Friday, March 23, 2012

My Hunger for The Hunger Games

I heard my wife's friends express their fanatic appreciation of The Hunger Games for well over a year before I got around to reading it. From the first moment I heard about the concept, I was reminded of the Stephen King novel (and subsequent Schwarzenegger film) The Running Man. It seemed interesting, but I didn't anticipate that I'd get so engrossed in the books.

Then I read the first novel and was absolutely hooked. I think it's safe to say that not since reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has the first novel in a series so gripped me.

I did not rush out at midnight to see the film. (This becomes a far less viable option when you have two young children.) We're hoping to see it tonight, but neither my wife nor I took the time this week to buy tickets ahead of time, so we may be out of luck. We'll see. Regardless, we will go out of our way to see the film as early as we can.

Early reviews from friends on Facebook indicate that the film is faithful to the book and well done. I'll post a review once I've seen it.

I'm pleased to be tangentially connected to The Hunger Games phenomenon through my appearance in the new collection The Hunger Games & Philosophy: A Critique of Pure Treason (Amazon, B&N). My essay focuses on applying the concepts from game theory to the situations presented in The Hunger Games ... which is fairly obvious from the essay's title, "The Tribute's Dilemma: The Hunger Games and Game Theory."

When I began work on the essay, I had hoped to include a discussion of The Hunger Games: Training Days strategy game (Amazon). In the game, you play a Tribute who arrives in the Capital for the Training Days. You practice not only your combat, survival, and other skills, but also perform other tasks in an effort to gain a higher ranking (and thus more sponsorship and rewards) going into the games themselves.

Unfortunately, the portion of the essay which discussed this was originally a bit clunky and ended up getting highly edited. This is a normal part of the process, but the upshot is that all reference to the physical game ended up being removed.

I do still discuss the Training Days themselves within the essay, since the experiences of the Tributes during that time represent a subgame. In game theory, a subgame is a well-defined game within a larger game. Anyone who watches real-world reality television shows like Survivor and The Biggest Loser is familiar with the concept of a subgame, even without realizing it. The challenges in these shows that confer rewards, such as immunity, are examples of subgames, because they're smaller games within the larger game of trying to win the show.

Beyond that, I also discuss the idea of putting one's life at risk to gain a little extra food ... and how that might actually make a lot of sense. The essay concludes with a discussion about the role cooperation plays within the Arena, using the classic game theory example of The Prisoner's Dilemma as the model.

In a fight to the death, does it make more sense to cooperate or betray?

Well, telling you that would be a spoiler.

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