Seriously, What Are The Hunger Games and Why Should I Care if I'm Not 14?S

Hunger Games mania is upon us. The Young Adult trilogy-turned-blockbuster is due out this weekend, and some of you out there still have no idea what these crazy Food Games are all about. Fear not, as we have compiled a detailed Hunger Games explainer, just in time for G-day. Be you screaming tween, good-sporting parent, or disgruntled old timer, this explainer will guide you as we as a nation prepare for the newest (and unavoidable) pop-culture phenom.

(Note: You might also find it helpful to have this Hunger Games cheat sheet at the ready. Each of the words with an asterisk next to them is decoded in the glossary.)

What is/are the Hunger Games?
The Hunger Games is a Young Adult book series, a trilogy in fact, written by Suzanne Collins. The first Hunger Games novel made its debut in 2008 and has been adapted into the highly anticipated movie, starring Jennifer Lawrence as the series' protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. It is due out this coming Friday. Or Thursday at midnight, depending on your level of fandom.

The novels follow Katniss, a 16-year-old living in the dystopic world of Panem*. At its most basic, Panem is the collection of twelve districts that surround the Capitol* city, located at the heart of what was once North America. Each of the districts' economy and livelihood relies on a resource- fish, produce, textiles- that is eventually exported to the Capitol. Katniss, our heroine, lives in District 12: the coal district. All of the 12 districts*, which vary in size and population, share in common their impoverishment and complete subordination to the Capitol's rule. All citizens outside the Capitol are on some level starving, poorly clothed and sheltered, and under the control of an often corrupt security system that acts as liaison enforcement via the Capitol. The Capitol, in comparison, is a wealthy, cosmopolitan metropolis. Think L.A., but an L.A. completely devoid of poor people and even more fanatical about plastic surgery.

That sounds pretty unfair. 12 Districts spread across North America seems like a lot of people. Why would they stand for the Capitol's mistreatment? Can't they just overthrow them?
They did rebel, once, 74 years before the novel's present day. At the time of the uprising, there existed a thirteenth district and together the districts banded together in an uprising against the Capitol's control. Unfortunately for the Districts, strength in numbers doesn't always do the trick when your opponent can afford to create a technologically superior army* virtually out of thin air. The rebellion was quelled, the thirteenth district completely demolished as punishment, and an annual event known as the Hunger Games instated to remind the districts of their failed uprising.

Oh. Does this have anything to do with all this grisly child-murder I keep hearing about? Is it true?
Yes. Scene after scene depicts the bloody end of a child at the hands of brutal Capitol adults or their fellow competitors. There is cutting out of tongues, torture, maiming, starvation, etc. ETC. Here's why this happens: beginning at age 12 until they are 18, every boy and girl from each of the districts must add his or her name to a lottery. There is then a Reaping* in which the name of one girl and one boy is selected from each district to participate in the nationally televised Hunger Games. The Games take place in a different terrain, all depending on the whims of the Gamemakers*. There they fight each other to the death. There can only be one winner overall, meaning even those from the same district are pitted against each other as competitors. The arena, though set up to look like your run-of-the-mill jungle or forest, is completely controlled by the Gamemakers and booby-trapped with all kinds of lethal danger . There are Muttations* and fires and floods and droughts and Tracker jackers*.

And remember how I mentioned that district residents are incredibly poor? Well, when they turn 12, the year they are required to submit their name for the Reaping, they are also eligible for Tessera*, or extra food rations. But for every Tessera, the name of the submitter is entered and additional time. Super unfair, especially for the peasants. And there are a lot of them.

Also, because the Capitol is superficial and very into their weird brand of aesthetics, each of the contestants (read: kids) must submit to a total makeover.

Sounds fun! I love the makeover montage scenes in movies.
It's not fun, it's pretty scary and ultimately an analogy for our culture's perverse importance we place on looks, not to mention the turn we've taken when it comes to reality TV. On they go, the players, all gussied up, as New York Times writer Susan Dominus put it, "like Roman gladiators in a glitzy reality-TV contest." Anyway, each district is assigned a team of stylists* responsible for creating a "look" based on the resource they provide to the Capitol. Imagine that scene in Miss Congeniality where Sandra Bullock disappears into some conspicuous airplane hanger with frizzy hair and a pony tail and comes out ready to compete in the Miss America contest, but imagine the contest is actually a contest in which Miss Delaware and Miss California try to slaughter each other using heavy stones or their tiny, bare fists. The citizens of the Capitol, you see, are repulsed by the citizens of the districts and only want to see beautiful young men and women compete (the districts are equally repulsed and confused by Capitol citizens, but they have no power and their opinions are basically inconsequential).

You should also know that before the games begin, participants have the opportunity to pick up sponsors*.

Sponsors, sure. Like in the Olympics with Gatorade and stuff.
No. Not like that. Securing sponsors is crucial because they have the ability to send gifts (things like water and medicine) to their chosen competitor during the games, dramatically impacting their chances of survival. But sponsoring is the equivalent of placing bets on the competitors; the goal, of course, is to select the eventual winner. In order to secure sponsors, they must look like a winner. Visually yes, but they must also prove that they are capable of defeating 23 other bloodthirsty opponents. Before the games commence, the participants are observed in a series of training sessions. If they show some sort of aptitude for say, hunting with a bow and arrow, they have a high chance of gaining a sponsor, and ultimately, of winning surviving.

This doesn't really seem like something kids would be into. Especially tween girls.
You're right, which is why the characters' love triangle-intrinsic to a YA anything- is as big a part of the story as is their survival. And hold on to your butts, because this particular love triangle Is. So. Good. The plot centers around Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, and Gale Hawthorne, but still your beating hearts, because I will say no more about these three. It's for me to know and you to find out after you have read this, seen the movie, and purchased the posters.

So now that I am well equipped with this knowledge, will the movies be any good?
Yes. Well anyway, we hope they will be. This first one has so far received some solid reviews and all 11 or whatever variations of the trailer look pretty darn excellent. They are gripping and oddly satisfying in a way that we can only hope the movie(s) will be. Really though, the most interesting thing about the movies will be to see how the intense violence, which is absolutely crucial to the story itself, is dealt with. Ultimately, both books and movies are for tweens, meaning the flicks will have to somehow navigate away from R-rated territory. Tricky business when you've got 14-year-olds being ripped limb from limb by other 14-year-olds. No sexy stuff, so we're good on that front.

I feel like I've heard of this general concept before, even though I had no idea what The Hunger Games was before clicking on this post.
Yes, Collins' book has garnered several comparisons, including but not limited to: Lord of the Flies, The Running Man, Series 7 and The Most Dangerous Game. The preceding title referenced most often, though is Battle Royale, the Japanese pulp novel-turned-beloved-film, in which a classroom of students are dropped off on an island and made to fight to the death in a similar last-kid-standing manner for the entertainment of a nation. And that's only the start of the similarities, which were conveniently laid out by i09 last month. For her part, Collins has claimed Royale ignorance — last year she told the New York Times in that same article: "I had never heard of that book or that author until my book was turned in. At that point, it was mentioned to me, and I asked my editor if I should read it. He said: ‘No, I don't want that world in your head. Just continue with what you're doing.'" And so she did.

So but, why should I see this?
Are you kidding me? Have you even been listening? Let's see here: it's a violent drama about murderous kids, starring a sassy and strong female heroine wreaking havoc with a bow and arrow. It's got love, loss, music, revolution and Lenny Kravitz! There is nothing about this that doesn't look, at the very least interesting (coming from someone who is already very much on board), and the fact that it was originated for a Young Adult audience only makes the execution (pun intended for sure) all the more intriguing. And while Collins has denied again and again that the books are not intended to be a metaphor for the brutal world that is high school, that element is difficult to ignore and adds yet another level of intrigue. The carnage of high school is an endlessly relatable and watchable theme, and whether or not Collins meant for us to relate to the story through this theme, it's happening and girlfriend would likely benefit all the more from saying so.

On top of all this, we're witnessing the making of a new superstar, and she is a superstar who can actually get in there and act the shit out of a role. Jennifer Lawrence has already proven she's got the acting chops to back up her looks, and she is a welcome change to Kirsten Stewart's mumble-pout.

Anything else?
Why yes, since you've asked. Gary Ross, he of the often-overlooked excellent Pleasantville, both adapted the screenplay and directed this little picture. So that bodes well. Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are Alright), Wes "I want to fuck this plastic American Beauty bag" Bentley, Liam "Mr. Miley Cyrus" Hemsworth, and Stanley Tucci form a cast that will be as fun to watch as they are a genuinely talented ensemb.

It will be bigger than Twilight but much better and will rake in a billion dollars. No foolin. This first flick is expected to make $100 million bones opening weekend.

Whoa. You seem pretty excited about this.
I am! And let's hope it's good because this explainer will be an embarrassing reminder of my poor taste if it's not.

Click to view the Hunger Games Glossary

[Image by Jim Cooke]