Note 2: When I posted this in my journal about a month before the movie came out, I thought that I was the only one who would care. Since then, I’ve received several requests to post it publicly, so I cleaned it up for posting here. This essay is a long description of how I think Careers in District Two are trained. Basically this is just my speculation based on A.) canon's tidbits, B.) the characters we're presented with who came from D2, and C.) what I think it would take to create kids who acted that way and a society who was okay with creating them.
Note 3: If you want this in fic form, go here to start, and here for the major bits. More will be along shortly.
"Everybody Knows it Hurts to Grow Up”: D2 Career Training Essay
Part One: Background and Rationale
District Two’s training of Careers has received a lot more speculation since the movie gave life to their dynamic and since movie!Haymitch confirmed the existence of “a special academy” for producing them. When you think about District Two, your first thought might be an entire District full of anarchy and bloodthirsty kids indiscriminately training for violence and murder. You might think of little uncontrollable beasts volunteering because they personally decided to, all of them on the border of psychopathy if not already firmly crossed over. Does that way work? Sure! I see it a little differently, though, and I wanted to explain why.
Why are they doing this?/How’d it get started?
District Two is the most loyal to the Capitol of all Districts. The Capitol in turn favors them. We know that Careers exist, that the Capitol knows they exist (and so do the other Districts!), they are technically against the rules, but nothing is done about it. This is because the Games are supposed to be good television. You know what does not make good television? Twenty-four crying teenagers who don't know how to use weapons. The Capitol has an interest in churning out Careers to make the game exciting; if they know they will get good stock from the Career Districts, they are guaranteed at least four Tributes who will put on a good show. Therefore, I believe that the Capitol helps fund the Career programs, especially in D2. As the most favored District of all, Two has a reputation to uphold for sending the best and most capable Tributes. And how do you make those? By selecting good stock to start with, training them well to bring out the traits you want in the Games, and using brainwashing instead of force to make your stock cooperate because they do better work when they actually want to be there. I've done a lot of thinking about this and I think my system, or one like it, makes the most sense given what I think D2 and the Capitol are trying to do.
Why anarchy doesn’t work:
Let's think like District Two, here. We're favored at the Capitol because we're obedient. Part of this deal almost certainly rests on us producing interesting, capable Tributes for every Games. As I stated above, the Capitol doesn't want to watch twenty-four whimpering, crying kids with no useful skills, and a week of training with the constant reminder of it being your last week of life isn't going to make much difference in their entertainment value. They rely on Careers to bring the real fun to the table, and as D2 you are responsible for producing said fun. You know what isn’t fun to watch? A real psychopath.
What’s the one thing more important than a Career who can win? A Career who is entertaining. These kids might be coming out of the Arena as Victors, and candidates who are too high on blood to obey would just as easily turn on the Capitol as they’d kill their fellow Tributes. The Capitol doesn’t want genuine psychopaths. Those are uncontrollable and have no rules. It wants Jersey Shore with murder.
Okay, so how in the hell are we going to make that?
So you create a system designed to weed out, step by step, everyone but the absolute best candidates for the Games, and you invest increasing levels of effort into your picks as your pool of possibilities gets narrower and narrower. By the end, you've got your male and female tribute who you've been grooming for a decade for this moment. Are you going to risk all that time and all those resources on the chance that they'll change their minds, they won't volunteer fast enough, you can't find them on Reaping Day, or some arrogant twelve-year-old takes their spot because their friends dared them to?
No. No, you aren't.
I believe that the Careers are kept on a metaphorical short leash that gets shorter and shorter the closer they get to their designated Reaping. They don't come to their trainers desperate to kill, and I bet a lot of them don't leave them that way, either. Instead they're inundated with desperation to survive, and in the Games, that can mean a lot of different things. Imagine everything that even an Average Joe living in Panem knows about what it takes to win a Games: the brute strength and weapon know-how that we've seen are important, sure, but there's also hunting, wilderness survival, navigation, withstanding hunger and extreme temperatures, basic medical skills, logic and decision making, etc. And there's a whole host of skills that are just as important to survival in the Games even though on the surface they don't seem to have much relevance in a survival scenario: charisma, physical attractiveness, stage presence, public speaking skills, acting skills, awareness of the camera, and how to craft a story that the audience will want to keep watching.
Success at these things actually takes a remarkable level of mental stability, and they’d look for that in candidates rather than looking for kids who were already unhinged. The candidates would have to begin learning all of this from their first day of training, and only the total package will be allowed to volunteer. The PoV of canon keeps us from hearing about this, but nothing will convince me it didn't happen. If even Katniss can figure out that there's more to winning the Games than being good with a sword, why would someone paid to churn out Careers decide that's the only thing they should learn?
Part Two: Okay, so what exactly are we making here?
This is a progressively exclusionary program that begins at age seven and ends at the Reaping. Children and/or their families can self-withdraw up to a certain point (see below) and participation is almost entirely voluntary. The goal of the program is to produce the best male and female candidates to win the Hunger Games each year, and, more importantly, to be incredibly entertaining while doing so. To accomplish this, candidates are eliminated both of their own volition and by their trainers at each level until they are left with only one to three candidates of each gender for the privilege of Volunteering. Often the final choice is made for up to three years before the Reaping, but one or two additional candidates are kept on to encourage competition until the last possible moment. Very rarely, if no candidate meets the standards, there is no candidate for a particular gender and year. D2 would rather produce no Career than an inferior Career.
What’s everyone else in D2 doing? Moping that they couldn’t get in?
One place I diverge with a lot of fandom is that I think the average D2 child is even less prepared to go to the Games than children in the other Districts. The idea that parents as a whole in D2 would seriously jump at the chance to throw their kids into the Games with no indoctrination along the way just doesn’t work for me. I think anybody who has a child can attest to that. Let’s think like these kids and their parents for a moment: We know that we are basically never going to the Games. Even if our name is called, so what? There will be a Volunteer. There always is. So you grow up knowing that it’s never going to be you. It’s never going to be your child. It’s never going to be your child’s friend, or your friend’s child, or even that nice little girl down the street. The only ones who are going are the ones who want to be there. So why worry? Why not enjoy the Games?
I think this makes far more sense to explain why D2 has a generally complicit attitude toward the Capitol and the Games. The fear isn’t half as strong there because they have no real threat.
Just how public is this program in D2, anyway?
Judging by the fact that everyone else seems to know of the existence of pre-Games Career training, I think it’s very common knowledge in D2 what the Athletic and Personal Growth Center is for. However, I think it’d be a little in-joke hush-hushed, which is why I called it the Athletic and Personal Growth Center. It’s “The Center” for short, but some quietly call it the “Career Farm,” or even just “The Farm.”
The trainees are treated as something between pro athletes and heroes within D2, and they wear a bracelet to identify themselves. This is a series of braided rope strands, one for each year in the program, dyed to reflect their class rank (black for the top students, then blue, then white). During their training, milestones are marked with beads of various colors. Orange is animal kill, red is human kill, silver is passing their Field Exam (see below), gold is that year’s chosen Volunteer. Those who return Victors receive wrist tattoos where the bracelet would be, as a reminder of who they belong to. In the Games, their bracelet is their token.
Everyone knows what the bracelet is for, and everyone knows that year’s Volunteer didn’t just spring up out of the woodwork. It’s common knowledge but not explicitly stated. Average citizens see it as quasi-magical, something they don’t talk about but everyone knows and believes in. They like to see the kids wearing them because it reminds them that their own children are safe. Much ado is made of the honor, service and sacrifice they are making.
Okay, so what about the ones who do go to training? Why the hell would a parent do this to their child?
A couple of reasons. One, parents in D2 used to be kids in D2, and they heard the same mantras about how wonderful the Capitol is and how necessary the Games are and how much of an amazing honor it is to be in the program at all, let alone chosen to volunteer or brought home a Victor. This could change their child's life and be the best thing that's ever happened to them, but even if they can't hack it, being in the program for even a few years is regarded as a good life experience that prepares you for any number of successful adult careers (no pun intended). It looks amazing on a resume even if you just spent a year there when you were seven. Many become high ranking Peacekeepers, government officials, or future teachers/staff at the Center.
Two, there are monetary benefits to having a child in the program. Not enough that the family would no longer have to work, but enough to make a serious difference to a family that's struggling. These don't increase as the kids move up in the levels, but you do get a pretty significant increase to your stipend when the kids go full-time residential (see below). This is the District's gift to the family in exchange for their child, with the understanding that the family's rights to said child are terminated. This stipend is provided until the children are cut from the program, or come home Victors. For children who die in the Games, their families continue to receive their stipend for five years after their child's Games year in honor of their service to the District and in celebration of their child's sacrifice.
Before the kids leave home, the money's stated purpose is for the kids to make sure they're being raised well. After, it's explicitly for the family because the kids have all their needs met in the program, and if they win, they'll never need money again. Some parents put their kids in for Reason One (Cato's), for some it's more Reason Two (Clove's), and for many it's a combination. Most see it as an opportunity to give their kid a better life and better opportunities than they could otherwise afford to have. Very, very few intend their training to end at the Reaping. The program is structured to allow for this "not MY child" thinking right up till the end, as a way to lure them in voluntarily.
Part Three: Okay, so how do you get in?
Key brainwashing concepts they'd work to instill early and often:
- The Capitol is great. - District Two is great. - The Capitol is good, merciful, and loving; it rewards those who serve it well. - The Hunger Games is a wonderful opportunity to obtain the highest honor you can ever achieve. - Volunteering is the second highest honor a D2 citizen can receive in their lives. - Becoming a Victor is the highest honor a D2 citizen can receive in their lives. - Graduating from the program is the only way to be honored with the privilege of Volunteering. - Every wo/man for his/herself, but the Trainers have the final word over trainees, and Capitol staff has the final word over the Trainers. - Trainees are in control while doing their own work and in the Arena. Trainers are in control everywhere else. - The Capitol holds your leash and is to be obeyed. Capitol citizens and trainers are unacceptable as Targets. - All other humans are potential Targets, including you.
Key things they'd look for at all ages and levels:
Aggression is the first and foremost. They want the kids who are always in trouble for hitting people on the playground and the kids who throw the baseball way too hard on purpose. The goal is to encourage this aggression and cultivate it so it gets stronger as they grow and they never "grow out of it." Beyond that, they're also looking for a general talent for non-specific athletics -- these are the kids who seem to excel at every sport they play. They want smart kids, but be careful here: they don't want rebellious thinkers, and they'll either train that out of a recruit fast or cut them. Independent problem-solving is desired; outside-the-box rule breaking is not. They want very pretty kids: If you aren't attractive, forget about it. Cute kids make good TV. Existing health problems, even something like asthma, are also instant disqualifiers, and they don't want kids with psychiatric disorders for reasons explained in Part One. Finally, while amazing charisma and likeability is in the nice-but-not-necessary category, they don't want shy, sensitive kids. If you're an asshole, that's fine, but you must be a confident asshole who looks people in the eye.
In sum, they want highly aggressive, highly athletic, smart, beautiful children with perfect health histories and a lot of confidence. Tall order? Oh yeah, but we've got an entire District to work with here, and they don't start out with an enormous group because that's needless wasted resources. Anyone who meets these general criteria is eligible for the first levels of the program, which I'll go into below.
Part Four: Okay, we got in. Now what are we going to do here?
Training Program Levels:
Early levels: Prep One
The goal of this phase is indoctrination and initial weeding out of unsuitable candidates. This is where they hook the kids, convince them that training is fun and that they want to be there.
Seven to Nines: The first two(ish) years in the program are best described as a really intense version of Scouts. There's about 70-100 kids in this level at any one time, but they aren't all there at once and they aren't all at the same facility. They go for an hour and a half after school for physical training, strategy discussion (more a test of the kids' ability to think than necessary information at this point), and observation during free play. Kids start at different ages and thus spend varying amounts of time here, but you have to start at this phase. A child can't enter the program later than a month after their 9th birthday. The primary goal here is to give the best candidates a positive experience: Most physical training is in the form of games, and rough play is encouraged. Kids who are a good fit will like this and want to continue; kids who aren't will self-eliminate. Many who are only there for the experience and the stipend stop at this level and never had any intention of trying to continue.
Tens and Elevens (Transition): The numbers dwindle a bit here. Many of the ones who were purely in it for the benefits will drop out now, especially if they're playing it safe and are a little paranoid about their kids doing too well. You're looking at 60ish at this level. They do what it sounds like here: prepare for the more serious stuff that will happen in the later phases of their training and start gradually introducing them to the unpleasant aspects. They do some activities with the 7-9s, but there's an additional hour tacked on most days of the week which is mostly spent on the more serious indoctrination and tougher physical training (weapons and formal hand-to-hand combat start here). They're made aware of what they'll need to do if they stay in the program, and there's a stronger element of competition and evaluation. Towards the end of Transition they're introduced to the concept of animal targets and their first kill. They're technically kept separate from older kids, but this isn't always practically observed (Clove still hangs out with an older buddy, who teaches her to kill; this is fairly common behavior). There's a steady attrition rate throughout Transition.
Prep Two: It's not fun and games anymore here. The purposes of this phase are to prepare them for residential living, gradually decrease their dependence on family, increase their skills and conditioning, and make their first kill. They're getting out of school early at this point, and traditional academics start to take a back seat. They have to pass a series of exams to get into this phase, mostly theory and physical conditioning, with a little bit of hand-to-hand combat.
Twelve: You're looking at 30-40ish kids here. They start serious weapon training at this point and are expected to become competent with a wide range of weapons (everything but firearms; almost nobody knows how to shoot, even at Graduation -- it's pretty useless in the Arena). This is when they learn the meaning of "survival of the fittest": generally they do try to prevent kids from dying, but there are a lot of serious injuries here and a lot of drop-outs. This year is also prep for their kill test.
Thirteen: Big drop-off occurs here because two very serious things happen: The kill test, and, if passed, living at the Center full time. About half will drop out before both of those things happen, and a few more will fail. They generally want a crop of about ten moving in. Their first kill has to happen within a month after they turn thirteen. After that, they get a week to transition and then it's goodbye to family. They spend the rest of this year doing pretty intense indoctrination, working on conditioning and combat, and narrowing down their weapons a little, though they aren't allowed to specialize yet. Everybody's at the same main site from here on, which ensures that families don't have to relocate because the kids are no longer living at home.
(From this point forward, the kids are full time residents of the main Center. There is no visitation time. They do not see their families again until Reaping Day. There is no more traditional school; if it's not useful to survive in the Arena, they don't learn it. Parents no longer have the right to remove the kids, and the only way out is to get cut or Graduate.)
Fourteen: Main thing here is their first human kill. (They use convicted criminals, and if they somehow manage to beat their child-executioner, they go free; this motivates them to fight hard, although the kids rarely lose.) A couple will lose it here and get cut. They start looking at potential for acting and camera presence and whether or not candidates will be able to build a believable story for the audience. They start focusing on their look for the cameras, and those that are sufficiently into puberty can be started on steroids if necessary. They're allowed to specialize in their weapons once they've proven that they're decent with most of them. This year is also big with their prep for their Field Exam (see Fifteen), and survival skills are stressed a lot.
Fifteen: This is a big year. They have to do the Field Exam a month after they turn fifteen, which is basically Career Quals. For those of you who do not have the misfortune of being grad students, this is when they throw everything at them that can possibly be thrown in an attempt to get them to fail. The exam is a mock Games where they're dropped into the woods alone for three weeks with whatever dangerous stuff their trainers feel like putting there. This can get very creative. They have to fight for supplies, but even then there's not enough to survive the full time. In order to get what they need to live, they have to impress the 'audience,' AKA their trainers, with their acting. This is considered especially difficult since they're alone and have to rely on their own skills to convey an interesting story, and mimics the sponsorship program in the Games. Not all of the ten will make it this far, but most will take the test because they aren't allowed to drop out at this point and must be kicked out. Of those ~8, only 1-3 will pass the Field Exam and be allowed to stay. This is the final elimination period, and after this they're considered senior trainees, they get their own rooms, and it's understood that they're most likely going to the Reaping.
This period can be as short as a couple of months or as long as 3+ years. The trainers' job is to select the best male and female candidates in a given year. The kids' job is to become perfect specimens between now and then. More often than not, they aren't picked until eighteen, but sometimes it's earlier for various reasons (they really want to use two same-sex seventeen-year-olds back to back being the most common). They do not get to choose when they volunteer. They do not get to choose their partner. There's serious image-building going on for these kids and a lot of final fine-tuning the closer they get to the Reaping. They practice everything from their interviews to anticipating the countdown for their Cornucopia run. If they weren't beefed up with steriods yet and they were going to be, it happens here. If they don't have a main weapon they're going to be known for yet, one is picked for them -- many are just as good with two or three weapons, but they're more memorable if the audience associates them with something in particular. They get used to stylists pawing at them and getting up in their personal space. They kill a lot more animals and a couple more humans. There's an odd mix of freedom and slavery in this last level: they're generally respected as senior trainees and can get away with a little sass because the trainers want to encourage that more and more (and they want Tributes who can think on their feet). But they aren't making any choices that matter for themselves, and all Games-related choices matter from colors that look good on them to how much they're allowed to laugh. They're given a few days' notice that this is their year.
So, there you have it. How To Create A Career in several not-so-easy steps. I mostly wrote this for myself to keep my future backstory organized, but hopefully some of you found it interesting. Again, I recognize that this isn’t the only way to write D2. As someone who has worked with children for over ten years, I do not believe that children are born evil, and I think a system like this makes the most sense for the mega-leap you’d need to turn them into reality TV killers. I enjoyed coming up with this and organizing it, and I’d love to hear what you think!