As with any hit book-and-movie franchise, The Hunger Games has spawned a veritable cottage industry of dubious tie-in products. But while a Snuggie promoting this fictional dystopian future where teenage "tributes" are forced to fight to the death stretches the bounds of good taste, it's nothing like an actual summer camp for kids based on The Hunger Games trilogy. That camp exists, and it is, naturally, in Florida.
To be fair, the most shocking thing about the Hunger Games Camp — run by the Country Day School in Largo, Fla. — seems to be that it exists. The camp is like the books in that kids complete to win by eliminating their rivals, but there's a "a twist sure to reassure parents," says Melissa Locker at TIME. Unlike the books, in which children are forced to compete in a nationally televised reality show in which they literally murder each other, there's no actual killing at this camp.
Here's how the weeklong camp works, as chronicled by Lisa Gartner at the Tampa Bay Times: The 26 campers (or "tributes") spend a week training for the final Hunger Games-like tournament. The tournament has various tests of skills like Intellect, Teamwork, Accuracy and Precision, and Balance and Poise. Those all seem like worthwhile goals. Tributes win by collecting the most flags from the belts of their competitors.
On Wednesday of this summer's camp, the counselors changed the original phrase for capturing a flag — "killing" — to the slightly-less-violent "collect lives." That was one of the changes camp director Jared D'Alessio and head counselor Lindsey Gillette instituted to focus on team-building and downplay the inherent violence of the Hunger Games series.
"But keeping the kids from talk of murder would prove difficult," says Gartner, and privately, Gillette acknowledged that the shift in emphasis was because "the violence the kids had expressed was off-putting."
Here are some actual quotes Gartner overheard from Hunger Games campers:
"What are we going to do first?... Are we going to kill each other first?" — Sidney Martenfeld, 14
"I don't want to kill you" — Rylee Miller, 12, to classmate Julianna Pettey, 12
"I will probably kill you first.... I might stab you" — Pettey to Miller
"If I have to die, I want to die by an arrow.... Don't kill me with a sword. I'd rather be shot." — Joey Royals
Hey, "you know how to eliminate violent themes in your summer camp?" says Rebecca Pahle at The Mary Sue. "Don't do The Hunger Games. Because if you do do The Hunger Games," Hunger Games–like things will happen.
The efforts to tone down the killing aspect of the camp were probably doomed from the start, "given the inherent violent nature of the books and movies," says Max Nicholson at IGN. So that's a flaw in the camp's design. But this camp wouldn't be in its second year if nobody showed up. That raises an important question: "What self-respecting parent would knowingly send their kid to a summer camp based on The Hunger Games" in the first place?