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Beating the Odds

An in-depth look at the popular Wheaton Hunger Games.

Wheaton College Hunger Games

Sarah Kenny | Features Editor

Propaganda adorns the Forum Wall, and students post daily messages on Facebook reminding others to vote for their favorite tribute. For the tributes participating in the third annual Wheaton Hunger Games, collecting votes is literally a matter of life and death. From their humble beginnings three years ago, the Games have grown to a status of campus-wide recognition and popularity.

The mastermind behind the games, junior Isaac Butler, never imagined how much of a hit the games would become.

“The first year, I got about 15,000 hits on the page,” Butler said. “The second year got about 30,000 hits. And this year’s games aren’t even halfway done, and I’m at about 17,000. It’s crazy to think that all those people are reading something I wrote.”

Butler, an English writing major, originally came up with the games during a night of boredom when he was a freshman. He felt the inclination to write something, but wasn’t sure what.

“I’ve been told to ‘write what you know,’” he explained, “and what I know best is ‘The Hunger Games.’”

Butler’s admiration for and knowledge of Suzanne Collins’ popular trilogy inspired him to create his own version of the Games featuring his fellow classmates as tributes. For the first Games, he scanned the Wheaton College phonebook and chose students at random, emailing them to ask if he could write about them on a Hunger Games blog he had created. Now, the process is somewhat reversed: Students volunteer as tributes.

Though the selection of tributes is exciting, one of Butler’s favorite moments from the Games is the process that happens once the bloodbath has begun.

“Everything is random for the most part, so I find out who dies mid-afternoon and have a story written up usually by 7:00 p.m.,” he said. “I love the fact that even I as the author don’t know how the story will end, and that people voting can influence (the ending).”

With two Games under his belt, and a third one halfway over, Butler has seen 72 tributes enter the arena and woven their personalities and stories into one narrative. This character crafting is among the most interesting parts of the Games for him.

“I love being able to create characters,” Butler said. “I get 24 characters to experiment with, and I always end up having favorites. For example, last year a brother and sister volunteered together; I loved adding that dynamic to my writing.”

Aside from plenty of practice in characterization and first-person, present-tense narration — the style of the original Hunger Games — Butler has noticed other ways in which writing the Wheaton Hunger Games has improved his writing, especially his ability to set deadlines for himself. “I have to write something every single day,” he explained, “and none of it can sound repetitive. ... Over 1,000 people look at the blog each day, so I can’t just throw out something that’s half-done.”

Sophomores Hannah and Rene Cruz, the aforementioned sibling pair, represented District 3 in the Second Annual Wheaton Hunger Games.

“We both got pretty into it,” Hannah said. “We made posters, contingency plans in case one of us died, etc. We were really excited.” Those contingency plans turned out to be useful, as Rene perished on Day 5, leaving Hannah to exact revenge on his killer until her own death by the same hand on Day 13.

Despite its unfortunate ending, Hannah enjoyed following her own storyline.

“I thought it was super dramatic,” she said. And of course I enjoyed being portrayed as a hard-core, meteor hammer-swinging, vengeful sister. It’s funny, being in the Hunger Games actually affects how people perceive you around campus, even though you have no actual part in the action.”

Hannah isn’t the only tribute who has received a campus reaction for her Games story. Junior Ian Smith, who was one of this year’s tributes until his death on Day 9, followed his friends’ progress throughout the first two Games and decided to join this year on a whim. His memorable moment from the Games was when he found out that his character had turned on his District 12 partner, junior Morgan Kinsinger, eliminating her from the Games.

“The reaction from mine and Morgan’s friends both on and off campus was intense and almost immediate,” Smith said, “which gave me a sense of the wide audience these games are drawing. There’s also something amusing about seeing (other tributes) sitting in chapel or class and knowing that somewhere in cyberspace we’re caught in the same outrageous battle for our lives.”

Despite student investment in the Games and their growing popularity across campus, the future of the Wheaton Hunger Games is uncertain. Butler will be graduating next year, so it’s possible that “unless someone takes up the mantle, next year will be the final year of the Games.”

Students can still participate in this year’s Games by voting for their favorite tributes, whose fate depends on both a set of randomized selections and on student sponsorship in the form of votes.

Editor’s note: Ian Smith is Managing Editor for the Record.

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