Aside from the Hunger Games itself, one of the most interesting things in the Hunger Games franchise is the reaping system that happens every year. Based on the rules, branches, and special types of reaping, it’s clear that Suzanne Collins created a well-thought-out system that children from the ages 12 to 18 dread. And when I saw it happen in the first movie, The Hunger Games, it’s probably one of the most silent but tense moments in the films.
But how exactly does reaping in the Hunger Games work? We discuss how the tribute selection works and everything you need to know about the system.
The Hunger Games: History
The Hunger Games was invented 74 years before the start of the first novel, The Hunger Games. Centuries before this, it’s implied that the United States as we know it crumbled and a new society was formed called Panem. Panem was divided into 13 districts where a certain resource is produced and a Capitol where the country’s political leaders and wealthy live. The government practiced a totalitarian dictatorship, oppressing the districts and using force and the threat of violence to keep the districts controlled and providing their own resources to share with the rest of the country or the Capitol exclusively.
Tired of the Capitol’s oppression, District 13 presumably led the First Rebellion and got most of the Districts (District 2 was said to have been generally loyal to the Capitol) to rebel. In the following years, however, the tide turned against the rebels and it appeared that the Capitol would subdue the rebellion. In a last-ditch attempt to gain their relative freedom, District 13 pulled a gambit. To the rest of Panem, it was widely-believed that District 13 produced graphite for the Capitol. In reality, however, they produced the Capitol’s nuclear weapons, and they seized control of it and threatened to destroy the entire Panem, including themselves if the Capitol didn’t leave them alone. Thus, District 13 and the Capitol came to a deal: District 13 would stop supporting the war, the Capitol will pretend to annihilate their district (in reality, District 13 was living underground) to scare the rebels, and District 13 will be left to live alone.
After District 13’s withdrawal, the Capitol eventually took control of the entire Panem once more. To cement their hold over the Districts, the Capitol established the Treaty of Treason, which states the history of Panem, the First Rebellion, and, to remind citizens not to repeat the rebellion, the rules of the Hunger Games were established.
The General Rules of Reaping
Every year, one male and one female from the ages of 12 to 18 will be randomly selected per district to compete in the Hunger Games. The district’s Capitol escort will be presented with two glass balls filled with sheets of paper containing the name of one potential tribute. They will take a random strip of paper from each bowl and then announce who the tributes will be. The number of times a child’s name is added is cumulative: a 12-year-old will have their names in once, a 13-year-old twice, a 14-year-old thrice, and so on until an 18-year-old has seven strips with their name on it, increasing their chances of getting picked.
Children born in the Capitol are not included, and no child in the districts who meet the age requirement (regardless of any physical or mental condition) is exempted from the reaping except if a child happens to be on their deathbed. All children who meet the age range are required to show up at the town square (where the reaping is traditionally held). Failure for a child to show up at the town square will result in imprisonment. The reapings per district take place at different times so that citizens from the Capitol and the districts can watch all of them live. After the tributes per district are reaped, Capitol citizens can begin placing bets on who is most likely to win. Katniss also mentions that some people in the districts gamble on who gets picked, such as what age the tribute will be and which part of the district they’re from.
If a reaped tribute younger than the age of 18 ends up winning the Hunger Games, their name will no longer be added to the reaping bowl in the following Hunger Games even if they still belong to the age range where children can be reaped. If an 18-year old does not get chosen, they are safe since they are no longer eligible to be reaped at the Hunger Games next year.
Without tesserae, an 18-year-old person will only have seven strips of paper with their names in the reaping bowl. While there’s no way to reduce that number, it is possible to increase it in exchange for additional food rations known as tessera.
Signing up for tessera is completely voluntary, though children from the poorer districts still do. In exchange for an additional strip in the reaping bowl, a child will receive a year’s supply of grain and oil good for one person and distributed every month. A child may get more than one ration of tessera for the rest of their family members, but each person is a strip of paper, thus a higher chance that they will get picked in the next Hunger Games.
Take, for example, the cases of Peeta, Katniss, and Gale. Peeta, who grew up in the slightly better-off merchants’ area, did not need to get tesserae for his family, so he only has five entries when he was reaped at the age of 16. Katniss had been taking tessera since she was 12 for herself, her mother, and her sister Prim. Like ordinary entries, tessera entries are also cumulative, so she has four strips added per year, meaning she had 20 entries by the time of the 74th Hunger Games, while Prim only had one. Gale, however, is the most extreme. He took five tesserae for his siblings, mother, and himself. By the age of 18, he had 42 entries, so he was lucky to not have been called throughout his Hunger Games eligibility.
Taking tesserae rations in exchange for additional entries is a common practice in poorer districts like 11 and 12, and less so in wealthier districts like 1, 2, and 4. To avoid starvation, poorer children may be driven or forced to add their names additional times to provide for their family, even if they know it increases the chance 0f getting reaped.
There are usually only three reasons why a person would volunteer in the Hunger Games. First is to spare the person who was picked and compete instead of them, such as how Katniss volunteered for the Games so that she could save Prim, who she knew could not survive in the arena. This, however, does not spare the person who was picked from being re-picked in the next few years. So, if the Hunger Games continued, Prim could have been eligible for the next six Hunger Games until she turned 19. Second is when a person volunteers so that they can protect someone else in the games, thus sacrificing their life knowing that only one of them can win. This was seen in Catching Fire when, during the Quarter Quell Reaping, Haymitch was reaped but Peeta volunteered so he could enter the arena and make sure Katniss lives. The third and most common is for Careers who willingly volunteer for the chance of glory at winning the Games.
Reaping in Career Districts
During the First Rebellion, most of Districts 1, 2, and 4 were mostly loyal to the Capitol, thus are the wealthiest districts. That does not exempt them from the Hunger Games, but unlike the other districts, they appear to enjoy the Hunger Games to the point that they have several children train from birth to become someone willing to volunteer for the Games. These are known as Career tributes or Careers.
Careers are trained from a young age to prepare themselves for the Hunger Games. They attend a special academy to train in combat and other skills that will make them a formidable contender by the time they turn 18 and volunteer. Although it’s illegal to train for the Hunger Games, the Career districts get away with it because of their close ties to the Capitol, as well as the possible reason that it’s more entertaining to watch a few bloodthirsty tributes hunt down the others rather than 24 unprepared children. While other districts feel like getting reaped is like being condemned to death, the Career districts see this as a great honor as they get the chance to win and be the heroes of their district.
Once a Career reaches the age of 18 (though they can be younger if they show enough skill), they volunteer for the games during the reaping. So, it’s safe to say that those who aren’t trained to be Careers in Districts 1, 2, and 4 and don’t want to join the games feel much safer since there’s always at least one person every year who will likely volunteer. Since there are many children in the same age group, the mentors of the academy hand-pick the boy and girl Career tribute who will have the honor of volunteering before the reaping begins.
In the 74th Hunger Games, Marvel and Glimmer were the Careers of District 1, while Cato and Clove were the Careers of District 2. There were also unnamed Careers from District 4. Clove was the youngest of that year’s career pack since she was only 15 years old. During their reaping, the girl who was reaped wanted to compete, but Clove volunteered. There was a scuffle, causing Clove to wound the girl and being restrained. Since Clove continued on into the Games, it’s implied that whoever volunteers outranks whoever gets randomly reaped. It’s unknown if multiple people have ever volunteered for the same male or female spot.
Special Reapings: The Quarter Quell
The rules to the Hunger Games reaping are modified or completely changed during the Quarter Quell. Every 25 years, the Capitol holds a special edition of the Hunger Games so as not to make the yearly event commonplace that people forget why the Hunger Games exist in the first place. Ever since the Hunger Games were established, the original creators created plenty of Quarter Quell ideas enough to last many centuries. These are sealed in envelopes that, when the time is right, the reigning president announces before the annual reaping.
In the first-ever Quarter Quell, the reaping rules were changed so that the male and female tribute per district was not randomly selected, but voted by everyone in the district. This was to remind the districts that their decision to rebel is what caused their deaths, so now they get to decide who will be sent to the arena. This may have been difficult for most districts to vote for which teenager will be sent off to their most likely death, but in Career districts, those who wanted to volunteer might have been campaigning to be voted.
The Second Quarter Quell’s reaping rules were modified so that double the number of tributes were selected. This was to remind the districts that for every Capitol citizen that died, two rebels were killed. So now there were twice as many tributes that were going to die since only one tribute would live. The only known tributes in this year’s Hunger Games were Haymitch Abernathy and Maysilee Donner. This was the Quarter Quell where Haymitch won.
The Third Quarter Quell is the final Quarter Quell and the last Hunger Games officially held. The original Third Quarter Quell twist is unknown since it was confirmed in a deleted scene in Catching Fire that Plutarch burned the original envelope and replaced it with another. The modified Third Quarter Quell was created not only as a way for President Snow to kill Katniss without making her a martyr, but to also kill as many existing victors as possible because he felt like they may start to think that they are untouchable.
So, the rules were changed so that the reaping pool consisted of existing victors, no longer children between the ages of 12 to 18. There was no age limit, which meant someone as young as Katniss or someone as old as Mags could be chosen. This was supposed to remind the districts how not even the strongest rebel could withstand the might of the Capitol, so those who were the strongest and won previous Hunger Games would be going back into the arena because of the Capitol’s orders.
Is Reaping in District 12 Different From the Other Districts?
While it’s highly likely that all the reapings are the same in every district (aside from the usual volunteering in the Career districts), a line Katniss mentions in Catching Fire questions if there may be a different type of reaping. When she heads for District 11 during her and Peeta’s Victory Tour, she sees a vast number of children in the district and realizes there are more children than she normally sees when they broadcast District 11’s reapings. She wonders if, because of the massive number, they reap their tributes differently. She wonders if it’s possible that District 11 holds a pre-reaping lottery to choose who gets to be in a smaller pool of kids present. It’s also possible that they held the reaping days prior and just made sure that the tributes already pre-selected are somewhere in the crowd.
This begs the question of whether or not other districts hold a different type of reaping not seen in the books or films. After all, given the geography and population of the other districts, it’s possible that getting all the eligible children for the reaping may not be totally feasible. Aside from District 11, for example, consider the Career districts that handpick those who get the honor of volunteering for the Games. Since the academy is an open secret, it doesn’t really matter who gets picked as long as the chosen Career is present in the area.