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What If Battle Royales Were Real Life Events?

VO: Eric Cohen WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
From online games like "PUBG" and "Fortnite", to Hollywood blockbusters like "The Hunger Games", battle royales have taken over all types of entertainment in recent years. With heroes, villains and never-ending tension, they're impossible to ignore! But, what if battle royales were a real-life event? What do you think would happen?
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What If Battle Royales Were Real-Life Events?


An entire generation seems in the grip of a gaming craze. Avid players, concerned parents, and determined news outlets have risen in droves to voice their views on the latest “battle royale” fad to sweep online entertainment – spearheaded by “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” and “Fortnite”. The trend involves air-dropping players onto an island and leaving them to fend for themselves, competing to be the victorious last-man-standing. And yet, despite public outcry over gamers becoming too obsessed with them, there’s no sign that the popularity of these titles will drop anytime soon.

Of course, it’s not a new idea. Before “Fortnite” and the rest, there was the best-selling, blockbuster book and film franchise “The Hunger Games”, which saw twenty-four ‘tributes’ pitted against each other in a fight to the death where, again, only one can survive. The actual term “battle royale” was first coined by Japanese writer Koushun Takami and is the title of his 1999 novel – which focusses on a fictional youth revolt in Japan. In the book, the government enforces a brutal punishment, where a class of freshman are sent to an isolated island and, you guessed it, forced to fight to the death – with only the winner re-joining society. The story was eventually adapted into what’s often listed as one of the most influential films of the 2000s. Even further back, themes of isolation and violence were also central to William Golding’s 1954 novel – and a staple on any high school reading list – “Lord of the Flies”. In fact, imaginations have run wild for centuries on the idea of last man standing, with the Gladiators in Ancient Rome serving as stand-out examples from history.

Back in today’s world, the concept has clearly caught on. But what if a battle royale was not the stuff of fiction, but an actual, real-life event?

It’s the ultimate concern for some groups already lobbying to have “Fortnite” banned, because of the negative impact they believe it’s having on youth culture. Similarly, some wanted “Battle Royale” removed from screens when it was released, especially in the United States where it never received distribution in the wake of the Columbine High School Massacre.

But perhaps these attitudes wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a very genuine fear that a societal collapse on such a brutal scale could actually happen. Some argue that these games, books and films play on deeply-rooted human instincts for violence and survival. For others, they show how easily society can be shaped and manipulated into following even the most unlikely trends. Either way, what would a real-world battle royale look like?

At first, examples of actual violence would likely vary wildly from person to person. Some ‘players’ may struggle to grasp the gravity of their situation, still hoping that they could somehow escape it some other way. On the other hand, some would likely give in to their primordial instincts and capabilities, resorting to murder from minute one.

In a battle royale, nothing can be gained without a fight – not food, water, weapons, or a place to rest; even the very air you breathe could be part of the cut-throat competition. So, the most immediate resource to try and seize would probably be a means with which to defend yourself, and these would presumably be scattered around the general arena, a la “Fortnite” and “PUBG”. Or, perhaps battle organisers would opt for the “Hunger Games” approach, wherein weapons are located at your starting point, and it’s up to you to claim them.

However, as Katniss and co. have shown, going all out at the beginning could prove fatal because if anybody arms themselves before you do, you might end up facing down a shotgun with your bare hands. And you’re not likely to survive that encounter. But say you are one of the lucky few who gets a weapon and then gets out, you’d then have a decision to make; what to do with it?

You might not even know how to load a gun, let alone kill someone with it. In fact, shooting, swinging, firing or detonating any weapon could prove tricky without the right training. And that’s before we’ve even breached your psychological willingness to implement anything that might hurt someone else. Allegiances would be out of the question though, since mistrust and paranoia would rule. Forget ‘safety in numbers’, gun-toting groups would only breed suspicion.

That said, other players aren’t the only – or even the most significant – threats in a real-life scenario. Starvation and dehydration would likely wipe out more battle royale contestants than anything else, along with sickness and injury – when you can’t just pick up a convenient health pack and heal. You would need to either hunt or scavenge all of these supplies, and even then, you’d need to know how to prepare a safe meal, filter and purify drinking water, or correctly dress a wound. If our real-world royale was a spectator sport, then most of the time viewers would simply be watching someone slowly deteriorate before expiring in a bleak and lonely – though non-violent – fashion. Not quite the guts and glory bloodfest that organisers might’ve been aiming for.

But the question of food does highlight another grisly possibility: cannibalism. Historically, when placed in dire, desperate and isolated situations humans have been known to turn to this most taboo of practices. If our scenario has methods to frequently shrink the field as seen in all of the films and games, then matches shouldn’t last long enough for this to be a major concern - unless a contender is especially sadistic! However, if our real-life event was without time limits, then you just never know. For anyone who’s lucky enough to survive for longer than a few days, the mounting dead bodies of those recently-killed could start to look like a serious option.

Overall, what with all the grotesque goings on within the royale itself, perhaps the real cause for concern should be around any real-world society that would allow one to happen in the first place. Unless of course the existence of the event is already indicative of a civilisation collapse, in general. There’s no governing body in the anything-goes frenzy of “Fortnite”, after all. The merciless, blood-hungry people of Panem in “The Hunger Games” are another matter altogether. But whether it’s ultra-corruption or a complete abandonment of rule, it seems unlikely that anyone would – or ­could – effectively intervene to halt the massacre.

A battle royale might deliver unending entertainment for film, TV and gaming. But let’s keep the chaos contained in our consoles, books and TVs, shall we? For everyone’s sake.
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