I hadn’t done this intentionally, but I realized that I’m reading two very different books about essentially the same thing: people pretty much forced to participate in deadly games for potential monetary gain and the viewing pleasure of a jaded and disenchanted audience. I started reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Running Man by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) at about the same time, too, by complete coincidence. Both build a dystopian society where the main characters come from a life of destitution and wind up competing in a game where failure will cost them their lives.
But that’s not all. It’s been a while since I’ve read (or seen) Koushin Takami’s Battle Royale, but my boyfriend recently introduced me to the British show Black Mirror with the excellent and heartbreaking episode “15 Million Merits”, which has to deal with, guess what, competing in games for a mindless media-obsessed culture. To be fair, “15 Million Merits” doesn’t involve a battle to the death, but I could easily argue that what the main characters fight for is even more terrifying, because they have to still live with their choices. There are probably countless other that could be mentioned, too, I’m sure, but it got me thinking: what do we find so fascinating about having to fight for your life for the numb area of the uncaring masses?
And is it really frightening? Usually, the winners of these games are people who rebel against the system, rise up above the messed-up reality they exist in, causing the system to crumble and break while we cheer for their success all the while. But imagine if they weren’t successful, if we were in their places and, similarity, weren’t successful, either. Can you imagine how it would feel to be a seventeen year old in Panem, holding your breath as they called out the name of the tributes, dreading that yours would be called? Can you imagine being in Richards’s position, with a sick daughter and the only way to afford the medicine for her is to give yourself over to the sociopathic and sadistic whims of a bloodthirsty public? To be thrown onto an island with all your classmates, all the people you grew up with and knew and played and learned with, only to discover that you had to kill them all or be killed yourself? It’s the implications of these things that I feel makes them prime stuff of horror (and, by the way, that last one is why I tend to prefer Battle Royale over Hunger Games so far. Sure, they both involve kids fighting and killing each other, but in the Hunger Games, you really only know the other person from your district. In the Battle Royale, these are your friends that you’re going after, people you’ve known your whole life, and that makes it even more messed up, in my humble opinion).
What do you think? Do you think these deadly games have their place in the pantheon of Super Scary Stuff? Which is your favorite? What do you like to see in a dystopian fight-for-your-life (or, in the case of something like “15 Million Merits”, your dream or your pride or whatever else)?