On the Hunger Games trilogy

Hunger Game Theory

By Diana Peterfreund

The titular Hunger Games in Suzanne Collins’ series is neither about a game, nor about hunger (indeed, as we see in Catching Fire, the fact that District 12 won the Games in no way guaranteed them the supposed bountiful prize). It’s about political control by a despotic government over its downtrodden (and even its not-downtrodden) subjects.

And it’s all about game theory.

The first thing to keep in mind about game theory is that it’s not necessarily about games. If it were, you’d pretty much only have Scrabble champs and sabermetricians studying it. Instead, it’s a massive field populated by brilliant (even Nobel Prize—winning) economists, psychologists, mathematicians, evolutionary biologists, and politicians. Game theory is a mathematical approach to the study of decision-making. It’s about strategy, about how people are programmed to respond in various social situations, and about the forces that can predict the ways in which living things, companies, communities, and even nations will act.

Sound familiar? The designers of the Hunger Games are not trying to create a “game” the way the employees of Hasbro or Blizzard are. They are developing a strategy for keeping the people of Panem (both in-game and out) under their power. Even the players don’t know all the rules of the game, since the designers cheat and redo the game as it goes along in order to accomplish their very particular ends. The players may be competing against one another, but the other players are not their real enemy. In the Hunger Games, the only real  …

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