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A 'Hunger Games' camp tries to avoid violence despite its source material

A camp in Florida based on the 'Games' novels has children 'collecting lives' by taking others' flags. One psychologist called the idea 'unthinkable.'

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    'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,' the second movie in the planned trilogy, stars Jennifer Lawrence (l.) and Josh Hutcherson (r.).
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No one would ever want to be in the shoes of “Hunger Games” heroine Katniss Everdeen – a young woman forced to enter an arena and kill all the other competitors.

Or would they? A camp run by the Country Day School in Largo, Fla., is built on the opportunity to do just that. The camp hosts a special "Games"-themed week that ends with children participating in a tournament in which they collect flags symbolizing lives.

Camp director Jared D'Alessio told the Tampa Bay Times there was a lot of back-and-forth when the idea was first devised over whether having a week of the camp based on the violent novels would be over-the-top for kids. 

But Simon Bosés, a counselor at the camp, said he doesn’t think the books are any different from video games or other mediums where children playing would be “killed.”

“If you actually sit down and talk to them and they say, 'I'm going to kill you,' they don't understand what they're saying,” he told the Times. “Death for this age isn't a final thing. It's a reset.” 

The end of the session in which the children “collect lives” by taking flags was a change from the original plan. Head counselor Lindsay Gillette said in an interview with the Times that she changed the term “killing” to “collecting lives” because she was getting worried about the violence discussed by the campers. “Are we going to kill each other first?” Sidney Martenfeld had asked upon arriving, while fellow camper Eli Hunter pretended to shoot other children with a finger forming a gun.

To combat this, camp staff had the children engage in team-building activities before the tournament, trying to put the emphasis on working together rather than killing. One exercise, titled the Minefield, had one child blindfolded and relying on his or her teammate’s voice to make it through an obstacle course.

Psychologist Susan Toler told the Tampa Bay Times that actively involving the children in a game where they’re pretending to kill others is different from a child watching a movie or reading something where a person is killed. She called the whole idea of the "Games" camp “unthinkable.”

“When they start thinking and owning and adopting and assuming the roles, it becomes closer to them," Toler said. "The violence becomes less egregious.”

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