, from the realities of weapons and tactics to the framework of politics and social commentary and, having finished the first draft, I sent it off to Conor at LevelUp. It is with great enthusiasm that I can say that LevelUp have asked to publish the presently titled Rendered Flesh and I’m working, under Conor’s guidance, on the edits and revisions that will elevate the first draft to a manuscript ready for publishing and distribution to the hungry masses.

The time seems right for a bit of a zombie resurgence and, on the back of the popularity of Ready Player One (Novel 2011, Film 2018), maybe a Zombie Horror LitRPG will sink its teeth into the audience’s imagination.

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