Proof The Hunger Games Author Sucks at World Building

I am willing to forgive many sins in a film, book or game  campaign but there is one thing that is unforgivable: lousy world building. Good world building involves creating an unreal place with internal logic that works. That is not to say that it has to make sense in “our” world, but it is internally consistent. The “Dune” series revolves around abilities powered by spice and the various political maneuvers to control spice and its attendant power.   Personalities, ideology, organizations and even biology adapted to melange’s evolutionary pressure. All well and good and it was a classic of science-fiction.

Which brings me to “The Hunger Games.” Every year an oppressive government drafts 24 teenage sacrifices from 12 districts to murder in a very public show of power.  All to maintain power and prevent a revolution.

This is quite literally the most asinine idea ever conceived. You are  fomenting your own revolution.  Just not for the reasons your think…

Yes, murdering children pisses people off and they riot. You quickly put the riots down violently, but that is a short-term solution masking the real danger. It is subtle and hard to stop and it will end with a very bloody revolution.

Since no parent wants their children to die young and there is (apparently) no way to avoid the “reaping” your best bet is for your child to win and survive.  Excluding volunteers, which the film claims are relatively rare, every parent faces the reality that their child might wind up in the games.  There is only one solution.

Turn your child into a killing machine from the day they are born.

Raise the child harshly, test them physically and mentally, push them to the breaking point and then go beyond. Endless weapon drills and survival training, perhaps done in secret, but still no parent will allow their child to go unprepared. Look at the lengths  parents go through to get children into college or professional sports in the real world. Now stack life or death stakes on and watch the competition really kick in.

Other parents want their child to survive as well and they immediately start “keeping up with the Joneses” and start training their little angel of death as well. It is a true zero sum game.

The “reapimg” day rolls around and one of these little angels of death goes to fight and an entire group of his/her 18-year-old peers age out of the lottery. Safe from any chance of going to the games, they can now move on to mundane jobs like baker and coal miner and totally forget years of paramilitary training, routine violence and the yearly possibility of  a pointless, violent death.

Yeah, right.

Within three generations, every adult is a highly trained killer with decades of combat training and a vendetta against the central government. History has a name for this citizen.

Spartan.

The evil overlord is toast in three generations, max.  Oh, if anyone gives me the “overlord has better weapons/technology” argument, go read a history book. Specifically look at the British wars in Afghanistan or Africa in the 19th century.  Technology is an edge certainly, but numbers, training and sheer force of will won out more than once.

Humans evolve and adapt.  Ignoring this fact creates a ridiculous world that insults your audience.

Since the book is so popular, I have to ask if the internal logic any better in the book?

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

 

trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

13 thoughts on “Proof The Hunger Games Author Sucks at World Building

  • March 25, 2012 at 8:46 pm
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    Awesome article. Makes me want to read Dune again…and avoid this film.

  • March 26, 2012 at 8:54 am
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    Well said sir that’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s like they made a whiny version of UT into a movie. The oppressive government thing is getting old it had shock factor in the US 1950s era of ignorant bliss. But to modern Americans who are dumb enough to believe they are being oppressed nothing short of concentration camps will grab their attention.

  • March 26, 2012 at 12:21 pm
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    I read the books and while I did get bored at a few points in the movie, I disagree about them becoming killing machines and the movie wasn’t clear enough on the premise of its title for that. These people are hungry and starving. Tribunes from outlying districts are malnourished compared to the Careers. The rest are too busy with survival supposedly to be in training.

    I do agree with your post title. It’s what I thought when I finished the last book. The districts are not real places to Collins. They exist only to serve the plot and characters of the Hunger Games. It seems that she gave very little thought to how the districts actually interact with each other and the Capitol and how people would develop differently. That stuff is absolutely missing.

  • March 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm
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    Starving? That is an evolutionary anvil weeding out the weak and forging a nation of hardcore survivors. I think my Spartan analogy survives quite well. Still, it is sad to hear that the books also gloss over world-building.

    Trask

  • March 28, 2012 at 7:20 pm
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    Great article. I did a Google search for ‘Hunger Games sucks” and came across your article. I went to see it with my wife and daughter a few days ago. I knew nothing about the books (or movie) up until about a day or two before going to see it. Did a quick search online and read that while it was quite violent, it had an anti-war message, so I was interested in seeing it, since that’s my bent. But I guess I’m a bit of a ‘Debbie-downer’ since I couldn’t help but find all sorts of problems with the premise, much of which you’ve discussed in your article. You didn’t point out this particular scene, but to me the perfect representation of what you’re talking about happens when Rue (?) is killed and is given a respectful “burial” by Katniss (?). The townspeople in Rue’s district seem to get quite worked up and start to riot. Two thoughts I had on this:

    1) First, the “captain obvious” thought: Wow, they’re rioting because this sweet little girl just got murdered on TV. Who’da thunk it? Watching a sweet girl get murdered could cause rioting? And doesnt the central government maybe want to keep these districts from wanting to riot (and overthrow the central govt)? Isn’t that what they’re supposedly trying to prevent? Since that’s what all these districts apparently tried to do a while back? Who’da thunk that taking a sweet child from their town, and putting them into a position where they’ll likely get viciously murdered would not end up with the desired result?
    2) The second thought I had, though, was that even this part of the storyline didn’t make sense at a micro level. Did the townspeople get riled up because Rue got murdered or because she got a proper, respectful burial? It can’t be the latter, can it (since that doesn’t make sense to a human being watching the movie), but it has to be since no one in any of the other districts got riled up when their beloved children got brutally murdered, and the only difference there was that their children didn’t get a burial with flowers poured over top of them. But of course, that doesn’t make sense. Which is sort of the point, I guess, since that’s how I was feeling: This storyline/premise doesn’t make sense.

    You mention in your article that, given this environment, wouldn’t any parent start teaching their children to be great warriors at an early age? Makes perfect sense to me, yet, that didn’t seem to be the case in this movie.

    Then there’s the geek in me that couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the end when they decided to invent gorilla-faced dogs out of thin air. What’s the technology that made that possible? Once you can start manufacturing lifeforms out of thin air, you can pretty much do anything. Except maybe make a bad movie into a good one.

    And doubling back to my initial paragraph…I was hoping for an underlying anti-war message, but I didn’t even get that. Katniss had a good heart, and I don’t want to get bogged down into second-guessing whether her kills were justified or not, but she *did* kill people (she drops a nest of killer bees into the group, then kills the guy who kills Rue, then kills Cato or whatever his name was, at the end), but only killing people in self-defense or when “justified” does not make for an anti-war message. Here’s the simple anti-war storyline: The kids all get sent there to kill each other, and a fair number of them decide, no, we’re not going to play along, and they decide to get along with one another and deny the TV viewers the pleasure of watching them kill eachother. But that didn’t happen.

  • March 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm
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    Thank you! I just walked out of this movie for exactly the reason you described and found your article by Googling “hunger games sucks” for like minded souls.

    The other thing that really bugged me was how compliant the tributes were. If you knew that you were very likely going to die violently very soon, what incentive would you have to not murder your handlers, interviewers and anyone else who came within striking range? Or just kill yourself to avoid participation? Why go along with it?

    Plus, a movie about reality television was not what I was expecting, and meta-reality-tv is the only thing worse than reality tv IMO.

  • April 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm
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    I agree the book was so poorly thought out I couldn’t even force myself to like it, even though it was fast paced and sort of exciting, it just made me wonder what the author was thinking. The world was so thin and poorly constructed, and the whole idea of the hunger games themselves was so absurd.

    It also used such lazy plotting, every time it got boring the games masters used their omnipotent powers to keep the book from going nowhere.

  • April 11, 2012 at 8:27 am
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    I just saw the hunger games last night without reading the book or knowing anything about it – just hype. Well, I hated it. The premise is illogical. I can’t think of a time in history when children killing children was good sport – it goes against human nature. The costuming was ridiculous. The fact that “mom” would spend more time making dresses then training her children was ridiculous. The fact that there was LOTS of lush forest (and no one trying to grow anything to eat) was ridiculous. That animals could be created with technology (but not food) was ridiculous. The actions scenes sucked. And now, I’ve gone online and read that this book was basically developed for young adults – makes me even sadder because I didn’t think I was going in there to watch a tween movie. I’ll do better research next time. Oh, and what was the point! What was the moral of the story and/or how did the protagonist affect change in any way?? WTH!

  • April 15, 2012 at 12:05 am
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    Just got out from watching this movie due to all the hype and money its making. This movie truly sucks, it does not live up to all the attention its getting. For all the same reasons stated here. Its implausible storyline and world building. Its impossible to get drawn into the movie due to it’s incomprehensibility. The first hour just dragged, starts to pick up the action later, gets confusing with the love interest, ends with stupid last minute rule changes in the game. At most, there is probably a couple of good scenes or lines that capture you but big deal. The movie sucks, don’t know what everybody is making a big deal about. I mean even twilight sucks but at least its a love story for girls to catch onto. The premise here is just ridiculous. Not saying she is a bad lead actress, but the story line…..geeeeez.

  • April 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm
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    It’s funny that no one has mentioned this, but they do mention this in the movie itself (and in the book), when they mention that the tributes from Districts 1 and 2 train for the Hunger Games, then volunteer at the age of 18 (I think they only mention the volunteering part in the movie, but they definitely both mention the training part). So, Districts 1 and 2 should already be sizeable armies.

  • April 24, 2012 at 5:17 pm
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    As someone who agrees wholeheartedly with the previous comments, let me add some additional fine-tooth nitpicking:

    One thing that seemed especially jarring to me was the lottery for picking a candidate, and the fact that entering your name additional times would entitle you to additional food. Now I suppose the point of this was to highlight a seeemingly selfless risk taken by a supporting character, but the mere existence of this mechanism would seem to highlight stupidity on all sides. If entering your name equals more food…

    … why doesn’t everyone enter their names? Multiple times, every single day if they wanted to. As long as everyone does this an equal amount of times, the odds of being picked for the individual remain exactly the same. Free food for all, the cushiest welfare system of all time!

    Now obviously you would assume that this sort of thing would be thought of and nipped in the bud, possibly the amount of collaboration possible between individual nominees is severely limited. But since this has been going on for 74 (!) years, it’s not unlikely that certain strategies would have arisen that require no prior agreement, achieve a maximum benefit for the individual and the group at no extra cost, and are as follows:
    If there’s restrictions on how often you can enter your name, everyone should aim for the limit, if not, go as often as you possibly can, even if it means having your name in slightly more often (simple probability, e.g.: having 2 vs. 1 “tickets” out of 100 is a huge disadvantage if you don’t want to be picked, having 1200 out of 100000 only marginally). Even if someone should not “get” the system or refuse to participate (prefering to be hungry, as it were), the net punishment for the other hundreds of nominees would be minimal (when compared to free food forever).

    Seeing as no one has realized this in-world, it would seem that both the plebs and the dictators have failed to see explosive danger this loophole carries with it – the possibility of unlimited food at any time in a system cartoonishly withholding food to exercise power is laughably destructive, a recipe for instant revolution. Which is another one of many reasons why Panem fails Governance 101. It’s inconceivable that this rule still exists – at some point it would have to have been taken advantage of and subsequently removed, leading to an uprising (or not). And then the District is bombed out of existence. Now here’s a thought – what happens to the Capital when the food industry district gets pulverized? Is there really a reason why they consolidate every essential source of supplies and services into a conveniently concentrated unit that has to be disabled for you to exercise any power? And conveniently never notices that they can lay siege to their masters every waking day?

    Collins is just an entertainer telling an adventure story for kids, bless her, but the oversights in “world building” make this a complete dud. A complete, incongruous mess, and it makes it hard to find a message – there isn’t a consistent one. Better to have a world of shadowy outlines than this sorry jumble of ideological snippets.

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  • March 8, 2013 at 5:12 am
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    My issues started even before that.

    If all children from age 12-18 can fit in a square, then your population is at most around 20,000 people. How can tiny down support any advance civilization of hover cars, mag-lev trains, etc.? If your district is so small, what stops people from fleeing into the other 10 million square miles of the US? If this is just one village of thousands in the district (ignoring they hand-draw names) what is the chance of two people knowing each other being drawn?

    The technology makes no sense. If they have hover craft, generic engineering to such levels, super advanced monitor/computer systems, etc. why waste so much resources guarding people to mine coal, pick fruit, and catch fish? That would be hiring 100 guards to watch 1000 prisoners manually harvest wheat using scythes when 10 farmers and a couple of tractors could do the same work.

    Your workers are starving, not well educated, lacking basics, etc. Sorry… we have known since the industrial age that that does little to help you. Such a society would stagnate.

    Why would these people have children? What if everyone just decided, I’m not going to see my children die. A 1.5 birth rate would have your number of workers in a generation — especially without a long life expectancy.

    What if they all just decided not to work? Apparently the capital needs them so badly… to make coal, pick fruit, catch fish, etc. So, what if they stopped for a few weeks or months? Either the capital would starve to death or they (as a super technically advanced group) would be able to survive on their own — in which case, why do they need these people.

    Next, given the massive difference in technology… why is the capital in anyway remotely worried about the districts? District 12, doesn’t even have cars, radios, firearms, etc. while the capital has all this advanced technology. Why not give them their freedom? I would be like Canada today being afraid of 20,000 people in some remote part of Canada from the 1800s.

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