How The Hunger Games could work as a multiplayer game, and still be game-changing art

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The Hunger Games as a shooter
The Hunger Games as a shooter.
I've been thinking about The Hunger Games as a videogame, off and on, for about six months now. The idea came to me last October that such a game would need to be both multiplayer and not glamorize violence.

Impossible, you say? Yeah, that was my second thought. But the longer I've dwelled on it, the more I've come to embrace the concept.

Let's explore the idea a bit and see whether you think it could work.

First, you may have to rethink videogames from pure entertainment to art. Yeah, I don't really care what Roger Ebert says. He's been a movie guy far too long. I've been both a film buff and a game fanatic for most of my life. And games often (though not always) rise above commerce and conflict to enter the art space.

"The game should recap for all players the final moments of battle followed by a short video eulogy and the reaction from the home district. It needs to be poignant."  

Art, in my mind, seeks to challenge, to influence. It may change someone's mind, or at least alter his or her outlook. It can cause a strong and sudden burst of emotion. It can awaken new ideas and even make you a better person.

The Hunger Games videogame would need to do this, and do it well. Otherwise, it would glamorize what the source material sought to vilify: a society that accepts violence against its children for political ends. The book was an allegory for war and the draft system that wrecked the author's father Haymitch-style (and many other families whose children did not make it out of the battle arena) to help the government control its constituents.

In my mind, the game would need to mostly do away with backstory. We would NOT have to pass through a training tutorial with Katniss hunting squirrels in the woods outside District 12. She would NOT return to the Hob and make trades using a complex speech challenge engine. There would be NOT be a dramatic moment in the town square where the names are drawn (except, perhaps, as an intro element for each arena battle or in touching flashback upon a tribute's demise - but more on that later).

If you played it out beat for beat, Suzanne Collins' remarkable novel would feel insanely cramped if it were crammed into the interactive gaming space. It would either become a cut scene-fest or a role-playing game that abruptly transitions from one storyline to another as we're whisked away to the Capitol and then forced up a claustrophobic tube into the Arena.

No, a Hunger Games game needs to be all about what happens in the arena, and what that represents in very real terms. It needs to support up to 24-player online gaming (with bots taking over for any tribute spots not filled by human players) and it needs to be poignant.

The Hunger Games would need to inspire strong reactions
The Hunger Games would need to inspire strong reactions in its players.
When a tribute falls in the book (and, remarkably, in the film), we are made to feel loss. Even the "career" players that we come to fear and perhaps hate are someone's child, and we ultimately should mourn their loss even as we feel a sense of relief that our own tribute (and any that we might build an alliance with) is one step closer to closure. Unlike in the source material (where deaths are announced once a day with no detail on how it happened), the game should recap for all players the final moments of battle followed by a short video eulogy and the reaction from the home district. It should not look the same every time, so players who experience the same arena battles multiple times are not easily inured to the moment upon repeated viewing.

One of the amazing things about the movie is how neatly it has opened up. It went from being a very personal tale, where the fallout of Katniss' actions isn't fully realized until Book 2, to a shared experience with very powerful shockwaves and repercussions emanating from the action in the arena. We see the reactions of the commentators, the people in the districts, and even the resulting political fallout. The game could take it a step further, really communicating the range of reactions to each in-game slaying so that we feel empathy or at least mixed emotions.

"During an emotional scene about two-thirds of the way in to the movie, one guy said, 'Dude, are you crying?' His buddy replied without hesitation: 'No shame, bro.' If the game reaches even a few dudebros, it would be worth it."  

When we saw The Hunger Games in the theater, there were a couple of guys sitting next to GrrlGotGame. During an emotional scene about two-thirds of the way in (you know the one, right?), one of the guys said, "Dude, are you crying?" His buddy replied without hesitation: "No shame, bro."

If it reaches even a few dudebros, it would be worth it.

To work, every battle would have to be winnable by all characters. There would have to be games where Katniss is picked off early, and Cato takes home the prize. What would this mean for the winning district? What are the consequences for the families, friends and homes of the losers? How does the injustice make you feel, as the player controlling Cato and those who fell before him.

The Hunger Games as a strategy game
The Hunger Games as a strategy game.
This raises an interesting quandary: What to do with the early fallen in a long match? Sure, they could watch as spectators. But why not put them randomly in the role of gamemakers and the district mentors, so they could take an active role in influencing the outcome by adding challenges in the arena and providing gifts. Their allegiance to their own fallen persona stripped away, they can take a hand with the power to either give or take away. This mechanic would need a lot of work to balance, but it could be the best part of the game. There could even be a mode where all players take on the roles of gamemakers and mentors, and then battle for control of the arena to achieve a specific outcome without actually playing as a tribute. It would be a real-time strategy game like no other (well, maybe shades of Peter Molyneux's Black & White).

In terms of scope, there could be up to 75 arenas, but that's awfully ambitious for a retail game. I would imagine there would be a respectable number including the 74th with Katniss and Peeta, Haymitch's year, and a few others that could be entirely fictionalized since they were never covered in the books. Additional years, including the intricate island arena from Catching Fire, could be added as DLC down the road if the game takes off and proves worthy of continued development. For battles without established Tributes, the player should be able to create their own - which would deepen their investment in their characters.

So, what do you think? Is a multiplayer Hunger Games something you would like to play? Do you think such an approach could alter how people think about games and, perhaps, the world in general?

1 Comment

1.

Wow, very cool idea! I especially think your ideas behind fallen players taking on that new role of supporting or hindering players still in the game would be amazing. That could easily be worked into a points or money system or even as you play earning certain achievements unlocks certain post-death activities.

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This page contains a single entry by Gamewatcher published on April 4, 2012 8:59 PM.

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  • eye-shuh: Wow, very cool idea! I especially think your ideas behind read more