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I've been reading the first book of the Hunger Games, and I can't quite figure out what exactly is the arena?

In the book it says that the Game Makers can alter the environment. They can make it any type of landscape that they want (a desert, or a snow plain, for example). Is the arena an illusion? A bit like a big Holodeck on Star Trek?

Or is it made within a predefined area, using some kind of terra forming techniques?

The animals inside must not be an illusion, because they can hunt and eat the animals :)

Also, there's a point where Katniss looks at the moon and wonders if it's a real moon, this is what triggered this thought.

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    I've only watched the movie, and I imagined it like The Truman Show. – Jeremy Heiler May 18 '12 at 1:41
  • @JeremyHeiler Considerably more deadly and on a smaller scale, but that's actually a very good way of thinking about the arena. – Anthony Grist May 18 '12 at 8:57
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    They can choose beforehand what environment to make, but they can't completely alter it in the middle of the game. – childcat15 Nov 22 '13 at 19:54
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It's basically just a real bounded area in Panem where no one lives, and which the Capitol has designated as the site of, in this case, the 74th Hunger Games. Much like reality TV nowadays, the arena is a real place, but those in charge have access to technologies that can change things that the players/tributes cannot.

In the book it says that the Game Makers can alter the environment.

This is only true to some extent. They can, for example, induce a forest fire, presumably by causing hidden devices to start a fire, but they cannot turn the arena into the Arctic.

Also, there's a point where Katniss looks at the moon and wonders if its a real moon, this is what triggered this thought.

A not-too-revealing spoiler from the movie, but if you don't want to see it, don't hover:

Based on what we see in the movie, it appears that the entire arena has a fake ceiling that they cannot see. Whether it's transparent, and merely usable for displays the Gamemaker wants to show, or whether the entire sky is constantly faked is unknown, but yes, there's no trusting the sky.

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    And in the second book, the idea that it's a regular area, not built, gets totally thrown out the window. – Rob Nov 22 '13 at 19:33
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    @Rob I was speaking more to the point that it's not a holodeck or anything of that variety; rather, it's another physical place that they build their arena in, and the amount to which they build presumably depends on what they want the games to be like that year. – waiwai933 Jan 5 '14 at 10:11
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    I believe there's a comment in the books that indicates different arenas are used each time as visitors from the capitol can visit their favourite arenas afterwards. – Liath Nov 26 '14 at 9:45
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    "There's no trusting the sky" is a poignant point: the gamemakers make the arena rain when Peeta is hurt, and then suddenly the rain stops... – Möoz Mar 24 '15 at 22:12
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The arena is made within a predefined area and uses advanced technology to create the weather effects or traps. The other books go a lot more into the detail of the Arena, but I don't want to post any spoilers.

The arena is designed by the Gamemakers and a new one is built every year. One year, it could be a dense forest, the next a freezing wasteland. The Gamemakers plant traps and cunning ideas into the arena, to entertain the Capitol audience.

http://thehungergames.wikia.com/wiki/Arena

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I was under the impression from the books that the arenas are like massive domed-stadiums, several acres in diameter, built in areas of Panem that are unpopulated.

The interior of these massive arenas is re-designed each year by the Gamesmakers so that each annual installment of the Games is different from the last.
The prep rooms are underneath the floor of the arena where each Tribute is then launched up through the floor via the launch tubes into the arena proper so that they all emerge in a traditional circle surrounding the weapon/supply-filled cornucopia.

The outer walls are disguised to resemble the horizon but they are protected by an invisible barrier.

The domed ceiling is disguised to look like a sky and yet serves the dual purpose of a solid surface upon which the Gamesmakers can project the images of those Tributes killed at the close of each day of the Games.

2

The arena is a tract of land of varying climate that they close of using different technologies, like the kind to keep Katniss and Peeta from jumping off the building, and booby trap as well.

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