The Hunger Games
I finally got round to seeing The Hunger Games last week.
It’s not the kind of movie I’d normally run out to see at the theater, but having been subjected to the TV spot trailer in excess of 1800 times (yes, I worked it out) within the last month, thanks to my day job, I really needed to get the damn movie out of my system.
Verdict? It was okay.
I’d previously read about half the novel and skimmed the rest. I found the story to be derivative, but Suzanne Collins had a fairly engaging prose style that kept me going. The movie itself had a vague TV movie whiff about it, although I’d long since resigned myself to the notion of a watered down interpretation of the novel once I heard that Gary Ross (previously responsible for Seabiscuit and Pleasantville) was involved.
Jennifer Lawrence did a remarkable job with the material at hand, but losing Katniss’s first-person narration from the novel ensured that we only ever got to see a very superficially-rendered Katniss. The odd blub or two aside, the movie version of Katniss never really seemed emotionally connected to the unfolding drama. In the novel, she’s very much plunged into inner turmoil and conflict, all of which is deftly handled, but we never really see that translated to the big screen.
I’ll avoid drawing the obvious comparisons with the much meatier Battle Royale, but one thing The Hunger Games did remind me of is the post-apocalyptic young adult fiction written by John Christopher throughout the sixties and seventies, particularly The Guardians and Wild Jack. While the plots of those books have very little to do with The Hunger Games, the broader themes at play are very similar: a world divided by the haves and have-nots in the wake of some post-apocalyptic tragedy; young adult protagonists making the transition from one half of that world to another, inciting the underdogs to overthrow the technological elite, etc.
Now, given that this is primarily a video game blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the obvious question: why isn’t there a video game tie-in?
Well, apparently Lionsgate are keen to expand the franchise into video game territory. Not only does it make financial sense (it’s unusual for a $300M grossing movie to not have a video game tie-in), but it makes logistical sense too, given that the eponymous Hunger Games event within the book/movie is essentially one huge deathmatch.
Of course, anyone familiar with the source material will automatically recognize the biggest hurdle facing any developer brave enough to tackle this property: how do you present a game in which a 12 year-old child will inevitably kill, or be killed by, another child? You can already hear a tsunami of outcry and indignation beginning to well up, from certain interest groups, at the merest hint of such a possibility. So what’s a game developer to do?
To ignore the Hunger Games event itself would be nuts, because every narrative thread and character arc converges there. It’s the primary focus of the novel (and movie), and to sidestep around the event just to avoid a controversy wouldn’t be doing the source material justice. So assuming the game is about the Hunger Games event, how do you depict teen-on-teen violence without earning the game an M rating (or equivalent) and incurring the wrath of the Perpetually Indignant?
Should the game pull back, mere milliseconds from the moment of a kill, and depict things implicitly rather than explicitly? Call of Duty and Battlefield fans wouldn’t be happy. They’re quite used to shoving shotguns up one another’s assholes and dancing in the post-trigger-pull shower of viscera that follows. People get shot or sliced and diced in The Hunger Games just like any other deathmatch game, but how far do you go to portray that?
I’m asking a lot of questions here but not really giving any answers. The Hunger Games event isn’t something that’s supposed to be entertaining. While it’s a nationwide TV event, it’s only the pampered power elite who gain any sort of pleasure from it. The friends and families of the Tributes who watch on the giant screens erected in their respective Districts simply watch in numbed silence, praying that their sons and daughters make it out alive. Given that any video game’s primary intent is to entertain those who play it, it will be interesting to see how that discrepancy is addressed.
Any prospective Hunger Games video game should be about survival, compassion and constantly require the player to question their role in the event and the society that allows it to continue, year after year. Only once that strong, contextual backdrop is in place can the developer start to explore just how far they’re willing to take the violence. We’ll just have to wait and see if anyone out there is up to this task.