First off, let me make it known that I like video games. I like them lots. I own three separate consoles in addition to using my computer for gaming. My favorite television channel is G4. In June, I take three days off from work to watch the E3 conference live.
I am a big fan of video games.
I am also a big believer in the story-telling power of video games. Where movies tell one version of a story to many people, and books subscribe to a more intimate relationship, one to one, between author and reader; video games offer players the utterly unique experience of co-authoring the story. Every decision (or mistake) made by the player changes the game in some way: In more simplistic action games, this could mean little more than having to replay a level, while in more detailed role playing games (RPGs), these choices can directly impact the storyline. The best videogames embrace this partnership with the player, and leave enough space in the design of the game for players to actively help shape the story.
This idea of co-authorship is, I believe, the reason so many film tie-in games are often inferior not only to other original video games, but also to their source material. The sad fact is that the majority of movie tie-ins that hit store shelves are little more than basic retellings of the main plot points of the films; in these games, there is little innovation or room for players to make choices. The main goal is for players to navigate from point A to Z with usually little to no room for derivation; something which has always prompted me to ask what the purpose of playing these kinds of game is anyway—wouldn’t it just be quicker to watch the actual movie?
The greatest games based on movies are the ones that have less to do with the film, and more to do with the world it’s based it. The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth comes to mind as one of the best examples of a film tie-in done right because it doesn’t simply recreate the events of the movie, it expands to scope and range of the film, allowing the player to become immersed in the Middle Earth only hinted at in the movies. It involves strategy, choices, and the ability to play either campaigns seen in the movies or develop your own. It is a rich addition to the world created by Tolkien, not simply a recreation.
And now, with all of that said, I come before you as a lover of video games and of The Hunger Games to wholeheartedly denounce the union of the two.
Sure, on the surface it seems like a perfect match. The Hunger Games has a unique and interesting world that would easily translate into an exciting and interesting backdrop for a video game. The action inherent in the story Collins tells could lend itself to almost any genre of game: first person shooter (self explanatory), action-adventure (play as Katniss through the original story), RPG (create your own tribute and play through different Games) , and even simulation (act as Gamemaker and create arenas). There is the opportunity for expansion of Collins' world by formatting the game as a massive multiplayer online game where you create your own character and interact with fellow Hunger Games fans worldwide. Heck, The Hunger Games even already has the word ‘game’ in its title—what could possibly be the problem?
The problem is that the whole point of The Hunger Games is that they are not games at all.
The creation of any genre of video game based on The Hunger Games would, unavoidably, enforce the very ideas that the books (and hopefully films) seek to dispel. Out of the many messages contained within the series, one stands above the rest: that a culture that glorifies the devaluing of a person’s humanity for the purpose of political gain (or worse entertainment) is dangerous. We are privy to this message in the books because we have the benefit of being able to read about Katniss’ hesitance to and later guilt over the murder of the other Tributes. We experience it first hand when we are forced to read Rue’s brutal death at that hand of another child.
I don’t know about you, but somehow I don’t think that reenacting those things first hand through a video game is quite what Suzanne Collins would want her readers to do.
I doubt that she wants her fans to create teenaged characters for the purpose of throwing them into a virtual Hunger Games.
I highly doubt that she would want us to design the various pitfalls and tortures that the teenage Tributes experience in the arena.
We, as fans, cannot let our desire to become immersed in Collins’ world overpower our obligation to learn from and pass on the socially conscious messages of her books. If a video game will not serve to continue to reinforce the need for equity and justice, but will instead counteract them by placing a focus on entertainment and violence (and I believe that is exactly what will happen), then we don’t need it. There are plenty of other video games out there for us—even if some of them are lackluster or not as innovative or expansive as we might hope.
But there are much worse games to play.
To help change our world for the better, please see this page for information on the Hunger Games Literacy Revolution.