Hunger Games-themed Summer Camp Elicits Criticism

Twenty-six tweens and teens stumble through a maze of cones and hoola-hoops blindfolded, calling to each other to navigate their way out. A distance away, another group practices archery with plastic bows and arrows. At first glance, this seems like a normal summer camp, with kids playing tag on grassfields before gathering in the shade for lunch. Unlike typical campers, however, these kids aren't just having fun, they're training "to kill" in a fake Hunger Games competition at the end of the week. 

A summer camp based on popular dystopian trilogy The Hunger Games has caused quite a controversy as critics deem it overly violent and “frightening.” Inspired by the trilogy by Suzanne Collins, in which contestants are forced to kill each other in order to survive and triumph, the day camp is a seven-day commitment catered to sixth through ninth graders.

Campers spent most of the week “training” in activities such as tug-of-war, archery, and outdoor training courses, before participating in the final “fight to the death” at the end of the week.

Indeed, many of the kids seem to be taking the violent theme a bit too seriously. "If I have to die, I want to die by an arrow," said camper Joey Royals to the Tampa Bay Times. "Don't kill me with a sword. I'd rather be shot."

Another camper, 14-year-old Sidney Martenfeld asked, “What are we going to do first? Are we going to kill each other first?”

In fact, the kids’ violent rhetoric prompted the head counselor, Lindsey Gillette, to initiate a rule change on Wednesday morning, halfway through the week. Instead of “killing” each other by taking flags, they would now “collect lives” by pulling flags from each other’s waists.

While camp counselor Simon Bosés pointed out to the Tampa Bay Times that kids could “fake death” in virtually any game, regardless of the Hunger Games theme, critics argue that the premise of the novels seems to enable outright violence.

“When [kids] start thinking and owning and adopting and assuming the roles, it becomes closer to them. The violence becomes less egregious," Susan Toler told the Tampa Bay Times. Toler is a clinical psychologist and assistant dean at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Vanity Fair echoed similar sentiments, calling the camp “Frightening but not altogether surprising news from Florida” and “disturbing.” 

Country Day School, which hosted the camp, released a statement protesting the negative coverage, saying that the camp had tried to develop “a curriculum that replaced any subjects of violence with positive themes of character development and team building.  Activities creatively integrated the academic subjects of physics, engineering, art, and theatre.”